Alexey Kozmich Denisov-Uralsky
Alexey Kozmich Denisov-Uralsky (1864 – 1926) – Russian painter and stone-cutter. For a long time the problem of Byzantium’s secular art was overlooked by researchers. The far more numerous and better preserved works of art dedicated to the church were naturally in the limelight. This resulted in a simplified concept of Byzantine art as purely religious and frozen in its traditionalism. Yet a study of the secular trend is essential for an objective appraisal of Byzantine culture in all its complex components as well as for a full understanding of the culture’of feudal knighthood in other countries of the East and the West, including Old Russia. Recent researches by A. N. Grabar, K. Weitzmann, A. Banck and other scholars have made it clear that church art supervised by the clergy and the state, was the main but not the only manifestation of the Byzantines’ artistic outlook.
Parallel with it, there developed the secular art of the imperial court and the feudal nobility, its purpose being to glorify the emperor’s supreme power. Borrowing certain features of Christian iconography and inevitably circumscribed by medieval canons, that art was nevertheless far from the monastic ideals of meditation, of shunning all mundane things. Portraits of emperors and noblemen, scenes depicting their military triumphs and court celebrations, feats of famous classical heroes as models of the emperors’ exploits—these were the favourite subjects of Byzantine secular art which strove to glorify the godlike autocrat. Secular trends in Byzantine culture were enhanced in the 12th century when the empire reached its zenith shortly before it fell under the blows of the Crusaders. The knightly ways of the Comnene emperors (1081-1185) sponsored the flowering of secular art whose repertory grew considerably richer.
This book is a study of the stylistically identical silver bowls found in Eastern Europe (Central Russia, the Eastern Baltic and Urals area).. A comparison of these with works of Byzantine monumental and applied art, an analysis of the costumes, arms and musical instruments of the figures depicted on the bowls leads us to believe that they are of Byzantine origin. The complex technique of manufacture (embossing, engraving, gilding and niello), the blending of “neo-classical” and Near Eastern motives in their decoration demonstrate the high skill of the silversmiths. They were erudite men who created a distinctive toreutic school in which Byzantine and
Oriental elements were organically fused, with emphasis on the authentic reproduction of reality. This school was probably located in Constantinople where the craftsmen had access to models from all parts of the Mediterranean and the Near East.
The bowls, made for the imperial court in the second half of the 12th century, are somewhat at variance with the traditional view of the art of “the truly Christian” state of Byzantium. Their patterns recreate a vital, heroic image as distinct from the traditional stiff, ceremonial image. They are inspired by epic poetry, with glimpses of the true historical background of their own time as they illustrate the Greek epic of Digenis Akritas, whose original version was created in the 10th—1 I th centuries. The popular figure of the hero who guarded the empire’s eastern borders against the “heathens” (Arabs and, later, Seljuk Turks) was bound to appeal to the artists, who gave a heroic interpretation of life: shown on the bowls are clashes of cavalry in the valleys of Asia Minor, dramatic hunting episodes, lavish celebrations with strolling mummers taking part.
The scenes depicted on the bowls also reflect some intimate aspects of court life under the Comnenes and thus give us an insight into the problem of interaction of the popular and feudal-aristocratic elements of culture—a problem that has not been studied so far. Decorations on two almost fully identical bowls are free variations on themes from the poem “Digenis Akritas”. One of them was found near the village of Vilgort in the Urals area, another in Chernigov, on the site of the prince’s estate which was gutted in 1239 during the Mongol invasion. The scenes depicted on the bowls are all permeated with a secular, knightly spirit.
Two motives clearly stand out, just as they do in the poem: the war. theme—feats of arms, glorification of hyperbolised prowess—and romance. The heroic theme is represented by scenes of combat between lightly armed Greek horsemen and mounted Seljuk archers, as well as by the symbolic figures of lions, gryphons, wolves and birds of prey ; the lyrical theme is represented by confronted birds and feminine sirens. The plant background may have been intended to convey the “ paradi se ”. around the hero’s palace on the Euphrates. The central, medallion on the bottom of the bowls shows Akritas playing the cither for his beloved, the beautiful Eudokia, surrounded by beasts and birds charmed, by the music, The harmony between the animal and vegetable kingdom and the hero is a regular feature of the lyrical-heroic genre.
The scenes on the bowl from the former collection of . A. P. Bazilevsky (jig. 83-103) arc probably also inspired by the epic of Digenis Akritas. The combat between a mounted Greek spearman and a mounted Muslim archer, the duel of two unmounted Warriors (perhaps a clash with
robbers), two scenes of fighting lions (in the poem, Akritas fought. lions on three occasions), representations of musicians and a dancing giri, the scene of hunting with trained snow leopards—all this is organically linked with the poem. Linked with it are two other compositions showing the ascension of Alexander the Great (in one case, in a basket drawn by gryphons; in another, astride a huge bird). In the poem, the great emir who was the hero’s father, is likened to “Alexander of Macedon”; the exploits of that “discoverer” of Asia were depicted in mosaic in Akritas’ palace.
The cult of Alexander was an ideological justification of Byzantine expansion in the East. Depicted on the bottom of the bowl is the military emblem of Digenis Akritas: two confronted gryphons as vigilant guards of Byzantium’s barbarian provinces.
Close to the epic world outlook is also the subject depicted on the cup found near Beryozovo, beyond the Urals: a performance given in the emperor’s palace. The motives on the bottom of the bowl may be linked with the cycle of the autumn-and-winter celebrations of the Byzantine calendar, which are traceable to the Roman celebrations in honour of Dionysus (Bacchus). This subject—which fits the purpose of the bowl, designed for banquets—inspired the figures of all the seven bands on the body of the bowl and the compositions on its rim and bottom.
The upper row shows a Yuletide feast, with the empress taking part. There is an orchestra of Oriental musicians, with two groups of acrobats and dancers performing to the music. In spite of certain survivals of the official ceremonial (specifically of the “Gothic games”) this banquet scene is not identifiable with any of the official holidays of the “Book of Ceremonies”. Since the time of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, and especially with the enthronement of Manuel Comnenus, considerable changes occurred in the official life of the court.
Its traditional rituals which reduced the emperor to a ceremonial mannequin, became too burdensome and were openly neglected. Of course, the court etiquette did not disappear, and the ceremonies retained their pomposity, but their number was cut, and the emperors and their courtiers adopted less formal maimers. The celebration depicted on the cup has an intimate air about it; it is not fettered by the stiff etiquette and the religious outlook which frowned on all pantomime. The banquet may have taken place in the chambers of the empress, with persons of low rank—musicians and mummers—admitted. The : rhythmic music is fused with singing, dancing and the pantomime: the dancers parade in a rhythmic dance swinging their long sleeves, the nimble acrobats turn . somersaults. Young cup-bearers offer brimming cups to the royal lady.
Centaurs and sweet-singing sirens on the second band of the Beryozovo bowl are a symbolic parallel of the theme of the banquet, accompanied as it is by music and songs: in the bacchic cycle both centaurs and sirens accompany Dionysus. What is more, sirens were always associated with love, which was one of the keynotes of Yuletide rites. Running lions, snow Jeopards, wolves, bears and hares (the third band) are linked with the theme of hunting, which in Byzantium occurred at the time of the autumn- and-winter celebrations, the Saturnalia.
Hunting wild animals with greyhounds and leopards is depicted also on the rim of the bowl. Images of birds in the fourth row are likewise in keeping with Yuletide songs and rites, dominated by themes of love and marriage. Of special interest is the fifth row, where the faces of youths participating in the acts alternate with zoomorphic masks. Mummer’s acts were a regular feature of Yuletide celebrations. This being a court festivity, the selection of masks for the pantomime was specific: leonine, gryphon and canine masks as the military emblems of the nobility. Figures of people with heads of dogs and of gryphons symbolising the heathen tribes conquered by the emperor, were meant to illustrate his right to rule the world.
Thus the row of masks echoes the theme of Yuletide mummers gotten up as “Gothic” barbarians to dance before the sovereigns. The representations of the sixth and seventh rows incorporate palmettos resembling stylised grapevine leaves, which links them with the theme of the grape- harvest feasts and the abundance brought by autumn. The image of St. George the warrior in the medallion on the bottom of the bowl is also treated in keeping with the semi-pagan subject-matter: he is shown as the master of the animal kingdom, the patron of hunting and field work.
The bacchic background is clearly felt in the images of the Beryozovo bowl. Although the empress is depicted presiding at the table and the bowl was undoubtedly made for a nobleman, Christian themes are superseded by pagan ones. We are enveloped in an atmosphere of hedonism, alien to the ideals of Orthodox Christianity. The patterns on the BeryozOVO bowl testify to the affinity of the culture of the people and the secular culture of Byzantium’s aristocracy; both had a common basis—an outlook inherited from the Graeco-Roman period. The Byzantine craftsman introduced bacchic motives which were congenial to him adapting some, of them to the “heraldic” taste of his customer.
Byzantine court art served one main purpose—to glorify the supreme power of the autocrat, the representative of God on earth. This art favoured symbolic parallels whereby the ruler Was likened to the legendary heroes of the past. An analysis of the scenes depicted on the bowls shows that their general tenor suggests the triumphal cycle of the emperor. The latter included the following traditional subjects indicative of the main aspects of imperial power: 1) scenes of war victories (descriptive and symbolic), 2) hunting and Hippodrome exploits and court entertainment, 3) scenes from the lives of biblical characters, of historical, mythological and epic personages who were all treated as the emperor’s prototypes. Rhetorical comparisons of the monarch to Achilles, Heracles or Alexander the Great were widely used by Greek encomiasts. Byzantine oratory likened the emperors to mythological and epic heroes famous for their civic achievements and military prowess. Thus, eulogizing Manuel Comnenus the poet Theodorus Prodromus called him. “the new Akritas”.
The subject-matter of art dedicated to the throne remained unchanged throughout the history of Byzantium. But, depending on the socio-political conditions of the epoch, the craftsmen employed different iconographies, they enriched or limited their repertory, accentuating now one, now another group of subjects. Traditionalism was combined with probing into new subjects and stylistic devices. Under the Comnenes, the art of the court was increasingly secularised. Despite the persistence of such traditional subjects as the crowning of the emperor by Christ or appeals to patron saints, the difference between the art of the court and that of the church became quite striking.
This was partly due to the Comnenes’ policy vis-a-vis the church, over which they wanted to exercise effective control. The Comnenes were out to prevent the growth of an independent, wealthy church and monasteries and to circumscribe the powers of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The art of the throne thus to a certain extent did away with canonized forms, and the secular, life-asserting note was enhanced.
The Comnenes sought to strengthen the state of the new type. In contradistinction to the despotic state of the aristocratic bureaucracy, power in this state was held by a feudal family which depended on its hereditary landed estates and its vassals. In the 11th—12th centuries relations of allegiance between the emperors who owned large domains and the big feudal lords became widespread.
The latter had their own military retinues, fortresses and vassals who received land from their suzerain and had to take up military service. The development of this system brought about changes in the army. The old levy of the peasants ceased to exist;; Mounted spearmen with heavy shields made up the core of the army. In addition to regular Byzantine contingents the army included foreign units. “The barbarisation ” of the army, where, beginning with the late’l 1th century, English mercenaries came to the fore, affected the process of the formation of Byzantine knighthood.
Under Manuel Comnenus the traditions of Western knights were strongly felt. The emperor shared with his men the burdens of camp life and was the first to challenge the enemy; a lover of tournaments and dramatic hunting, of secular music and songs, he was the exemplary military leader guided by the knightly code of honour. The first three Comnenes—Alexius I, John. II. and Manuel—were above all zealous warriors. They stayed in military camps far from the capital, among their relatives and devoted retainers. The relations between the basileus and his retinue became much closer.
Under these conditions the culture of the court began to favour motives reflecting the outlook of that social group which became the mainstay of the Comnene state. Feudal knights sought their ideal among the heroes of epic tales. Accordingly, the poem of Digenis Akritas must have become especially popular. Although the plot of the poem is laid against the background of the Byzantine-Arab wars of the 9th and I Oth centuries, in the 12th century it assumed a new social ring. The events on the Byzantine Seljuk borders brought it up-to-date: from the early 1090’s to the early 1170’s the Comnenes staged a regular offensive, gradually driving the Seljuks into the interior of Asia Minor.
The text of the poem now included mention of the Turks and the Sultanate with, the capital in Konya. While idealising the courage and high morals of the akrites, the poem also reflected the political mood and ethics of the knights. Thus, the gallant emperor Manuel was styled by his contemporaries “the new Akritas”. According to Eustathius of Thessalonica, it was during the reign of that emperor that the fury of the Hagarians was subdued: they put down their arrows to take up the plough and replaced their mounts with oxen. At that time many Seljuks were leaving their villages ..to-find new homes on Byzantine land.
The same merits were attributed to Digenis Akritas whose war exploits resembleepisodes from Ma nuel’s wars against the Seljuks in Asia Minor. Manuel’s eastern campaigns roughly covered the same territories as the conquests of the “glorious Akritas”.
1882, All-Russia Art and Industrial Exhibition, Moscow (Russia). Minerals from the Ural Ridge, a picture from the Urals minerals “Entry into the Bosphorus from the Black Sea” 750 rub., A stalactite grotto of the same minerals 750 rubles, part of the Ural ridge of minerals and various stone products. An honorable tip.
Siberian-Ural Scientific and Industrial Exhibition, Ekaterinburg (Russia). Products from colored stones: slides, bulk paintings and icons. The model of the Middle South Urals is “a hill of fine work”, presented by A.V. Kalugin. A large silver medal for stone-cutting works.
1888, Scandinavian industrial, agricultural and art exhibition (“North”), Copenhagen (Denmark). In the catalogs of the exhibition the name of A.K. Denisov is not mentioned, but one of the exhibitors of the VII department “Objects from stone and ceramics” was the one already mentioned by Kalugin. It is probable that this time he showed, among other things, the work of Alexei Kozmich, who deserved the award.
1889, World Exhibition, Paris (France). Trot from Siberian minerals with a petrographic section of gold-bearing rocks and machine models, Three landscapes from minerals (Northern Urals), Jasper table, A paperweight in the form of a grotto, A paperweight from malachite. An honorable tip.
1890, Kazan Science and Technology Exhibition, Kazan (Russia). Works from minerals: Aquarium (placed in a greenhouse in Derzhavin garden), Painting decorative work, Grotto-inkwell. Small Silver Medal “for the good manufacture of slides and other products made of stone.”
1891, Exhibition in the halls of the UOLE. Yekaterinburg, Russia). Works of stone and paintings.
1894, Exhibition of paintings on Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg. View in the mountains of the Urals.
1895, XV Exhibition of the Society of Russian Watercolorists in the halls of the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of Arts. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). In the Northern Urals.
1895, Russian, horse and ethnographic, exhibition on the Field of Mars. Paris, France). Honorable diploma for decorative works and the device of the handicraft department.
1896, XVI exhibition of the Society of Russian Watercolorists in the halls of the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of Arts. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Duck places.
1896, All-Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition, Nizhny Novgorod (Russia). Forest, Portrait of the author’s son, October in the Urals, Morning.
1897, Exhibition of stone products, organized for the members of the VII Mineralogical Congress. Yekaterinburg, Russia). A huge amount of pieces of a chronic iron ore, all covered with uvarovite crystals from a new deposit – dacha Ufaleisky plant. In addition to this large ore, there are several smaller ones with the same uvarovite crystals. Then very beautiful and good small ores with crocoits. Several good pieces of emeralds in their usual mica shale … except for these minerals, Denisov put several polished stones in a separate window.
1897, The first exhibition of photographers and artists UOLIY. Yekaterinburg, Russia). 15 picturesque and 9 watercolor works.
1898, the XVIII exhibition of the Society of Russian Watercolorists in the halls of the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of Arts. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Morning in the mountains of the Middle Urals, Quiet day (South Urals), Early snow (neighborhood of Yekaterinburg).
1898, III exhibition of paintings of the Society of Russian watercolors in the halls of the Stroganov School. Moscow, Russia). Morning in the mountains of the Middle Urals, Quiet day (South Urals), Early snow (neighborhood of Yekaterinburg).
1898, Exhibition of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). The lake in the winter, Polyud Top (Northern Urals), From a height of 4500 feet on the top of Taganaya (Ural).
1899, Spring exhibition in the halls of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Forest fire, Beginning of winter in the Urals.
1900, World Exhibition. Paris, France). Theological section of two nests of amethysts, Amethysts from this deposit in kind, Amethysts and accompanying elements, Amethysts trimmed.
1900, “The Urals in Painting”. Yekaterinburg, Russia). 48zhivopisnyh and graphic works.
1900-1901, “The Urals in Painting”. Perm (Russia). 48zhivopisnyh and graphic works.
1902, The Mobile Exhibition of paintings of the Urals and its fossil wealth. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). 109 picturesque and graphic works, 1323 mineralogical samples.
1903, Jewelery exhibition in the Passage. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Jewelry with precious stones.
1903, Industrial exhibition. Reims (France). Gold medal for mineral-petrographic collections, honorary diploma to the Mining and Industrial Agency.
1903-1904, the Urals and its wealth. Moscow, Russia). 156zhivopisnyh and graphic works, mineralogical samples and collections. There is information about the exposure of cast iron.
1904, The Children’s World. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Silver medal for mineral-petrographic collections.
1904, World Exhibition. St. Louis (USA). “Ural and its wealth. Russian California ». 50 picturesque and graphic works with views of the Urals, 29 watercolors from nature with images of minerals. A big silver medal.
1908 XVI exhibition of the St. Petersburg Society of Artists. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Autumn is coming, The day is leaving.
1908, XVII exhibition of paintings by the Society of Russian Watercolorists in the halls of the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of Arts. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). It will collapse. The Chusovaya River; Short day.
1909, IV autumn exhibition of paintings. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). In the autumn, The sun was glancing.
1911, II exhibition of paintings of the Urals and its riches. St. Petersburg (Russia), B. Konyushennaya, 29. 98 picturesque and graphic works, 734 mineralogical samples, stone-cutting and jewelry works, art furniture, gold washing, jewelry works, cutting of hard stones.
1915, Patriotic exhibition of paintings “War”. Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Traces of the German stay; Who.
1916, Exhibition “Allegorical figures of warring states from solid colored stones.” St. Petersburg (Russia), B. Morskaya, 27.15 allegorical compositions and sculpture of the Soldier.