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Title: Early Russian Art, 14th-16th Centuries: A Study in Moods
Authors: Willson, Justin
Advisors: Barber, Charles
Kitzinger, Beatrice
Contributors: Art and Archaeology Department
Keywords: Art discourse
Subjects: Art history
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Moscow’s rise to power in the fifteenth century heralded a new era of patronage, reconfiguring the status of images within Russian society. Before this time, there was little theorization or close analysis of images in East Slavic literature, but a variety of social factors would combine to generate an unprecedented era of debate involving icons. The outbreak of heresies, competitive bidding among clients, the founding of new icon cults, and workshop reforms all endowed images with a new cultural weight. The literature that emerged from this period sought to influence both artistic practice and viewer interpretation. Exploring a variety of objects alongside these texts, this dissertation seeks to recover the historical immediacy of key artifacts through the discourses that guided viewers’ perception. Grouping images under the heading of moods—or paradigmatic modes of encounter—the four chapters of this study show how disputes pressured the interpretation of compositional and stylistic elements down preset pathways, reifying an exemplary posture. In turn, this way of arranging the textual and visual evidence reveals the subtle adjustments viewers made over the course of nearly two centuries. Discussing the aesthetic and literalist moods in the first two chapters, and the mythical and transactional moods in the last two chapters, I argue that viewers’ interests gradually shifted from surface elements (style, iconography) to the inner, cultic power of images, displacing the agency of artists onto the images themselves. Expecting images to perform miracles of healing, audiences became passive, images active, flipping the typical subject-object relation on its head. Charting an increasingly inward-looking concept of the image, the chapters foreshadow the trajectory of the cult image into modernity. The study’s chronological parameters recast what has been viewed as Russian art’s slide into “decline” (spad). For many scholars, the sixteenth-century ‘crisis’ was something that happened to, rather than was chosen by, those who produced, commissioned, interpreted, and enjoyed this art. However, when one situates period artworks within local contexts of viewing, it becomes clear that Russians were treating images differently than Byzantine authors had. This dissertation examines the reasons for this change in attitude.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Art and Archaeology

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