UCL Medieval and Renaissance Studies
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Visions of Power: The Arts and Rulership in Pre-Modern Russia
Course code: SEESGH04.
Duration: Term 2 only.
Medieval concepts of power survived in Russian political culture longer than in many other societies. Pre-modern Russian rulers had to abide by law, yet law was understood not in constitutional terms, but in a medieval sense, i.e., as a combination of the divine commandments, moral precepts, and unwritten traditions. As in medieval Europe before Magna carta, the earthly state was perceived in pre-modern Russia as a visible incarnation of the heavenly kingdom. Russian political culture remained outside Renaissance cultural and philosophical influences. In the sixteenth century, political ideas relating to the growing power of Muscovite tsars were still expressed through architectural, iconographic, and literary images typical of eleventh-century Kievan Rus. Acting in close co-operation with the Orthodox church, the Muscovite tsars used medieval political imagery to legitimise the power of their dynasty and to justify their domestic and foreign policy. This cultural traditionalism (or backwardness, depending on ones point of view) represents a unique case of adaptation of medieval political discourses to the challenges of modernisation that Russia faced in the sixteenth century. The course starts with an examination of the eleventh-century visual and literary images of rulership. This will be followed by discussion of the evolution of this political imagery in various Rus principalities, especially in the Vladimir-Suzdal principality. The renaissance of Kievan political imagery in the principality of Moscow and the posthumous memories of the Riurikid dynasty will provide the basis for the second half of the course. This course has become possible now thanks to recent English translations of key medieval Russian texts and publication of numerous albums on Russian medieval arts and architecture. There is no language requirement for the course.
Tutor: Dr. Sergei Bogatyrev, SSEES.
Time: Thursdays 4.00 - 6.00 p.m.
Location: 16 Taviton St. (SSEES building), room 536.
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