The LITSEVOI SVOD (illustrated) Russian chronicle of the 1540s-1560s can be called by right a unique historical encyclopedia. It includes books of the Old Testament, medieval novels of the Trojan War and Alexander of Macedon, a compilative chronograph of the Byzantine Empire and also a Russian chronicle focusing on the key events in the life of this country over a period of four and a half centuries (up until 1567).
A unique feature of this cultural monument is an abundance of illustrations. They "illuminate" practically every line of the text and even some particular words. By the number of multifigured composition the SVOD substantially surpasses most other chronicles, including foreign ones, such as the Big French Chronicles, for example. Out of a total of 16 thous. preserved miniatures, more than 10 thous. are linked with our national history.
As we all know, medieval manuscripts were often adorned in this way. But most of them were of what experts call purely textual nature and the reason for that was a very high cost of these "piece-works".
The voluminous work in question, like many grandiose creations of the past, remained unfinished. Thus many of its illustrations are left unpainted and one can see in places later "corrections". And the pages with all the corrections and "touched up" color miniatures remained unbound for a long time. And in the finally bound SVOD the order of pages is broken in many places, to say nothing of the missing volumes of the book.
The LITSEVOI SVOD chronicle has been studied by experts since the 18th century. It was in the focus of attention of scholars like Prince Mikhail Shcherbatov (1753 - 1790), historian and publicist, Honorary Member of the St. Petersburg Academy; historian of literature and the arts, Member of the St. Petersburg Academy (since 1860) Fyodor Buslayev; historian and paleographer, Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences (from 1925) Nikolai Likhachev; historian, Corresponding Member of the Academy (from 1920) Alexander Presnyakov; and archeologist and Corresponding Member of the Academy (from 1960) Artemiy Artsikhovsky. In recent time the SVOD has been used by historians like Sigurd Schmidt and Daniil Alshitz, etc. The results of the latest stage of studies of the aforesaid collection of chronicles were summed up in his monograph by Dr. Alexander Amosov.
But a number of questions related to this unparalleled work still remain (and probably will continue to be?) unanswered. How much time had been spent on its preparation and how was this organized? Who edited the chronicles? Who directed the artistic side of the project? And more and more questions of this kind crop up in the process of even more profound studies. This latter fact and the exceptional value of this priceless Russian cultural monument accounts for the unflagging interest towards the relic on the part of new generations of researchers.
One can't help thinking that a work of this magnitude could have been created in a major cultural center which possessed a big library. It must have had at its disposal not only sacred and liturgical books, but also same rare and even unique ones, including those "from overseas". Many of the miniatures of the SVOD contain motifs similar to West European ones. That means that the artists had access to a vast store of books and engravings. But simple copying them was out of the question. And therefore it is not accidental that illustrations of Old Testament events found in the SVOD and the well known to historians Yegorovsky Collection are markedly different although made by the same craftsmen. And the presence of themes of Christian icon-painting in a number of illustrations is a reflection of the general 16th century tendency for
"unification" of iconography contrary to copying of concrete images.
Work on the SVOD called for the establishment of a whole team of experts including not only artists, but also editors. Talents of this caliber could be brought together in places like the Pechatny Dvor (printing shop) of the historical Alexandrovskaya Sloboda (now-town of Alexandrov, Vladimir Region). In the latter half of 16th century it was the residence of Tsar Ivan the Terrible.
So, who headed the original project of compiling of a collection of chronicles? Some historians ascribe this role to the tsar himself. And there are tangible grounds for this hypothesis: a historical document of such importance-of major political and state significance-must have attracted the attention of the sovereign. The text must have been edited by members of educated clergy who alone were able to collect the materials and edit them properly. In the opinion of Prof. Yevgeniy Grigoryev of the Kazansky State Technological University (see VEST-NIK RAN, No. 12, 2002) this work was carried out by a prominent figure of that time-Archbishop Hermann Polev of Kazan. This is despite the fact that, as has now been proved, almost half of the text was compiled after 1576 while the archbishop died in 1568. And one more argument against the archbishop as being the editor of the SVOD-he was a critic of the tsar and would have hardly agreed to prepare a literary work glorifying the monarch.
The article of Prof. Ye. Grigoryev also contains an extraordinary version of the origin of the literary monument. The author suggests that it was compiled in Sviyazhsk (now a village in the Verkhneuslonsky District of the Republic of Tatarstan). But at that time the town was founded as a forward Russian base in the struggle against the Kazan Khanate. And it could hardly be so that by the time of compilation of the collection of chronicles the town could have become a major cultural center with a rich library and a "workshop" of specialists. This being so, the suppositions concerning the "birthplace" of the monumental literary work clearly hold no water.
But nevertheless the aforesaid publication is clearly yet another attempt to solve the riddle of the origin of that unique historical document and should spur the interest in it on the part of the scientific community.
V. Morozov, A. Chernetsov,
"On the Problem of Origin of the LITSEVOI SVOD Chronicle of the 16th Century", VESTNIK RAN, Vol. 74, No. 1, 2004
Prepared by Olga BAZANOVA
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