Nicholas Roerich: in search of Shambhala
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Nicholas Roerich, the well-known Russian artist, writer and mystic from the early twentieth century is best known in the West for his theatrical design work, above all for the sets of the celebrated ballet The Rite of Springs. The goal of this thesis is to provide a fuller understanding of Roerich’s art and literary works within the historical context of his time. In particular, I have sought to illuminate Roerich’s focus on depiction of nature, especially mountains, in relation to his fascination with the mythical Shambhala. In the first chapter of this thesis I analyze Roerich’s early career, as well as his personal and professional relationship with the World of Art, the leading art group at the turn of the twentieth century in Russia. Roerich’s early interest in the history of ancient Russia, archeology and geology, which I discuss, was central to the meaning of his landscape depictions in both his stage designs and paintings. The second chapter of this work investigates how these interests evolved into the artist’s quest for Eastern wisdom and mystical revelations. Although Roerich is often treated as an oddity, his concerns with occult ideas were not unique in his time. The third chapter focuses on Roerich’s activities abroad and his international success as a promoter of ancient wisdom. I discuss the Russian émigré art scene in New York in the 1920s and Roerich’s place within it. I also offer an examination of the artist’s correspondence with his family and colleagues, which sheds light on Roerich’s beliefs in his mysterious “Teachers” and their role in leading him to the East.
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