The Works of Ivan Bilibin and the Creation of a Russian “Third Space”: The Exploration of Cultural Identity through Illustration

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2020

Authors

Sipp, Tabitha

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Abstract

This thesis seeks examines how the illustrations of fin-de-siècle Russian artist Ivan Bilibin creates a new sphere of cultural representation for imperial Russia, through his reimaginations of Russian fairytales. Through a close reading of illustrations depicting scenes from the folkloric tales “Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird, and the Gray Wolf” (1989), “Vasilisa the Beautiful” (1900), “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” (1905), and “The Tale of the Golden Cockerel” (1907), I describe how Bilibin creates an artistic, cultural, and political “third sphere” which reflects an authentic identity unique to the Russian nation. This “third sphere” is a culturally intermediate space which situates Russia astride the traditional East-West sociocultural dichotomy in ways that both set it apart and allow it to draw inspiration from its neighbors to either side. To achieve this, I inspect Bilibin’s works through three theoretical lenses: Art Nouveau, Russian folk art, and Orientalism.

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