“Bogatyrs” by Viktor Vasnetsov
“Bogatyri” by Viktor Vasnetsov depicts three of the most famous Russian bogatyrs, Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets, and Alyosha Popovich. A bogatyr was a legendary hero in medieval East Slavic tales, akin to a Western European knight-errant.
Vasnetsov has depicted Dobrynya Nikitich on the left sitting on a white horse with a white flowing mane, forelock, and tail. Dobrynya Nikitich is one of the most popular bogatyrs from Russian folklore. In the center is Ilya Muromets, who was famous for his strength and height, he later became a monk and saint. On the right is Alyosha Popovich, the youngest of the three medieval knights-errant.
The three companions appear to be in search of adventures to prove their chivalric virtues against the enemy of the Rus. Bogatyrs appear mainly in Rus’ epic poems, the Bylina. Historically, they came into existence during the reign of Vladimir the Great (980 to 1015) as part of his elite warriors, akin to Knights of the Round Table.
Tradition describes bogatyrs as warriors of immense strength, courage, and bravery. They are characterized as having resounding voices, with patriotic and religious pursuits, defending Rus’ from foreign enemies, or defending their religion. In modern Russian, the word bogatyr labels a courageous hero, an athlete, or a physically strong person.
This fictional character is based on a real warlord Dobrynya, who led the armies of Svyatoslav the Great and tutored his son Vladimir the Great.
Dobrynya was representative of the noble class of warriors. He is a professional archer, swimmer, and wrestler. He plays the “gusli” (a multi-string plucked musical instrument), the “tafl” (an ancient strategy board game), and is known for his courtesy and cunning.
Ilya Muromets is one of the bogatyrs from Russian folklore. His adventures are mostly legend, but he is associated with a historical medieval warrior who later in life became a monk, named Ilya Pechersky. Ilya Pechersky was beatified as a monastic saint of the Orthodox Church.
Ilya was chief bogatyr, and he defended Rus’ from numerous attacks by the steppe people, including the tsar of the Golden Horde. He was generous and strong but also temperamental.
Alyosha Popovich is a Russian folk hero and bogatyr described as a clever-minded priest’s son who wins by tricking and outsmarting his foes.
Alyosha Popovich may have been based on a historical Alexander Popovich of Rostov, who served prince Vsevolod the Big Nest and died in 1223 in the Battle of the Kalka River against the Tatars.
A Bylina is a traditional East Slavic oral epic poem. Byliny songs are loosely based on historical fact, but embellished with fantasy to create their songs. The word Bylina is derived from the past tense of the verb “to be” and implies “something that was.” The folk singers of byliny called these songs “stories of old.”
Scenes typical to byliny include a hero taking leave of his mother, saddling a horse, entering a war council, departing a city, going on a journey, battles, taunting an enemy, and becoming blood brothers with another hero.
Themes in many Bylina include the childhood of a hero, father, and son fighting, battling a monster, the hero returning in time to save his city, arriving at the wedding of his wife, and encounters with a sorceress. The epics include Christian beliefs mixed with pre-Christian ideas of paganism.
Viktor Vasnetsov (1848 – 1926) was a Russian artist who specialized in mythological and historical subjects. He is considered the co-founder of Russian folklorist and romantic nationalistic painting. He is also a key figure in the Russian revivalist movement.
Bogatyri or Heros
- Title: Heroes or Bogatyri
- Russian: Богатыри
- Artist: Viktor Vasnetsov
- Created: 1898
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: Height: 295.3 cm (116.2 in); Width: 446 cm (14.6 ft)
- Museum: Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
- Name: Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov
- Russian: Ви́ктор Миха́йлович Васнецо́в
- Born: 1848 – Vyatka Governorate, Russian Empire
- Died: 1926 (aged 78) – Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
- Nationality: Russian
- Movement: Symbolism; History painting, Peredvizhniki
- Notable work:
A Tour of the Russian Museum
- “Portrait of Anna Akhmatova” by Nathan Altman
- “The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Bryullov
- “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” by Ilya Repin
Explore the Hermitage Museum
- “Madonna Litta” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
- Composition VI by Kandinsky
- “Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate” by Francisco Goya
- “White House at Night” by Vincent van Gogh
- “The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova
- Egyptian Collection in the Hermitage Museum
- Gonzaga Cameo
- “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova
“Don’t have 100 rubles, have 100 friends.”
– Russian Sayings
Photo Credit 1) Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov / Public domain