Nikita Balagurov

Stalin Christ as a Czar: On “Anachronic” (Socialist) Realism

In 1884 the Ministry of the Imperial Court commissioned Ilya Repin to paint one of the key scenes in the triumphal celebrations of the coronation of the new czar, Alexander III Receives Peasant Elders in the Courtyard of the Petrovskii Palace in Moscow. Scholars have suggested that the piece captured the change in the relationship between the emperor and the people and even became the visual representation of the Manifesto on Unshakable Autocracy. Few have noted, however, one peculiar detail about the commission: “the authorities at first insisted that Repin present Alexander III as Christ preaching to the people.” This detail is worth closer examination. Given that we have no evidence that, either the authorities actually altered the initial request, or that Repin rejected their demands, the commission makes an interesting case of negotiations between the realist artist and not so realistically oriented Imperial Court. The result of these negotiations was first presented to the audience in 1886 to mixed response of the critics.

Paradoxically enough, the painting made an even more conspicuous appearance in the 1946 film The Vow by Mikhail Chiaureli. The film portrayed Stalin as Lenin’s successor and became a pathbreaking representation of the emerging cult of personality. As Lavrentiy Beria instructed the director, returning a script with Stalin’s remarks on his own character, “The Vow must be a sublime film in which Lenin is John the Baptist and Stalin the Messiah.” My paper analyses the role that Repin’s painting played in Chiaureli’s film. In doing so I will revisit the discussion on the nature of socialist realist cult images to suggest that the concept of “anachronic picture” might be useful for the interpretation of their seeing into being quality.


October 16, 2020
16.00 (Vienna) | 10.00 am (NYC) | 5.00 pm (Moscow) | 10.00 pm (Singapore)
online via Zoom

See program of the Eighth Graduate Workshop for other interesting talks.