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University of Toronto · Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies

Toronto Slavic Quarterly

Luba Golburt

Derzhavin’s Monuments: Sculpture, Poetry, and the Materiality of History

The sculptor’s art [lies] in handling his material properly […] The task of the historian is similar: to give fine arrangements to events and illuminate them as vividly as possible.

“How to Write History,” Lucian[1]


                                                                           Я памятник себе воздвиг чудесный, вечный

                                                                           Металлов тверже он и выше пирамид;

                                                                           Ни вихрь его ни гром не сломит быстротечный,

                                                                                       И времени полёт его не сокрушит.

                                                                                                           «Памятник», Г. Р. Державин[2]

Derzhavin’s famous 1796 restatement of the Horatian Exegi Monumentum has been traditionally interpreted as a sign of the growing significance of literary authorship in Derzhavin’s oeuvre and in the Russian culture of the pre-Romantic decades. Most recently, for instance, Derzhavin’s monument poems (“Moi Istukan” (1794), “Pamiatnik” (1796)) were described as his “treatment of the vital national importance of the poet’s verbal deeds.”[3] While thus emphasizing the hubristic message of the poems and rightly marking their self-reflexive interest in texts as “verbal deeds,” these readings overlook the novelty of another, the sculptural, metaphor for end-of-the-eighteenth-century Russia. Granted that “Pamiatnik” was an imitation of an overused classical text and, by extension, of the Horatian tradition that especially in the eighteenth century had come to be exploited throughout Europe as a mediator between writers’ civic, poetic, and domestic callings, the appearance of Derzhavin’s poem in late Enlightenment Russia has an added significance that calls to be unpacked.

If in the West the reception of Horace’s text placed it within a cultural tradition equally accustomed to representing history through narrative and through the visual media, in Russia, by contrast, sculpture became a legitimate and widespread form of expression only with Peter the Great’s (r. 1689-1725) massive importation of Western cultural practices and institutions. In pre-Petrine Russia, sculpture (except for bas-reliefs) was treated as an essentially idolatrous art. The few high-relief or round representations bore the imprint either of the Slavic pagan and folk traditions, or of a later influence of Polish Catholicism, and were mostly executed as wood carvings rather than marble or bronze statues typical of Renaissance and post-Renaissance Europe. Sculpture’s status changed only as the elite speedily consented to Peter’s comprehensive secularization and westernization packet, in which sculpture was only one of the more harmless yet conspicuous accessories.[4] The Orthodox ban on graven images remained in force only in the consecrated church areas where sculpture made a cautious and slow entry even as it virtually invaded Russian secular spaces: gardens, palaces, and the rising St. Petersburg cityscape.

Even if not completely universal, the effect of Peter’s innovations was so fast and the popularity of statuary in Enlightenment Europe so extensive that by the end of the eighteenth century sculpture became the vogue of the day among Catherine II’s courtiers. Already during Peter’s reign, his courtiers’ desire for self-aggrandizement and commemoration brought some lucrative commissions to the sculptors the first Emperor had imported from the West. Still rare in the early 1700s, these commissions could no longer surprise anyone by the end of the eighteenth century. In the late Enlightenment Russia, sculpture was fully placed at the disposal of biography and history.

The novelty of Derzhavin’s poems, remarkable in their elevation of the poet’s status, consists also in his perceptive consideration of the methods for preserving this poetic status and legacy in history. Needless to say, portraying hitherto marginalized, private literary achievements as worthy of commemoration could become possible only in a Russia that had already seen its most illustrious figures, including its Empress, enthusiastically endorse and even dabble in belles-lettres. This confidence in one’s posthumous fame could, furthermore, seem doubly suggestive precisely at the conclusion of the Russian Enlightenment project. In the 1790s, the French philosophes had lost official esteem as their ideas were reified, even if misinterpreted and transformed, in the terrors of the French Revolution. On the other hand, Peter’s westernization and the literary activity of Catherine II’s reign had by then produced a number of educated readers who could appreciate Derzhavin’s poetic hubris and its Horatian endorsement.[5]

Importantly, the sculptural metaphor as well could come to the fore only in this period when throughout Europe sculpture came to occupy the imaginations of the likes of Diderot, Winckelmann, and Lessing. Whether put forward to be doggedly imitated or confidently surpassed, antique sculpture and its interpretations provided a model for engaging with the past and in fact gave form to one of the central metaphors for shaping history, both national and personal. In Russia, where sculpture was hurriedly appropriated as a form of the new, secularized culture, the very word “pamiatnik” (“monument”) acquired its dominant sculptural meaning only in the course of the eighteenth century. As we shall see, when Derzhavin erected a verbal monument to himself, he was not only echoing the Classicist topos or placing authorship on a pedestal traditionally reserved for Russian czars and military leaders. Quite significantly, he was also elaborating the latest model of historical memory, which greatly relied upon sculptural and architectural imagery.

Only some half a century before the appearance of Derzhavin’s “Pamiatnik,” Lomonosov in his first-ever Russian translation of Horace’s text (“Я знак бессмертия себе воздвигнул…,” “I have erected a sign of immortality to Myself,” 1747) could not yet render monumentum as pamiatnik even though the Russian pamiatnik comes closest to the Latin term since both have their origin in the terminology of memory (“monere”—to remind, warn, advise; “pamiat’”—memory).[6] Pamiatnik had not yet acquired its sculptural connotation, and Lomonosov translated the Latin word with the less literal and more abstract “znak bessmertiia” (“sign of immortality”). As a result of this abstraction, Lomonosov’s translation elides Horace’s central opposition between sculpture and writing; in fact, it is unclear why it is so important that the sign of immortality be higher than the pyramids, for the reader has no definite image of this elusive sign. Horace’s monumentum stages within itself the rivalry of the written and the sculptural memorial, in which sculpture takes a subordinate position because of its very materiality—its fixed location and capacity for physical decay. Lomonosov’s “znak bessmertiia,” by contrast, contains no double meaning and lacks this internal polemic. Similarly, the fame of Lomonosov’s poet resounds in an Italian landscape, disengaged from any immediate Russian reality: the speaker claims immortality by virtue of his introduction of “Aeolian verse to Italy” (“внесть в Италию стихи эольски”), a direct transposition of topography and imagery that explicitly draws the readers’ attention to the poem’s translated, foreign quality. The poet’s accomplishment as well as the means he proposes for its memorialization are thus unmistakably an import. The poem’s speaker, furthermore, is not directly Lomonosov, but Horace who appears as an unnamed transcendent figure and whose memory is claimed to be preserved through an equally recondite sign, in an equally idealized landscape. An anachronistic semiotic reading would most likely privilege Lomonosov’s translation as aware of the abstract qualities of historical commemoration, a text that attempts to engrave a sign of immortality that evades and transcends the question of medium, or concrete signifier.

As a rendition of Horace, however, Derzhavin’s imitation, not intended as a direct translation, paradoxically is more faithful to the Latin original as well as more revealing of the author’s self-identification within Russian landscape and late-Enlightenment culture. Unlike his celebrated predecessor’s, Derzhavin’s imagery foregrounds the conflict between sculptural and verbal monuments and projects an informed reader who would no longer categorize the claims of the Horatian text as an outlandish import. The Russian reading elite has by the end of the eighteenth century naturalized both secular sculpture and secular literature. As a result, Derzhavin’s magisterial ascent over the sublime landscape of the Russian empire can appear at once presumptuous and unique, yet by comparison to Lomonosov’s Italian topography, more contextually grounded and less of a foreign import. What happened, then, between Lomonosov’s and Derzhavin’s renditions of “Exegi Monumentum” to make the Russian reader understand sculpture and writing as the two legitimate yet rival forms of historical and personal commemoration?

Pamiatnik: A History of the Term and the Terminology of History

In The Dictionary of the Russian Language of the 11th-17th Centuries, the word pamiatnik still carries only one meaning, of a “commemorative note or inscription; a testimony.”[7] From the examples cited in the dictionary, it follows that before the eighteenth century, pamiatnik referred primarily to a written historical document. Although the word has preserved this meaning until the present (e.g. in such collocations as “pamiatnik epokhi,” “literaturnyi pamiatnik,” “pamiatnik kul’tury,” etc.[8]), during the eighteenth century pamiatnik slowly moved away from the semantic field of specifically narrative history where it had belonged together with the chronicle, into the realm of art history and particularly sculpture. There it assumed its place next to such previously distant semantic units as “istukan,” “kumir,” “izvaian,” and “idol,”[9] and to the Latinate borrowings, such as “statue” (“статуя”) and “monument” (“монумент”). In Russia, the evolution of pamiatnik’s new meaning required first a recognition and assimilation of European secular sculpture as a valid and valuable art form. Russian Orthodoxy, unlike Catholicism, was essentially against three-dimensional images, which it associated directly with idolatry and paganism.[10] It is not by accident that the terms used as late as the end of the eighteenth century to describe statuary are the same words that a hundred years earlier had unequivocally designated pagan idols: «истукан», «кумир», «изваян», «болван» and «идол». As these words slowly shed some of their derogatory associations with unorthodox religious practices, they could still not be used neutrally though some attempts were made (“истукан” as “bust” or “кумир души моей” as a calque from the French “l’idole de mon âme,” etc.). While secularization of terminology followed a more significant secularization of both the practices and the uses of art, sculptural vocabulary of paganism came to be employed in depicting sculpture in an ironic light. As we shall see, the commemorated figure in Derzhavin’s “Moi Istukan” provokes a much more ambiguous and potentially ironic reaction than does the lyrical persona of “Pamiatnik.” With its initial association with documentary textual history, the latter term more comfortably invoked the newly appropriated artifacts of secular sculpture.

The mechanism of memory, central to both meanings of pamiatnik, facilitated this semantic shift. Both narrative and sculptural monuments were intended to memorialize the past, to serve as concrete metonyms of a greater history. Pamiatnik was a fortunate native term that not only could adequately render and indeed bring to the fore the memorial function of monuments, but also altogether overwrote and dispensed with the religious uneasiness surrounding lifelike corporeal representations. Formerly a term attached to documentary testimony, pamiatnik as a sculptural object could now indeed stand as a disembodied and less morally dubious sign or “znak bessmertiia.”

Even as history and sculpture were thus terminologically wedded, the act of commemoration itself occurred differently on a page of an ancient document and in marble or bronze. While a textual document claimed to give adequate representation to a factual reality, a sculptural monument, in the absence of an inscription, loomed as a silent symbol in need of an imaginative decoding. This semiotic ambiguity of statuary was fully recognized already in the Renaissance when the interest toward sculptural antiques demanded for the statues’ subject matter to be explained and stabilized in a title: it mattered whether a given marble body belonged to Pompey, Augustus, Julius Cesar, Domitian or Trajan because this information could shed light on the statue’s expressivity and execution.[11] What this paper ultimately thematizes is the growing awareness and attraction on the part of Russian writers of the late 1700s toward the symbolic rather than documentary demands of history and toward sculpture’s capacity for responding to these demands in ever-ambiguous yet evocative forms.

The transformation in pamiatnik’s semantics offers only a superficial view of a more profound shift in Russian academic historiographical practices as well as in the notions of the past, memory and historical narrative prevalent in Russian elite culture of the eighteenth century. In the 1700s, new Western historical genres had irrevocably replaced the traditional annalistic forms of the Russian chronicles. Now writers of Russian history increasingly inscribed historical events within a more linear progression, which disposed of the annalistic segmentation of the chronicles in favor of narrative coherence and interpretation, centered on individual biography and accomplishment.[12] To use terms from narratology, the historiographer thus exploited the vantage point of an omniscient narrator, who had the power to “narrate” as well as to “describe.” Russian academic historiography was at first largely a foreign venture, dominated by German or German-trained historians.[13] Only in the early 19th century did Karamzin, one of the greatest practitioners of Russian sentimental prose, write the first nationally significant work of Russian historiography, The History of the Russian State (1818-24).[14] It was not by accident that this history came from the pen of the first Russian author who repeatedly considered sculptural and architectural remnants of the past and their sentimental impact.

In addition to the new genres of academic historiography and more central to this article and to Russian literature of the eighteenth century, historical writing and especially interpretation of recent events surfaced as a principal—albeit unadvertised—task of odic poetry. Even as they ostensibly only sang a celebratory refrain to the recent past of conquests and jubilees, and praised the given ruler, panegyric odes crafted their own historical narratives. Ode-writers, unlike their academic counterparts, united historical events not only through a specific plot – e.g. a chain of victories, or the sequential account of a certain imperial celebration—but also through a symbolic system which bound the achievements of Russian military leaders to mythical feats, and contemporary heroes to those from classical mythology: Peter I to Jupiter, Catherine II to Minerva. Such comparisons allowed ode writers to shed only partial light on the details of the contemporary subject, and even to conceal the real behind the ideal. Once the reader beheld Catherine in the guise of a Minerva, Astreia, or Felitsa, he could decode both the authorial and official versions of the events, which often but not always coincided, and fill in the blanks prudently left vacant by the ode-writer.[15] Even as in academic historiography the laconic chronicle entries were reshaped into a narrative and thereby explicated and transformed, odes encrypted idiosyncratic, if in most cases laudatory, interpretations of current politics by means of a repertory of symbols, allegories, and legendary names. The reader then took pleasure in extricating the signified reading of historical events from layers of allegorical signifiers. For instance, the ode “Felitsa,” so pivotal in Derzhavin’s career, invited the reader and especially the poet’s royal addressee to observe and revere Catherine II as a paragon of virtuous simplicity whereas comparisons with Minerva elevated her military and juridical successes. Different allegorical portrayals could reveal different visages, and elicit the patron’s favor, disdain, or indifference. In the process of such decoding, readers inevitably, if unintentionally, transformed the history plotted by the ode-writers. The same verbal monuments could now legitimately yield very different testimony. The new multiplicity of classical parallels and a panoply of available historical genres (ranging from historiography to panegyric ode) turned historical commemoration away from documentary and toward symbolic monumental forms.

Meanwhile, throughout Europe, sculpture and fine arts were also being questioned as bearers of history. As in the solemn odes, history appeared before the viewers of historical paintings or statuary clad in increasingly ambiguous classical plots.[16] One could make sense of these plots not only by heeding color, light, and compositional cues, but also by marking and pondering the specific point within the classical narrative selected by the artist in order to embody and represent the narrative whole. It was precisely the selection of this specific point, or “significant moment,” that was to stand for the entire plot and direct the viewer’s imagination toward recreating both ancient and contemporary history in the narrative form, and which was furthermore to determine the audience’s emotional response.[17] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who in his Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry (1766), famously advanced the distinction between the poetic temporal progression and the spatial stasis of painting, thus describes the effect of the painter’s choice of a specific moment on the imagination of the viewer:

If the artist can never make use of more than a single moment in ever-changing nature, and if the painter in particular can use this moment only with reference to a single vantage point, while the works of both painter and sculptor are created not merely to be given a glance but to be contemplated—contemplated repeatedly and at length—then it is evident that this single moment and the point from which it is viewed cannot be chosen with too great a regard for its effect. But only that which gives free rein to the imagination is effective.[18]

The significant moment thus encapsulated and promised not only specifically the greater occluded narrative, but more significantly the viewer’s personal imaginative engagement with the art object. Accustomed to viewing history through the prism of such symbolic stand-ins—antiquity for modernity, significant moments for complete story lines, mythical ideal heroes for contemporary flawed sovereigns and generals—the viewers of historical art as well as the readers of historical odes learned to participate in history-writing, which was no longer based on documents as in the medieval pamiatniki, in the chronicles, or even in academic historiography, but hinged upon their own historical erudition and imagination.

A special inspiration for such creative historical reconstruction based upon antique fragments came with the excavation of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the mid-eighteenth century. To the delectation of the enthusiastic impression-seeking public, these sites offered ruins and shards of a bygone era, which promised to render historical reconstruction ever more plausible and exciting. On the one hand, these discoveries led to a growing popularity of fragmentary genres both in the fine arts (sketches, sculptural fragments) and in belles-lettres (anthologies and lyrical fragments).[19] On the other, it became even less clear what kind of testimony was inscribed on the monuments of the past, what fortuitous laws guided history and what could ultimately be preserved for posterity.

For a sentimental sensibility then in fashion, antiquity seemingly yielded ruins and fragments rather than monuments and edifices. Precisely in contemplating these ruins, whether archaeological or imaginary, the viewer projected the ultimate destruction of the artifacts of his own time and relished his sublime fear. Even such an acute critic of art as Diderot surrenders to this historical paranoia before Hubert Robert’s ruined landscapes, rightly prophesying a grand career of a ruin-painter for this young artist. If only the painter, later aptly nicknamed “Robert des Ruines,” would banish most of his contemporary figures from his canvas, instructs Diderot, the experience of the sublime in his ruins would be complete. Diderot waxes rhapsodical in his expressions of this experience: “O les belles, les sublimes ruines![…] Quel effet! Quelle grandeur! Quelle noblesse!”[20] But his enthusiasm also has a more articulate explanation; ruins afford the viewers a glimpse of the destruction of their own civilization: “Nous anticipons sur les ravages du temps, et notre imagination disperse sur la terre les édifices mêmes que nous habitons.”[21] Yet, if ruins survive, their function is not merely to presage universal annihilation, but to convey historical knowledge and to inspire the viewer to memorialize his epoch in addition to, as Diderot suggests, anticipate its decay.

Rescued from destructive natural forces, the fragments of the marvelous world of classical antiquity thus inflected the act of poetic and sculptural history-writing with a task of synecdochal commemoration. Winckelmann projected from the surviving monuments of Greek antiquity—or to be more precise, from the Roman copies he could actually observe—an entire, superior, classical world, and impelled his contemporary artists, sculptors and poets alike (an important distinction for Lessing, but not for Winckelmann) to create by imitation: “There is but one way for the moderns to become great, and perhaps unequalled, I mean, by imitating the ancients.”[22] Meanwhile, the task of the odic historian became to compress an actual, lived world of eighteenth-century experience and history to their synecdoche or symbol: a few significant moments-monuments. While historical writing and art was thus reductive, posterity was invited to effect an archaeological excavation, reconstruction and expansion of the century from its skillfully planted splinters. To artists and writers of the late eighteenth century, then, Herculaneum and Pompeii were not simply a display of volcano-spared ruins, but more significantly, served as a poignant metaphor for the fragmentary state of all historical knowledge, and authorized imaginative expansion and generalization by authors and their audiences as a legitimate path toward an artistic representation of history.

Conceived and written in the very same years that Derzhavin took to imitating Horace, Petr Slovtsov’s “Drevnost’” (1793-6) also uses a sculptural metaphor commemorating the passing age. Slovtsov (1767-1843), a minor poet whose career was tragically tarnished by his unswerving faith in Enlightenment ideals (he spent most of his life in exile, first under Catherine II, then under Alexander I and Nicholas I), can serve as an indicative foil to the successful maitre Derzhavin. “Drevnost’,” his most evocative ode, can be read in three parts: an elegiac rumination at a gravesite, Slovtsov’s idiosyncratic selection and lionization of the heroes of the passing Age of Enlightenment, and finally his critique of Catherine’s foreign policy and the partitions of Poland. Writing in the tradition of the much-translated ode “Sur La Fortune” by Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, which insisted on privileging feats of the intellect over the bloody exploits of war, Slovtsov strives to discern those few symbols of his age that could merit being chiselled on the “bas-relief” of “antiquity,” which can in this context be read as History itself. His prophetic answer favours three figures of the European Enlightenment:

Франклин, преломивши скиптр британской,

Рейналь с хартией в руке гражданской,

Как оракул вольныя страны,

И Мурза в чалме, певец Астреи,

Под венком дубовым, в гривне с шеи

Будут у тебя иссечены.[23]

Although the official heroic pantheon, which had been just in those years marshalled together to adorn the newly-built Cameron Gallery in Catherine’s suburban residence of Tsarskoe Selo, included only Lomonosov as its eighteenth-century Russian of distinction and thus reflected the evolving official cult of this poet, Slovtsov chooses Derzhavin for his pantheon.[24] This choice hinged not only upon Derzhavin’s widely acknowledged poetic achievements, but even more importantly on his contentious position as a self-proclaimed upholder of truth in state service, which in Slovtsov’s evaluation made the Bard of Felitsa an ideological equal to Franklin and Raynal and a partisan of Slovtsov’s own Enlightenment-influenced moral agenda. Thus, when the ode proceeds to criticize the recent partitions of Poland, which for the author had irrevocably blemished the image of the century and of the Russian Enlightenment, Franklin, Raynal, and Derzhavin— unlikely bedfellows in any other context—give Slovtsov their unanimous support.

Along with the blood-spattered ghost of Poland hovering over the Carpathian ridges, the central image that lingers with the reader at the ode’s conclusion is the dispassionate – albeit suspiciously quick to accommodate Slovtsov’s judgment – bas-relief of history-cum-antiquity.

Древность, мавзолей свой украшая,

Лишь над нами упражняет гнев

И, осьмнадцатый век удушая,

Высечет лишь новый барельеф.[25]

If at the outset, Slovtsov is keen on distinguishing on the basis of antiquity’s unintelligible inscriptions the virtuous from the evil characters of the past, his ultimate ambition is to engrave his Enlightened verdict for some future archaeologist’s edification. What starts out as an elegiac rumination on the language of unassuming tombstones of his contemporaries develops into a grandiose odic commemoration of modernity that blends the sculptural and poetic in the monumental figure of antiquity’s bas-relief. For Slovtsov, Enlightenment prevails over despotism as past and future are allegorically bound in a covenant of peace:

Мирна радуга для них [гениев] явилась,

Половиной в древность наклонилась,  

А другой в потомстве оперлась.[26]

Unlike Horace, whose sculptural monuments are susceptible to decay precisely by virtue of their materiality, Slovtsov sees in sculptural materiality an unyielding solidity and capacity for conserving powerful visual imagery. Furthermore, it is important to note that the symbolic logic of Slovtsov’s ode most likely was influenced by Masonic symbolism, which pictures the Mason’s work on the human soul as masonry or work with stone. This is yet another, cryptic, layer in the complex semantics of statuary during the late Russian Enlightenment, which here can be noted only in passing. By 1796, when such allusions to Freemasonry were certainly unwelcome, Slovtsov’s Masonic sculptural metaphor works to compound the censuring thrust of his version of eighteenth-century Russian history.

While there is no doubt that “Drevnost’” mistakenly enlists Derzhavin in the service of Slovtsov’s outspoken subversive ideology, we will see that these authors, nonetheless, shared a common strategy for metaphorizing history, if not for its evaluation. For both, the monumental form is a site of historical inscription, which in generic terms, perpetually hesitates between elegiac melancholy and odic commemorative vigour.

If in the Renaissance a fascination with monuments of antiquity informed the development of the humanistic tradition, which looked to Greek and Roman sculpture for knowledge of the human form and, by extension, of human psychology, the upsurge of interest toward deciphering antiquity in the eighteenth century had historical narrative rather than the human figure as its main protagonist.[27] Monuments qua documentary testimonies morphed into monuments as fragmentary stimuli for the historical imagination. While ancient pamiatniki could reveal or inspire visions of the past, their contemporary counterparts loomed as tangible guarantees of posthumous survival. From an anonymous and neutral testimony, both the term and its corresponding notion thus evolved and could be manipulated to service various national and personal aspirations.

Particularly during the reign of Catherine the Great, sculpture had assumed a conspicuous place in the limited but speedily growing art world in Russia. Just as any enlightened capital city, St. Petersburg acquired its own sculpture garden and a towering equestrian statue intended to rival and surpass the Roman Marcus Aurelius. The parks of suburban royal and noble palaces, too, housed numerous figures inspired by or copied from those of antiquity. Catherine II fully recognized the symbolic and instructive power of statuary, and commissioned the casting of some eighty figures from Classical mythology as well as heroes and thinkers of the antiquity and a few noteworthy contemporaries.[28] As the selection of these figures was to embody the empress’s philosophy of power, so did Falconet’s Bronze Horseman—in its form and in the history of its commission and construction—testify to the fundamental alliance of Catherine’s national and personal pursuits in her sculptural projects.[29] The immense scope and protracted duration of Falconet’s work reveal the central place this sculpture must have come to occupy in the imaginations not only of artistically-minded nobles, but of simple passers-by who for a decade had to walk or drive past the monument at various stages of completion.[30] Ever since the death of Peter I in 1725, each successive rule invented itself in relation to Russia’s first Emperor.[31] Not only the discourses of power, but the general historical discourse established Peter as the center of all Russian history, the demiurge of Russian modernity, regardless of whether this was judged a pleasing or alarming development. With the erection of Peter’s colossal statue, all the discussions on Russian modern history found a tangible and visible physical representation in St. Petersburg’s cityscape. And so did the Russian eighteenth century, which was aptly if willfully summed up in Catherine’s dedication: “Petro Primo Catarina Secunda.” As a result, a permanent bond had been forged between the contemporary moment of Derzhavin and Slovtsov and the mythical, if recent, past of the demiurge Peter. Falconet’s and his Imperial Commissioner’s acumen for visual allegory—a grand natural rock, a rearing horse, a trampled snake—had definitely surpassed that of their potential detractors (e.g. Slovtsov who spared no place for Peter and no admiration for Catherine). Russian history had finally attained a monumental figure, and the term pamiatnik, too, had permanently assumed its new, sculptural definition and ousted the rival pagan terminology to the margins of discourse. Peter’s colossus was unquestionably, if menacingly, a pamiatnik or monument rather than an istukan or idol.

To conclude this section, a record of this semantic transformation and of the various strains in its colorful history is preserved in the Dictionary of the Russian Academy, another Enlightenment project initiated during Catherine’s reign. In its second edition (1806-1822), the original definition of pamiatnik as a textual document is altogether absent, supplanted by two new denotations that point precisely to the Enlightenment transformation of sculpture’s role in Russia, which I have outlined in this section. As a “commemorative edifice,” pamiatnik is cited in the context of the monument to Peter and of a tombstone, and as a “relic testifying to the past glory of a place,” it qualifies the ruins of ancient Rome: “The ruins of ancient Rome are monuments to its former magnificence.”[32] Thus, gravestones and monuments, ruins and edifices were aligned most obviously in the Russian linguistic practice as well as in the burgeoning historical imagination at the dawn of the nineteenth century. Pamiatnik, the term and the artifact, was called to perform a complex work of mourning, documenting, and memorializing the past.

Derzhavin’s Monuments to Peter I and Prince Repnin

As Falconet’s ambitious Petersburg project slowly neared its completion, Derzhavin, ever sensitive to history’s representational demands, penned two poems in honor of Peter the Great, “Monument Petra Velikogo” and “Petru Velikomu” (both dated 1776). The poems, classified by their author as drinking songs (“застольные песни”), make no open reference to sculpture. It is understood that “The Monument to Peter the Great” is not an ekphrastic tribute to Falconet, but rather Derzhavin’s own unmediated commemoration of the Monarch, his bid in the competition for an enduring monument to Peter.[33] If one is to heed Lessing’s judgment, Derzhavin shows himself a true poet in avoiding a facile description of Falconet’s monument and instead relying fully on devices appropriate and unique to poetry. Organized through a similar pattern of pairing increasingly eulogistic quatrains with a fixed refrain, the two songs aurally reiterate Peter’s significance for posterity:

Твоя пребудет добродетель,

О Петр! любезна всем векам;

Храни, храни всегда, Содетель,

Его в преемниках Ты нам!

                        («Монумент Петра Великого»)

Неси на небо гласы, ветр:

Бессмертен ты, Великий Петр!

                        Петру Великому»)[34]

Although Derzhavin was prone to incorporating descriptive imagery inspired by the visual arts, from paintings to fine china, into his poetry,[35] the monuments to Peter flaunt their independent poetic technique, which privileges exhortatory speech acts and the commemorative power of voices over ekphrasis (“Да ввек Петру гремит ваш хор!”).[36] Just as Falconet’s monument creates a community of viewers by virtue of its central locale, grandiose stature, and powerful symbolism, Derzhavin’s texts call for a community of drinking fellows or at least for a social gathering to rehearse both Peter’s name and deeds. Incidentally, in his Primechaniia, Derzhavin notes that the songs enjoyed popularity in the Masonic lodges.[37] Famous for celebrating Imperial holidays together with the pleasures of domestic life, Derzhavin here again locates his verbal memorial to Peter at a festive table rather than on a public square and shapes it in the low genre of a drinking song. If Derzhavin does not want to recreate Falconet’s monument in his verse, he also avoids openly declaring the poetic medium superior to sculpture, a recurrent move in his other monument poems and one that is justifiable for odes, but not for drinking songs. After all, to undermine the lasting impact of the officially sponsored equestrian statue by picturing it crumbling while the verbal monuments still stand would have been a risky enterprise. Yet, this was precisely the age-old idea Derzhavin upheld when his poems competed against monuments to personages of lesser eminence. There Derzhavin complicated his odic register with elegiac ruminations on the monuments’ physical and representational disintegration.

Inasmuch as they serve the purposes of commemoration, sculptural monuments in Derzhavin and in much of late-eighteenth-century literature are also elegiac loci of decay, sites of mourning, paradoxically vulnerable both to semiotic petrification and material fragmentation. In sentimental and Gothic fiction, for example, the surviving monuments were interpreted as melancholy, ever-ambiguous ruins. As we have already seen in Diderot’s reactions to Hubert Robert’s landscapes, ruins “demonstrated the entropy of being, a visible break with the past and the logic of progress. Yet, simultaneously they fostered the imagination and even testified to its immense potential, casting doubt upon man’s alleged ethics of systematic dismantling of myths.”[38] As a potential generator of myths, every ruin concealed and promised a former or future monument, and this ambivalent relationship between entropy and memory lay at the core of late-eighteenth-century attempts to cast poetic history in sculptural form and threaded together Derzhavin’s monument poems. The monument for Derzhavin becomes precisely the site where ode meets elegy, as the nostalgic wordless gravesites are reinvented in the form of future-oriented historical narratives and as the lament becomes also the act of memorialization.

In “Pamiatnik Geroiu” (1791), a poem dedicated to Prince Repnin, Derzhavin invites the Muse to consider what appears to be Repnin’s tombstone:

Вождя при памятнике дивном

Воссядь, - и в пении унывном

Вещай: сей столп повергнет время,


At first, the Muse in “Pamiatnik Geroiu” seems to be an elegiac one. Derzhavin surveys the questionable legacy of military heroes, who themselves produce and hand down ruins: “развалины, могилы, пепел, черепья, кости им подобных.”[40] Is this the patrimony of heroes, queries Derzhavin, only more strikingly to switch to the odic register and extol the heroic feats of virtue (добродетель) and conscience (совесть). The hero Repnin emerges as a man who has nothing to fear from the destructive onslaught of time, for his monument, much like Derzhavin’s own monumentum several years later, will survive in speech and not in ephemeral marble:

Такого мужа обелиски

Не тем славны, что к небу близки,

Не мрамором, не медью тверды,

Пускай их разрушает время,

Но вовсе истребить не может;

Живет в преданьях добродетель.[41]

Even as Derzhavin repeatedly disparages the media of sculptural commemoration as presumptuous and inadequate (see also his “Monument miloserdiiu,” 1804), he nevertheless is to a striking degree partial to the sculptural metaphor. In a letter to N. M. Karamzin who was to publish the poem in Moskovskii Zhurnal, Derzhavin coyly excuses his anonymity by the modesty of his illustrious hero, “в честь которого сооружен им [Державиным] сей памятник.”[42] By the 1790s, it is definitely no longer possible to use pamiatnik in constructions with verbs of writing even if writing in fact is at stake: Derzhavin erects (сооружает) his monument. His Muse, too, is summoned to build rather than to guide his pen: “Строй, Муза, памятник Герою.”[43] The metaphor points in two directions: on the one hand, the poetic Muse relinquishes its ephemeral verbal tools, to take up those of a master builder, a sculptor or an architect; on the other, the sculptural record is belittled in favor of the poetic. That Derzhavin grew disillusioned with his eulogized Hero, Prince N. V. Repnin, several years after the ode’s publication in a sense does not matter, for by apostrophizing both the Muse and Repnin, the ode immortalizes not primarily the general’s military virtu, but more significantly the text’s very ability to erect a verbal monument, “more durable than brass.”

Derzhavin’s Autobiographical Monument

Derzhavin’s interactions with sculpture were not limited to the Horatian paradigm of valorization of the verbal over the material. Keeping a keen eye on the new sculptures imported from abroad and cast in Russia proper, Derzhavin entertained the thought of modeling his own likeness in bronze to place next to Lomonosov’s in the Cameron Gallery. He commissioned the sculptor J.-D. Rachette (1744-1809), the head of the sculpture workshop at the Imperial Porcelain Factory, with a pair of busts of himself and his wife.[44] The final product, completed in late 1793, inspired Derzhavin to offer his most elaborate rumination on sculpture in the service of personal history, the poem “Moi Istukan” (“My Idol,” 1794).

While complementing Rachette’s Praxitelean naturalism in his execution of the bust, Derzhavin without any delay puts forward sculpture’s general representational deficiencies. Sculpture, he believes, is too open to interpretation, or alternatively conveys no certain message:

Но мне какою честью льститься

В бессмертном истукане сем?

Без славных дел, гремящих в мире,

Ничто и Царь в своем кумире.


Ничто! И не живет тот смертный,

            О ком ни малой нет молвы.[45]

According to Derzhavin, it is deeds that garner acclaim and immortality for a mortal, and furthermore, it is through verbal tributes that a man’s deeds can be properly memorialized. Fame can crown both the virtuous and evil; therefore, without a corresponding text, statuary signifies little and can be manipulated for the achievement of any ends. Like Catherine II, who decided against the inclusion of her own bust in the Cameron gallery and, furthermore, rejected casts of those figures of antiquity who could be interpreted as potentially undermining the monarchic order or endorsing the French Revolution, Derzhavin, too, works through an inventory of the statues he knows to select those few heroes who in his view deserve a commemoration of their virtues. In addition to ancient leaders, Derzhavin nominates several of his own countrymen: Peter I together with his father and grandfather, Pozharski, Minin, and Filaret are his heroes. But it would be presumptuous to pretend to equal them, Derzhavin reasons, and consequently, the bust should be destroyed: “Разбей же, мой второй создатель, Разбей мой истукан, Рашет!”[46] But Derzhavin abruptly reconsiders, and proceeds to examine an already familiar repertory of his poetic accomplishments: his compelling images of Felitsa and his discernment of virtue. In the sudden elation at the recognition of his own worth, Derzhavin’s ambitious imagination transfers his bust to the Cameron Gallery (“чтобы на ней меня вместить, завистников моих к досаде, в её [Екатерины] прекрасной колоннаде”[47]). Even this vision, however, is soon shattered as Derzhavin projects a less than indulgent reassessment of his contributions by some future generation.[48]

Envisioning his own formerly dignified image as a silly, bald monkey exposed to the derision of children, or tumbling off the colonnade and trampled in obscurity, Derzhavin removes his bust from the public sphere of great men on exhibit in the royal gardens. The bust, significantly, is not a pamiatnik, a deserving form of commemoration, but an istukan and even bolvan, an idolatrous graven image that turns the man Derzhavin into a monkey, a ludicrous ape of the real being. A conventional figure of demure self-effacement in Derzhavin’s poem, the image of the monkey also appeared in contemporary Russian discourse in connection to the mindless imitators of the West; the satirical thrust, for instance, of Karamzin’s nickname “Popugai Obezyaninov” (“Parrot Monkeyson”) is well known. Commonly dubbed as monkeys or apes of the Enlightenment, the pretentious Russian elite plays at casting their own images in bronze, but these representations only betray their clumsy westernizing mimicry and are doomed to posterity’s derision.

Derzhavin judiciously yet playfully concludes that the proper place for his image is next to his wife’s in her boudoir, where he would be on view only for his spouse, family and friends. Thus, he again, as in many of his odes, carves out a private domain where even the public genre of sculpture finds its intelligible niche. In his home, the bust evokes a living body in the affectionate eyes of Derzhavin’s friends, while outside of this secluded private space, Rachette’s well-executed creation is subject to “entropy of meaning.” Unlike painting or printed text, sculpture lacks a frame and fully enters the semantics of its present surroundings. Paradoxically, just as any idol, it can thus be physically touched, trampled and overthrown, rather than contemplated as an artifact or admired as a likeness of its original model.

A sensitive observer of the ancient monuments’ vulnerability to destruction, fragmentation, and misinterpretation, Derzhavin projects a similar fate for his own bust and concludes that sculpture needs necessarily to be accompanied by text in order to provide adequate representation in the public sphere. Meanwhile, poetry escapes this fate and can stand on its own. And herein lies Derzhavin’s contribution to Lessing’s project of establishing and defining the distinctive spheres for the arts. If for Lessing the difference between verbal and visual art gives rise to distinctive modes of imaginative reception as the former unfolds in time and the latter in space, for Derzhavin sculpture and poetry reveal their true significance only in the retrospective evaluation of posterity. In this rivalry, statuary comes out as opaque in the absence of text.

It is precisely in this context that two years after “Moi Istukan,” a rendition of the Horatian Exegi Monumentum is striking in its definitiveness. In “Pamiatnik” (1796), where sculpture’s commemorative might is again placed below that of poetry, Derzhavin does not even attempt to smuggle in a fragment of his domestic, private space. Grandiloquent in its formulations, the poem displays a vast Russian terrain for public view. Derzhavin’s fame resonates through all this space, heedless of any obstacle or disclaimer:

Слух пройдет обо мне от Белых вод до Черных,

 Где Волга, Дон, Нева, с Рифея льет Урал.

It is important to note that the critique of sculpture in “Moi Istukan” is couched in terms that had only recently belonged to the lexicon of paganism: “istukan,” “kumir,” “bolvan,” all objects of misplaced adoration and victims of violent demolition. Meanwhile, the discursive monument, one that is ultimately capable of fashioning a satisfactory historical narrative of the self, is termed pamiatnik. It is the only term that can boast sufficient semantic capacities for transcending sculpture and adequately accommodating representation. For ultimately, at stake in the revamped eighteenth-century contest of sculpture and poetry as repositories of history was the vexed question of the transparency of representation, which so concerned Enlightenment thinkers from Rousseau to Diderot. Which medium is capable of conveying more accurately and effectively personal and national history: the image, which leaves an immediate but unspoken and therefore unexplained impression on the viewer, or the word, which strives to fix and define meaning but is itself intangible? More significantly, will any medium successfully prevail over what Diderot called “the ravages of time”?

I have argued that in the eighteenth-century Russia, this age-old contest acquired an added urgency. As we have seen, in the late 1700s, Russian elite’s relationship toward sculpture and history, of which Derzhavin was an eloquent mouthpiece, was certainly inflected by widespread Enlightenment ideas on ruins, historical commemoration, and the respective domains of the arts. More significantly, however, the discourse of novelty and rupture promulgated by Peter I and his ideologues had spotlighted the difficulty and exigency of historical representation, one that until the late 1700s was expected to displace ruins of the past in favor of the monuments of the eulogized present, and, furthermore, to ignore the ruin within the monument. The new cityscape of Saint Petersburg was a particularly appropriate locale for experiencing and questioning these monumental workings of recent Russian history. Rising out of nowhere, Petersburg immediately assumed monumental dimensions, which were constantly threatened by erasure from elemental forces or future iconoclasts. The critic of Peter’s reforms, Prince M. M. Shcherbatov, famously pictured Petersburg in shambles and old Moscow alive and bustling with activity, in his unfinished utopian novel The Land of Ophir (1784).[49] Diderot, upon his arrival at Catherine’s Petersburg court, was surprised to discover a city devoid of city life, but instead filled with barracks and palaces, both sites of merely temporary power.[50] Thus, even the new capital’s monumental form, which was intended to surpass in longevity and splendor the overwhelmingly wooden architecture of pre-Petrine Russia, was subject to obliteration, if not by fire then by imagination and history. By displacing the old capital and unseating traditional Russian lifestyles, Peter I dangerously opened a possibility for recurring destructive changes. Diderot’s remark on ruins, which, as we remember, inspired their observer to anticipate a similar collapse of his own epoch’s artifacts, thus translated well into the context of the Russian eighteenth century. Only for an inhabitant of Saint Petersburg, destruction lurked not simply behind the aestheticized medieval ruins, of which there were known but few physical specimens in Russia, but rather behind the newly constructed monuments of Peter’s capital and Peter’s modernity. As their turn-of-the-century dictionary definition attests, these new monumental figures—from Falconet’s colossus to Rachette’s modest bust of Derzhavin—could equally mark a gravesite and a triumphal bas-relief of History.


1. Quoted in Shell, The Economy of Literature, 104-5

2. Derzhavin 2002: 224. All citations from Derzhavin are taken from this collection. The English translations are mine, except for the one of “Pamiatnik,” which appeared in the recent bilingual edition of Derzhavin’s selected verse, Poetic Works: A Bilingual Album, translated by Alexander Levitsky and Martha Kitchen: I’ve raised my monument, a marvel everlasting, More firm than bronze and loftier than the Pyramid; The wind, the swiftly rolling thunder shall not blast it, Nor shall its granite be by fleeting ages split. (Derzhavin, Bilingual Album, 91)

3. Crone, The Daring of Derzhavin, 186

4. For a well-documented and thoughtful story of Peter’s transformations in the visual arts, see Cracraft, The Petrine Revolution. The most illuminating for our purposes is a brief chapter on sculpture (pp. 220-231). It is worth noting that even relatively late into Peter’s reign, sculpture continued to be an ideological battleground. While Stefan Iavorskii, who exercised considerable influence on Peter I in the early 1700s, did not openly object to the appearance of statuary in consecrated spaces, his opponent Feofan Prokopovich, once he assumed power, brought about the Synod’s ban on church sculpture in 1722. See Preskov, “Skul’ptura,” 430.

5. In a recent article, Joachim Klein traces the Russian pre-history of poetic self-glorification and draws out the specific Russian context of the late eighteenth century, in which Derzhavin’s poem appeared. (Klein, “Poet-samokhval,” 148-170). These claims to poets’ elevated status, the scholar demonstrates, received a predominantly critical reception from the readers until the virtual canonization of Lomonosov during Catherine’s reign. Part of the daring of such claims lay in the limited scope of Russian Enlightenment, which made it possible for only a limited group within the reading public to even consider these declarations seriously. In this reading, Klein is supported by the statistics Gary Marker collects in his by-now-classic Publishing, Printing, and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700-1800. Behind the various literary projects of Catherine’s era—the Society for Translation of Foreign Books into Russian (f. 1768), the many short-lived “moral weeklies” (whose number and popularity peaked in 1769 and early 1770s), the Empress’s personal involvement in theater and correspondence with European luminaries, which had all helped raise the cultured public’s esteem for literature, Marker discerns a veritable dearth of educated readers and cultural institutions. Most recently, Thomas Barran provides a summary of various scholarly calculations of the number of educated Russian readers in the introduction to his Russia Reads Rousseau, xx.

6. Lomonosov, Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 255

7. Slovar’ russkogo iazyka XI-XVII vv, vol. 14: 138: “Памятникъпамятная запись, свидетельство.” The latest example in the dictionary is from 1553: «Намъ ... до аржимарита Иева ...дěла нěтъ во всякихъ земскихъ податěхъ по розрубнымъ спискомъ и по паметникомъ и по кабаламъ съ тěхъ полуторы деревни за прошлые годы. А. Уст. И, 71, 1553г..”

8. “Monument of the epoch,” “literary monument,” “cultural monument.”

9. All of these words denote a “pagan idol.”

10. Free-standing statuary was rare in pre-Petrine Russia. Decorative wooden sculpture on the izba facades and bas-reliefs were by far the most prevalent types of sculpture.

11. Haskell and Penny, Taste and the Antique, 296

12. Non-annalistic historiography appeared already before Peter; what distinguishes post-Petrine historiography, however, is the sheer number of texts as well as the centrality of biographical narrative as historiographies’ structuring device.

13. S. L. Peshtich offers a comprehensive picture of historiography in 18th-century Russia in Russkaia Istoriogragfiia XVIII veka.

14. I am grateful to V. M. Zhivov for alerting me to the connection between sentimental and nationalist historiographical prose.

15. For a recent elaboration of the political connotations of one such symbolic disguise, see Proskurina, “Mif ob Astreiie,” 153-185.

16. By mid-eighteenth century, academic history painting had traveled a long way from the cold and clear linear narratives of Poussin. Painting and sculpture now acquired multiple meanings, could be read along multiple axes, and were placed in multiple conceptual and spatial contexts, which called for an informed viewer’s interpretation. In his series of essays on “The Pleasures of the Imagination,” Addison located the stimuli for imaginative responses in visual objects. Several decades later, Denis Diderot sauntered through the Salon exhibits and composed his passionate analyses, amalgams of erudition and imagination, which were to become the early samples of professional art criticism. For the first time, art openly required an interpretation. Ronald Paulson has aptly referred to this period as “an age of art works of great mobility and shifting intentionality.” (Paulson, Emblem and Expression, 18.)

17. For a stimulating discussion of the narrative “significant moment” in eighteenth-century art, see Dowley, “The Moment in Eighteenth-Century Art Criticism,” 317-336.

18. Lessing, Laocoon, 19. For a superb, highly contextualized reading of Laocoon, consult Wellbery, Lessing’s Laocoon.

19. While Lessing drew a distinction between poetry which worked on the imagination through an explicit temporal progression of plot, and visual arts which seized on a fragment of plot to inspire the viewer’s fancy, the fascination with ruins and fragments motivated a similar kind of imaginative response in consumers of both visual and verbal arts. This similarity becomes especially apparent in the topoi of sentimental prose and in Romantic elegy. Monika Greenleaf outlines a connection between statuary and poetry in her chapter on the genealogy of Romantic fragment in Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 30-36. In “draw[ing] a genealogical dotted line between the discovery of the sculptural fragment at the beginning of the eighteenth century and the invention of the poetic fragment toward its end,” the scholar elaborates an analogy between the sculptural/architectural fragments and the poetic ones: “If the muteness of sculptural and architectural fragments invited a complementary interior monologue from the viewer, fragments of ancient texts stimulated readers to picture the context from which they had been torn, for which they served as an inscription.” I would argue that monuments too came to be fashioned as inscriptions analogous to ruins and fragments.

20. Diderot, Oeuvres esthétiques, 462. “O beautiful, sublime ruins! […] What effect! What grandeur! What nobility!”

21. Ibid, 461. “We anticipate the ravages of time, and our imagination disperses upon the earth the very edifices in which we dwell.”

22. Winckelmann, “On the Imitation of the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks,” 61.

23. Slovtsov, “Drevnost’” (Poety 1790-1810-kh godov), 214-220. You will have carved out
Franklin, who fractured the British scepter,
Raynal the upholder of a civic charter,
As an oracle of a free nation,
And Murza in a turban, the bard of Astreia,
In an oak wreath and a grivna on his neck. [translation is mine – LG]. Grivna was a metal decoration, similar to a medal, and served as a token of distinction.

24. In addition to Lomonosov’s in the Cameron Gallery, Sumarokov’s bust deservedly adorned the Hermitage Theater.

25. Antiquity, adorning its mausoleum,
Exercises its wrath only upon us,
And strangling the eighteenth century,
Will carve out merely a new bas-relief.

26. A peaceful rainbow for them [Enlightened geniuses] appeared,
One half bent toward antiquity,
The other resting upon posterity.

27. In their acclaimed Taste and the Antique, Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny trace different receptions and re-appropriations of antiquity from the Renaissance to the Modernist fin-de-siècle. Leonard Barkan paints a fascinating picture of the discovery and appropriation of the Antiquity in the Italian Renaissance in Unearthing the Past (1999).

28. On the history of sculptures in the Cameron gallery, see two articles in a recent volume dedicated to Russian museum collections: Neverov, “Skul’pturnyi Dekor,” 9-15 and Stepanenko, “Skul’pturnaia dekoratsiia,” 15-27.

29. Alexander Schenker tells a fascinating story of all the stages of the monument’s creation in his recent The Bronze Horseman. Despite the book’s title, what comes out of the history it weaves is that at least in the initial years of Falconet’s work in Petersburg, the monument could be called Catherine’s as much as Falconet’s. In fact, the politics around the shape and the inscription on the monument reveal Catherine’s deliberate attention to her personal as well as her Empire’s national history.

30. Here one would be obliged to mention the centrality of the monument to the Petersburg text and recall its long literary genealogy from Pushkin through Bely and beyond. However, for the purposes of this article significant is the sense of novelty that such a huge sculptural specimen must have inspired in its eighteenth-century contemporaries when only a century earlier sculpture altogether had been essentially allied with idolatry.

31. See Wortman, Scenarios of Power, 1995.

32. The full entry from the Dictionary (Slovar’ Akademii Rossiiskoi, 1822: 784) reads: Памятник—1) Сооружение воздвигнутое торжественно в воспоминание и честь какой-либо особы, или знаменитого деяния, происшествия для памяти в позднейшем потомстве; Петру I воздвигнут памятник Императрицею Екатериною II; Воздвигнуть памятник в честь героя; памятник надгробный; 2) вещи, остатки, напоминающие, свидетельствующие прошедшую славу, знаменитость, величие какого-либо места; Развалины древнего Рима суть памятники бывшего его величия.”

33. There is no mention of Falconet in these two poems; however, we know that Derzhavin admired Falconet’s art and dedicated one of his later poems to Falconet’s Cupid (“Fal’konetov Kupidon,” 1804). In that poem dream meets reality as a flesh-and-blood boy congeals in Falconet’s breathing statue. This lighthearted poem pays tribute to Falconet’s art by means of a widespread eighteenth-century trope: the dead form of sculpture approximates life so closely that it appears to breathe and move (see, for instance, Lessing’s descriptions of Classical statuary).

34. “Your virtue, Peter! shall be pleasing to all ages; Preserve, preserve forever, o Creator, Him in our posterity!” (“Monument to Peter the Great”) and “Raise voices to the sky, o wind! You are immortal, o Great Peter!” (To Peter the Great”). Derzhavin, Sochineniia, 169-172.

35. For a convincing demonstration of Derzhavin’s stylistic reliance upon the visual media, see Dan’ko, “Izobrazitel’noe iskusstvo,” 166-247. The scholar characterizes Derzhavin’s poetic technique as “speaking painting” (“govoriashchaia zhivopis’”) (174). Reading Derzhavin’s oeuvre through the topos of ut pictura poesis, Dan’ko writes: “Derzhavin in his “Treatise on Lyrical Poetry” (1811) pays a lot of attention to the questions of poetic pictoriality [kartinnost’] […] Derzhavin’s genius was not that of rhetorical poetry. His paragon was Horace who likened poetry to painting.” (178-9)

36. Here Derzhavin addresses all Russians (“о Россы!”): “Let your choir praise Peter forever!”

37. “Песнь сия была в великом употреблении в ложах у масонов.” Quoted in Derzhavin, Sochineniia, 586.

38. Schoenle, “Mezhdu novoi i drevnei Rossiei,” 136.

39. Derzhavin, Sochineniia, 121. “Sit next to the wonderful monument of the leader, -- and in your mournful song convey: this pillar shall be crushed by time, destroyed.”

40. “ruins, graves, ashes, skulls, and bones of their equals.”

41. “The obelisks of such a man emit glory not because of their proximity to the heavens, stand firm not in their marble or brass. Let time destroy them, but it can’t annihilate them altogether: virtue survives in legend.”

42. “in whose honor the author had erected this monument.” Quoted in Derzhavin, Sochineniia, 572.

43. “Build, Muse, a monument to the Hero.”

44, See the section “Derzhavin and Rachette” in Dan’ko, “Izobrazitel’noe iskusstvo,” 230-247.

45. Derzhavin, Sochineniia, 195

46. “Break then, my second creator, break my bust, Rachette!” Incidentally, a curious parallel to these lines appears in Diderot’s Salons. Diderot records that Falconet, recognizing the superiority of Collot’s bust of Diderot over his own, shatters the uninspired likeness he had produced. “Ce Falconet, cet artiste si peu jaloux de la réputation dans l’avenir, ce contempteur si déterminé de l’immortalité, cet homme si disrespectueux de la postérité, délivré du souci de lui transmettre un mauvais buste.” (Diderot, Oeuvres Esthétiques, 514) The shattered bust reveals a fine pair of ears that would have been concealed if not for Falconet’s iconoclastic act. Diderot is pleased to see his own false public representation yield an object for private jokes and private admiration. Similarly, we will see that Derzhavin too is pleased to locate his bust in the domain of private aesthetic consumption. For further discussion of the passage from the Salons, consult Brewer, “Portraying Diderot,” 44-59.

47. “so as to include me, to the chagrin of my detractors, in her [Catherine’s] beautiful colonnade.”

48. Such turns toward posterity were characteristic of Enlightenment thinking. Daniel Brewer shows Diderot in a quandary over the representational power of portraiture. He finds this concern in several Diderot passages: “Quand l’homme n’est plus, nous supposons la ressemblance.” “C’est la figure … peinte qui restera dans la mémoire des hommes à venir.” Brewer elaborates: “In time the portrait always comes to take the place of its original; it’s what remains in the absence of its model. The model is just remains, remaining, remembered, but only because of its place within representation.” (Brewer, “Portraying Diderot,” 49).

49. Shcherbatov, Puteshestvie v Zemliu Ofirskuiu.

50. See Diderot, Mémoires pour Catherine II, 55-56.


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