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The Venetian Mirror: Pavel Pavlovich Muratov's "Obrazy Italii" (1924) and the Literature of Art


Criticism has not sufficiently investigated the complex aesthetic program of the three6volume
Obrazy Italii (1911–1924) of Pavel Pavlovich Muratov (1881–1950), art historian, critic, belle6
lettrist, and an exemplary type of the “renaissance man” of Russian modernism.
In its combination of art criticism, personal anecdote, biographical sketch, lyrical digression,
philosophical speculation, and history, Muratov’s text exemplifies the genre of the literature of
art modeled on John Ruskin’s three6volume Stones of Venice (1851–1853), and informed by his
readings — and translations into Russian — of, most notably, Walter Pater, Vernon Lee, and
Bernard Berenson.
Composed over a thirteen6year period marked by dramatic ruptures in the historical and cul6
tural continuity of Europe and Russia, as well as dislocations in the author’s life, Muratov’s text
may be read as an evocation of a humanist aesthetic utopia that stands as an alternative to the
fractured temporality and fractured identity of his own historical moment. This paper argues that
Muratov finds a relief from his anxiety over the dislocations of the present historical moment by
modeling a practice of reading the past through its artistic and architectural monuments.
This practice is allegorized in the 1922 short story “Venetian Mirror” [«Venetsianskoe zerka6
lo»], which, it is proposed, projects the Italy of the Renaissance as an alternative site for a
Russian cultural identity that, in Muratov’s view, has been vitiated and voided by World War I and
the Bolshevik Revolution.
Keywords: Pavel Pavlovich Muratov, Obrazy Italii/Images of Italy, “Venetian Mirror,” Venice,
Silver Age, Russian aestheticism, the image of Italy in Russian modernism, literature of art, aes6
thetic essay, aesthetic travelogue, ekphrasis, palimpsest.

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