Volkswagen Fellowship Symposium – “Visualizing Violence in Muscovite Imperial Expansion in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries”

Valerie Kivelson, University of Michigan:

Sixteenth-century chronicle illustrations represent Russian Orthodox troops and their Muslim Tatar foes indistinguishably. By the late seventeenth century, illustrators of historical chronicles and saints’ lives began to include visual identifiers of ethnicity and race. But despite this new visual differentiation, depictions of bloody acts committed by righteous Christians and by defiant infidels are shown in identical and equally graphic terms. Finding the moral valences in these depictions requires careful contextual reading and familiarity with the political-moral codes of Muscovite political culture. Subtle gestures, poses, and groupings of people situate scenes of carnage, so that one scene of decapitated corpses and streams of blood may signal righteous punishment and another cruel tyranny.

Valerie Kivelson (PhD Stanford University) teaches at the University of Michigan, where she is Thomas N. Tentler Collegiate Professor and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of History. Her publications include Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Russia (2013); Cartographies of Tsardom: The Land and Its Meanings in Seventeenth-Century Russia (2006), and Picturing Russia: Explorations in Visual Culture, co-edited with Joan Neuberger (2008).

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