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01 September 2014

Is Bazarov human after all?

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Having recently seen a revival of Brian Friel’s  dramatic adaptation of Fathers and Sons   “after the novel by Turgenev”, I am struck how central Bazarov  is to this novel even though in this version he hardly says anything when he first appears. Instead of hearing his Nihilistic philosophy set out reinforced by all the strength  of his personality, we hear Bazarov’s beliefs and aspirations described in the words of his disciple Arkady Kirsanov with brief interjections of confirmation of correctness from Bazarov.

Turgenev in 1838
Turgenev in 1838 from A.G. Ostrovsky, Turgenev v zapisiakh sovremennikov (Leningrad, 1929) British Library X.958/4290.

It is fascinating to think Turgenev found the inspiration for the strength of Bazarov’s personality when on a visit to the tempestuous Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight (This inspiration is explored in Tom Stoppard’s play Salvage (The Coast of Utopia - Part III, p.84-87) in which Turgenev appears; you can read the relevant excerpt here.) But do we see this force expressed when he confronts his most fearsome ideological adversary, the anglophile Pavel Kirsanov?  On the contrary he is quite submissive and refuses to express any interest in the duel in which he is invited to take part.

Ironically, where Bazarov does express a good deal of emotion and passion is in his declaration of love for the wealthy widow Anna Odintsova, a love of the romantic kind which he has earlier dismissed as a myth. Perhaps this, then, is the whole point of the novel – to show the impossibility of a totally nihilistic personality (at least with his background – better attempts at this type of character were made by Dostoevsky). Bazarov inherits the ordered approach to life of his doctor father with his commitment (though using outdated methods) to improving society embodied in his continual use of Latin quotations, but he also has the passion of his mother (which in her case is directed towards religion, which Bazarov despises).

What is also brilliantly realised in this dramatization and in Lyndsey Turner’s production at the Donmar Warehouse  is the lasting effect that Bazarov has on others, notably in the final scene after his death where Arkady has an emotional outburst reminding the chattering classes who have almost returned to their trivial preoccupations what a great loss has occurred to them and Russia in the death of Bazarov – the force of his personality is very much present in that last scene even though he isn’t.      

  Fathers & Sons

The British Library holds a copy of the first edition of the original Russian text of Fathers and Sons (Отцы и Дети) published in Moscow in 1862 (shelfmark 12590.h.25). The title page of this copy is reproduced above.  The first English translation of the novel by E. Schuyler  was published in 1867 (shelfmark . Among the notable subsequent English translations held by the British Library is that of Constance Garnett. Translated as Fathers and Children (the literal meaning of the title), this was included in the Novels of Turgenev  (London, 1894-99;  012590.e.50.)

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies


Brian Friel,  Fathers and sons: after the novel by Ivan Turgenev (London, 1987). YC.1987.a.9790

Patrick Waddington,  Turgenev and England (London, 1980) X.950/2479



29 August 2014

Greek Orthodox Paper Icons in the British Library – their purpose, style and iconography

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Greek paper icons are devotional prints that flourished from the 17th to the end of the 19th century. They depict saints or religious scenes, and often include panoramic views of monasteries, with accurate depictions of their buildings and the surrounding area together with scenes of monastic life, and representations of the monastery’s patron saints, thaumaturgical icons and miracles connected with them. Inscriptions provide a key to the various scenes and give additional information about engravers, or the donors who commissioned the works.

The prints were addressed to a wider, less educated public than guides in book form and were given by travelling monks to the faithful, encouraging them to support their monastery or make a pilgrimage to it; alternatively, they were kept as mementoes of a visit to a particular monastery.

Venice and Vienna were originally the biggest production centres of Orthodox religious prints but printing workshops later appeared in the Balkans, Moscow and, by the end of the eighteenth century, in Constantinople and on Mount Athos. Though important in the history of graphic arts in the Balkans, relatively few of these prints have survived (the authoritative catalogue by D̲orē Papastratou, first published in 1986, lists 618 items). It was only in the late 19th century, with the revival of interest in folk art, that they became collectable (like Russian religious lubok prints).

The British Library has a small but choice collection of 11 Greek paper icons kept at shelfmark HS.74/2135. All are views of Mount Athos monasteries, printed in Vienna (nos 1,8), Venice (nos 2,5) Moscow (no 6) or Mount Athos (nos 3,4,7,9,10) between 1764 and 1879. They are all mounted on board, 92 x 57 cm in size. Two prints (nos 5 and 9) are duplicates. The list below gives brief notes about the prints and includes their catalogue numbers in Papastratou’s  indispensable work, which provides fuller iconographic descriptions, transcriptions of texts, and information about variant versions.

1.Hē Monē tou Hagiou Paulou [The Monastery of Hagios Paulos] (Vienna,1 May 1798). Engraving. [Papastratou 501]

Paper Icons 1
There are three registers. In the top register, the three images show, left to right,  the Icon of the Virgin which was miraculously saved after it was thrown into the fire by the iconoclast Emperor Theophilos (813-842), the Holy Trinity with St George and St Paul (the monastery’s patron saints), and the adoration of the Magi (whose gifts, as the inscription reminds us, are kept in the Paper Icons 1(detail)monastery). The magnificent view of the monastery in the central and largest register, includes an abundance of details: a boat pulling into dock, the monastery’s shipyard (Ταρσανάς), a monk drawing water from a well with a pulley and a chain, another fishing in a sea teeming with creatures including a sea-monster (κῆτος); various buildings and other locations are named in the image. Finally, the text (in Greek and Church Slavonic) at the bottom register gives details of the donors. The influence of earlier Western art on this and other landscapes in paper icons can be seen comparing it to Fra Angelico’s Thebaid in the Uffizi.

2 (and 5). Hoi Hagioi Tessarakonta Martyres [The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste] (Venice, 1764).  Engraving. [Papastratou 482]

Paper icons 2
The Monastery of Xeropotamou is dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, a group of Roman soldiers who, in 320, converted to Christianity and were condemned to be exposed naked upon a frozen lake near the city of Sebaste (present-day Sivas in Turkey). One of the soldiers lost heart, left Paper icons 2(detail)his companions and sought shelter in a warm bathhouse (left). His place was taken, however, by one of their guards who, seeing the crowns of glory shining in the sky, proclaimed himself a Christian and joined the other thirty-nine. The frozen bodies of the martyrs were carried away in carts and burned, and their ashes dispersed though some were preserved as precious relics. The subject was popular in Byzantine art, thanks to its dramatic potential; the various stages of the story are here clearly depicted and explained in the accompanying key to the characters and action. The names of the donors are also given. 

3. Hē Panagia hē Oikonomissa, Hē Monē Megistēs Lavras kai Skēnes apo ton Vio tou Hagiou Athanasiou [The “Panagia Oikonomissa”, The Monastery of Great Lavra and Scenes from the life of St Athanasius] (Hagion Oros, 1868). Engraving. [Papastratou 1868]

Paper icons 3
The monastery of Great Lavra was the first monastery built on Mount Athos. The icon shows the Virgin and Child with Saint Athanasius and Saint Michael Synadon. At left and right, ten scenes from the life of Saint Athanasius, the founder of Great Lavra in 963. This is a variant of an 1810 engraving. The most notable difference is the reversal of the view of the monastery.

4 (and 9). Hē Monē Koutloumousiou – Hē Metamorphōsē tou Sōtēros [The Monastery of Koutloumousiou – The Transfiguration] (Hagion Oros, 1839). Engraving. [Papastratou 1839]

Paper icons 4
The monastery of Monastery of Koutloumousiou is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ which here occupies a larger than usual part of the print and is better integrated into the landscape. As in the much copied and imitated Raphael prototype of which this is a distant echo, the radiant Christ is at upper centre between Moses and Elijah, and Peter, James, and John are crouched in disarray below. The lower part shows the Monastery of Koutloumousiou with, at left, a monk ploughing a field and, at right, a Phiale for the blessing of the waters, and a chapel.

6. Hē Panagia Portaïtissa tōn Ivērōn – Hē Monē tōn Ivērōn [The “Panagia Portaitissa” and the Monastery of Ivērōn] (Moscow, November 1838). Engraving. [Papastratou 455].

Paper icons 6
The Monastery of Ivērōn is dedicated to the Dormition (Assumption) of the Virgin. Its name denotes that it was founded by ‘Ivērites’ (i.e. natives of Georgia). The icon is that of the Virgin Portaïtissa. According to legend, a widow from Nicaea (Νίκαια), in north-western Anatolia (part of modern İznik) threw the icon into the sea to save it from destruction by the soldiers of the Paper icons 6 (Detail)iconoclast Emperor Theophilos. The waves brought it to the coast of Ivēra where it was found by Gabriel, a monk in the monastery, who placed it in its Katholikon (the major church building in the monastery). The icon was later lost three times but each time it miraculously re-appeared at the gate of the monastery (hence its name). At left and right there are 12 scenes, 10 of which illustrate the history of the icon. Under the icon there is a view of the Monastery of Ivērōn and its seashore and, below, a parallel text in two columns, in Greek and Church Slavonic, gives the names of the donors. The engraving was first published in Halle in 1794. This 1838 printing includes some new details, for example the figure of the monk in the foreground (presumably Gabriel) holding the icon.

7. Hē Monē Pantokratoros [The Monastery of Pantokrator] (Hagion Oros, February 1844). Engraving.[Papastratou 479].

Paper icons 7
The Monastery of Pantokrator is, like the Monastery of Koutloumousiou, dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ. The icon of the Transfiguration is framed at upper centre with Christ, Moses and Elijah above and nine apostles shown kneeling or prostrate below. Three scenes from the life of Elijah are shown: at left, his ascension in a chariot of fire and, below, the angel appearing to him; at right, the prophet fed by ravens. This is a variant of a 1779 engraving with notable differences  in the landscape.

8. Hē Monē Vatopediou [The Monastery of Vatopedi] (Vienna, 1879). Lithograph. [Papastratou 446].

Paper icons 8
This panoramic view is the only lithograph in this collection, and derives from a photograph. Stylistically it is very different from all the other prints in the collection and the only one without an icon or patron saint component. The inscription provides a key to 20 buildings of the monastery and the identity of the donor.

10. Hē Monē Koutloumousiou – Hē Metamorphōsē tou Sotēros [The Monastery of Koutloumousiou – The Transfiguration] (Hagion Oros, ca 1850). Engraving [Papastratou 474].

Paper icons 10
The Transfiguration here occupies the upper half of the engraving. The monastery is shown at lower left, with St Anne carrying the Virgin and, in a reliquary on the ground, one of the most treasured relics in the monastery, the right leg of St Anne.

11. Hē Monē Karakal(l)ou [The Monastery of Karakal(l)ou] (Hagion Oros, February 1843) Engraving. [Papastratou 494].

Paper icons 11
The top register depicts the Twelve Apostles, with Saints Peter and Paul (the monastery’s patron saints) in the centre. The inscription at the bottom register indicates that the engraving was commissioned by the grocers of the town of Redestos, and executed by Kyrillos, an Athonite monk. Kyrillos was active between 1834 and 1862.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Italian and Modern Greek 


Waldemar Deluga, and Iwona Zych, “Greek Church Prints,” in Print Quarterly 19, no. 2 (June 2002): 123-35. P.423/617.

Ḏorē Papastratou, Chartines eikones: orthodoxa thrēskeutika charaktika, 1665-1899 (Athens, 1986).  LB.31.b.347 [English edition: Paper icons: Greek orthodox religious engravings, 1665-1899.(Athens, 1990) f91/0114-5]

Theocharēs Mich.Provatakēs, Charaktika Hellēnōn laïkōn dēmiourgōn, 17os-19os aiōnas.(Athens, 1993). YF.2013.a.3460.

Graviura Grecheskogo mira v moskovskikh sobraniiakh / Prints of the Greek world in Moscow collections. (Moscow, 1997). YA.1999.b.1598.

La Stampa e l’illustrazione del libro greco a Venezia tra il settecento e l’Ottocento: atti della giornata di studio , Venezia 28 ottobre 2000.  (Venice, 2001). YF.2012.a.30117; especially Anastasia Tourta, “Greek religious engravings printed in Venice”, pp. 67-78, and George Golobias/Ioustinos Simonopetritis, “Paper icons, from Venice to Mount Athos”, pp. 53-63.

Paulos M. Mylōnas, Ho Athos kai ta monastēriaka tou hidrymata mes’ apo palēes chalkographies kai erga technēs (Athens, 1963). Cup.21.w.14.

Peter Noever (ed.) Ikonen auf Papier [exhibition at the Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, 18. Dec.1998-28. Feb.1999]. (Vienna, 1998) [Awaiting shelfmark]

Evtim Tomov, Estampes de la Renaissance Bulgare. (Sofia, 1978) [Awaiting shelfmark]

27 August 2014

Remembering the Isonzo Front

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On August 10th, while looking at the daily headlines online, I spotted one commemorating the centenary of the first death on the “forgotten” Austro-Italian Front.

This was the strange death by “friendly fire” of Countess Lucy Christalnigg, a Red Cross volunteer and amateur racing driver who was shot by nervous border guards when she apparently ignored a request to stop. She was driving along the winding valley road which still runs the length of the river Soča in what was southern Austria and is now western Slovenia, very close to the Italian border. It was 13 days since the Austro-Hungarian Empire had declared war on Serbia; just a week since Italy had announced its intention to remain neutral.

Road by Soca
The valley road where Lucy Christalnigg was killed (photo: Janet Ashton) 

The Countess’s death is still something of a mystery: which enemy, on the border with a neutral country far from the action, might she have been mistaken for? 

If the sentries wrongly took her for an Italian insurgent, they were prescient at least in their suspicions of their neighbour. In April 1915, Italy entered the war on the side of the Allied powers, who promised large swathes of Austrian territory from the Alps to the Adriatic ports in return. This led to the opening a long mountain front that ran the length of their mutual border, and saw some of the most terrible battles of the First World War, a bloodbath of ice and fire.

Map of the Italian Front, 1915-1917, from the History Department of the US Military Academy West Point (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

In the UK, this has been called the “forgotten” front, perhaps known only as the backdrop to Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, but it is far from forgotten in the countries affected. The most infamous battle was 1917’s Caporetto, whose name entered Italian idiom as a byword for disaster. Caporetto is the Italian name for the tiny town of Kobarid in Slovenia, very few miles down the same valley road from the spot where Lucy Christalnigg was killed. It was then also known by the German name Karfreit, underscoring the complexity of the area’s history. In Austria, Karfreit was the “miracle” battle.

This war cost the mainly Slovene-speaking civilian population of the area very dearly. Many were displaced to refugee camps, or fell victim to hunger, cold and disease. Once praised by the Austrian Emperor as “the most loyal subjects”, Slovene-speakers were regarded with suspicion as Slavs and subject to heavy censorship from 1914 onwards, even as they fought alongside their German-speaking compatriots to preserve the Habsburg Empire. 

Italians in turn soon learned the cost of the expansionist ambitions of their government. Military discipline was homicidally brutal, and the ill-equipped invading troops suffered constant military setbacks at the hands of Austria-Hungary and its German Allies, including one young commander named Erwin Rommel. Ultimately, Italy was on the victorious side, but did not receive everything it expected at the Peace Conference, which remained a source of great bitterness to nationalists and the bereaved.

Italy did take possession of the Soča Valley (Isonzo in Italian) between the wars, subjecting the area to a relentless policy of Italianization. In Kobarid, Mussolini ordered construction of a charnel house (photo above, by Janet Ashton) for the remains of the innumerable Italian victims of their 1917 defeat, the awful price of a few miles of mountain valley. After 1945 the area went to Yugoslavia and from 1991 has been part of the newly-independent Slovenia. It is now known as a peaceful destination for outdoor sports, popular for hiking or for kayaking the turquoise rapids of the Soča. Where there were gun placements there are campsites today, but amid the wild flower meadows and snowy peaks lie numerous reminders of the War. Kobarid is home to an excellent, non-partisan museum devoted to the victims of the battles of the Soča/Isonzo Front. From it, the Kobarid Historical Trail runs up into the mountains, taking in the charnel house and the remains of war-time fortifications. This is part of a longer way-marked trail called the Pot Miru, the Walk of Peace, which has been receiving a lot of attention in tourist publications this year, and follows the route of the Front down to the Adriatic near Trieste. It passes the open air museums of trenches and dugouts which punctuate the landscape, and the graveyards for troops on both sides.  Many of the graves have no names, as the remains of the man or boy inside could not be identified. In the village of Srpenica, a stone cross marks the spot where Lucy Christalnigg was shot.

 Soca Valley fortifications
The remains of First World War fortifications in the Soča Valley (photo: Janet Ashton)

Slovenia, Austria and Italy are all participating in the Europeana 1914-1918 project, digitising objects from library collections and from the families of ordinary participants in the war to record its impact for posterity.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

References/further reading:

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. (London, 1929). C.131.c.2.

Koren, Tadej. The First World War Outdoor Museums: the Isonzo Front, 1915-1917. (Kobarid, 2009.)

Krauss, Alfred. Das “Wunder von Karfreit,” im besonderen der Durchbruch bei Flitsch und die Bezwingung des Tagliamento. (Munchen, 1926). 09084.c.30.

Monticone, Alberto. La Battaglia di Caporetto. (Udine, 1999). YA.2001.a.34735

Thompson, Mark. The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919. (London, 2009). YC.2010.a.6941

War Cemetery
 An Austro Hungarian war cemetery for the dead of the Italian Front (photo: Janet Ashton)