Bogatyrs by Viktor Vasnetsov

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Богатыри - Ви́ктор Миха́йлович Васнецо́в

Painting NameBogatyrs
Painter NameViktor Vasnetsov
Completion Date1898
Size222 cm (87.4 in) x 321 cm (126.4 in)

A simple painting at first sight, about three soldiers waiting for something or on their way to somewhere is the creation of Viktor Vasnetsov. Though, the importance and reach of the painting is conceived when we know that this ranks as the most popular painting in Russia, pushing Morning in a Pine Forest by Ivan Shishkin at the second place.

Seemingly simple painting holds a grand history. The soldiers are the three most popular Bogatyrs of Russian folklore and myths – Alyosha Popovich, Ilya Muromets and Dobrynya Nikitich.

Bogatyrs were the folklore heroes who would fight against the enemies and protect the homeland. Anyone could have become a bogatyr, even a peasant. Ilya Muromets was such a peasant before he embarked on the journey of a Bogatyrs.

Bylina is a Russian folklore collection of such having Bogatyrs as their main characters. Although, the folklore also have some fictional contents (for instance, a Giant Bogatyr called Svyatogor), most of the stories are supposed to have been based on the real Bogatyr heroes supposedly existed during the 12th century.

The represented ones were the most admired bogatyrs – the middle one being the prominent one. The middle one is called Ilya Muromets. He was the peasant who one day got up and wanted to do something meaningful. According to the folklore, he went to find the giant Bogatyr Svyatogor to give him a challenge neglecting the warnings from peers. He found out the giant Svyatogor resting near a mountain. He was himself having the size of mountain, couldn’t stand on his feet because of his old age. Thus, instead of having a fight, Ilya received a boon from Svyatogor of his strength and got the advice to go to Prince Vladimir so he could commission him some missions. Thus, the given strength could be used for some good of the society. Ilya did the same. On his return, he was the second most powerful man in the country after Svyatogor.

After some years of serving the prince, he got two more companions for himself for his work, Alyosha Popovich (on the left in the painting) and Dobrynya Nikitich (on the right). Both had their own characteristics. Alyosha, a priest’s son, was a good at wits and negotiating. On the other hand, Dobrynya Nikitich was a known archer and praised for his diplomatic missions for the prince.  This trio was completing each other’s weaknesses in any situation and that’s why a perfect gang to accomplish varying missions.

Bylina has many stories circling around this trio and are popular among the Russian folks. Recently, the cartoon adoptions of Bogatyr stories are very popular and the word Bogatyr itself is representing a strong person in modern Russian language.

Viktor Vasnetsov, the Russian modernist painter, painted the large picture (7.28 x 10.53 feet) in 1898 with oil on canvas and over the time, has become a standard representative of the Bogatyr legend in Russian culture.


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