Recently I came across a fantastic work of art that fits beautifully into the aesthetic of the world of my novels. It’s called “Song of Alkonost,” and it’s just breathtaking. Here it is:
Then I found out that the artist, Ivan Glazunov (whose father was himself a renowned painter) basically lives a fantasy straight out of late medieval Russia. Here’s a fascinating interview with the artist from the Russian online magazine “WomanHit.” The original Russian interview can be found at this link.
Ivan Glazunov: The Artist Who Lives in a 17th century palace
When you enter into the home of this decorated artist, you enter into a different world. It’s not merely that there are so many rare artifacts, icons, and other elements of Russian folk life. This home is an incarnation of a life-long dream. And make no mistake: it’s the product of hard work. Every detail has meaning.
Ivan and his wife Yulia have four children—Olga, Glasha, Fedia, and Martha. You’d think that a house with so many children would be chaotic. But nothing could be further from the truth. The living room, the artist’s study, the kitchen, even the children’s rooms—everything is ideally clean.
Ivan, Yulia, you have such a unique house. What’s the usual reaction when people walk in for the first time?
Ivan: Some people don’t understand how we can live in such a “museum,” but others like it.
How did you manage, with all these artifacts, to make this space feel like a home, not an exhibition?
Ivan: This is our way of life. We love Russian culture of the 17th century especially. Everything pre-Petrine. And we use all the objects in this house.
Why the love for this historical period?
Ivan: I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. My mother used to take me to historical museums, and she would walk me through all the rooms, explaining everything. I think that may have had an effect on a subconscious level. I love the age of “creaking trunks” and everything associated with that. So much so that I’m actually writing a book about the symbolism of the ornamentation of the 17th century.
My parents always put a lot of stock in beautiful things with history behind them. My father loved to say that after he moved from Leningrad to Moscow, he and my mother had nothing. Their first purchase wasn’t a refrigerator or any other appliance. It was a lamp with a depiction of a Trojan warrior with a nocked bow. My father, though he lived in financial straits, was like that warrior. He never gave up.
Yulia: Our honeymoon was to the Arkhangelsk region, to explore the abandoned villages of the Russian north. We walked a lot, rode on tractors, old cars. It was a wonderful time.
Ivan: From that trip, we still have a lovely trunk dated to the 17th century. We bought it in Vologda. It’s called a “podgolovnik” (literally, something that goes under the head). It used to be placed in the front part of traveling sleds in winter, the safest place to put all your valuables.
It’s obvious that you have no accidental items. Everything has its place. Which one of them has the most interesting story?
Ivan: Everything has a story. For example, this stove façade from the 18th century. I’ve been collecting the individual tiles 2 or 3 at a time in different places. They have to be similar in style, of course. Every single tile has its own “autograph.” This one says, “I consider my own work to be useless.” Another one says, “I always act in bravery.” And so on.
Then there’s this painted cabinet. It used to belong to an ethnographer who married one of his students (he was in his seventies). To begin his new life, he started to sell off some of his historical artifacts. The painting depicts a parable about three friends from the collection “The Tale of Varlaam and Joasaph.” This is the cabinet that awoke in me the desire to decipher the complicated symbols of that time period.
You have four children. How do you think that this palatial atmosphere influences their upbringing?
Yulia: I think this is exactly what they need to understand and feel something real. Such knowledge is best absorbed in childhood. This is how their taste is developed. And of course we don’t just sit at home and look at pretty things. Our children take part in authentic folk culture in the ensemble “Veretentse,” which is careful to preserve our national folk culture. And they still manage to survive very well in our modern world.
Ivan: I remember a funny story. Fedia came back from walking outside one time. His eyes were bigger than his head. “Look at what I found,” he said. It was a broken piece of authentic 17th century tile that he found in a children’s playground in the middle of Moscow in a ditch. The city was digging to put up new lanterns, and they unearthed the foundation of a 17th century palace! Why am I saying this? My son thought it was important to find and collect such things. That means that the atmosphere of this house is leaving its mark on him. And that’s a good thing.
Yulia: There’s another funny story with Fedia. Ivan and I have always gone to bed late. The house is loud all day, and it’s only quiet at night. Only then can we have a normal conversation. So once Ivan and I are sitting and talking, and little Fedia walks in, dressed in his pajamas (he must have been about four years old). He walks straight up to the suit of armor in the living room and takes a battle axe. I’m thinking, is he sleepwalking? We asked him, “Fedia, what are you doing?” He answered, “Well, who’s going to protect the Kremlin?” Must have been a bad dream.
I’m looking at your son’s room, and I would never think this was a boy’s room. Everything so tidy, the walls are covered with paintings, including a portrait of a beautiful lady…Shouldn’t that painting be in one of the girls’ rooms?
Ivan: This painting is an old family heirloom, and it only migrated into Fedia’s room two years ago. But it’s exactly the kind of painting that will help develop a healthy Romanticism in him. It used to be in the kids’ common room. As for the furniture, I don’t like modern children’s furniture. It’s soulless. All the things in his room have meaning. For example, look at this table made from red wood. It was painted over completely with an ugly color. We took it all off, and we saw that it had a painted silhouette of Ataman Platov, a hero of the War of 1812! And for a boy, these are exactly the kinds of heroes I’d prefer he idolized.
You once said that our world is lacking in poetry. Does your home help make up this absence?
Ivan: I think so. Old things have their own, special energy. We love, collect, and study authentic Russian national costumes that we often loan to museums. Through them, people can at least have a taste of their history. We allow our own children to wear them sometimes. It’s important for me that a child has a chance to come into contact with our past, to touch it physically. It helps uphold our connection to the times that have gone.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about Russian traditions and culture, consider joining my Readers’ Group. I’ll send you two chapters of my new novel as a thank you. Just tell me where to send them: