The Garden of Eden in the Russian Art from the XVII to early XX century

The concept of Paradise in the European culture evolved under the influence of two Christian concepts: the Paradise lost (Eden) and the Paradise expected (New Jerusalem).
In Christianity, Paradise, the place of absolute happiness, prosperity and abundance that was granted by God to Man and lost after the latter had acted against God’s will is seen as a garden – an ideal living environment. This image of garden has been guiding Christians in their exploration of nature and arrangement of their ‘cultural living space’ – the churches, homes and settlements.
The concept of the Garden of Eden originated in the texts of the Holy Scripture and in the Holy Tradition. In the garden there grew trees that were ‘pleasant to the sight and good for food’ among which one can always find the Tree of Life that connects the earthly world to Heaven. Paradise is surrounded by a river, or rivers, whose waters separate it from the world of sin. In the Revelation of St. John the Theologian, the image of Paradise is expanded: besides the garden we find there a city built of gold and precious stones (Genesis 2.8 – 3.24; Rev. 22. 1-2).


The interest in Paradise and its ‘structure’ characteristic of all the Christian culture still increased when the mankind supposed it had presentiment of the end of the world.
The image of the Garden of Eden found its brightest evocation in the Russian art of the XVII century. For one thing, it was connected with the recovery of the Russian Orthodox state after the Times of Trouble and its strengthening; for another thing, there were expectations of the Doomsday on the threshold of the year 1666 AD. This interest to Paradise manifested itself not only in the reading and writing of texts on the end of the age, but also in the creation of ‘icons’ of Paradise on earth (‘icon’ meaning ‘image’ in this respect).

The first natural and architectural ‘icons’ of this kind were created by order of Patriarch Nikon at the Valdai Iversky and New Jerusalem Resurrection monasteries.
It is in the two above-mentioned monasteries that polychrome glazed tiles and elaborate carving that became the landmark phenomena of the XVII century culture were created.
The residence of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich in Izmailovo became one of the incarnate images of the Garden of Eden. Gardens, apothecary gardens, an aviary and a zoo were arranged on an artificial island and around. Peasants and craftsmen from various regions of Russia and even from abroad were resettled here.

A Tsar’s residence was compared to Paradise, the place where the first man lived in blessing, the place of harmony where everything obeyed God’s order, the order thanks to which various beings, including man, could co-exist in peace and various species of plants could grow. Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, who organized this ‘Paradise on earth’, was likened to the first man, Adam, whose duty was to ‘till and keep’ the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2.15) as well as to God, the Creator of Paradise, Himself. It is important to note that according to the Bible tradition, Paradise was separated from the world of sin by water (river or sea). In Izmailovo, an artificial island, land surrounded by waters, appears at the will of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich.
The Izmailovo Paradise has mainly been lost. Yet, the surviving architectural sites located on the island along with the examples of icon painting and decorative and applied art will help the visitor to recreate in his mind the image of this XVII century Paradise.

Elements of white stone and tile décor of Moscow XVII century buildings as well as of carved iconostases of that time make part of the present exposition. The ornaments abundant in fruit, splendid branches and flowers, with a great variety of coloured enamels and gilding create the image of the heavenly garden and at the same time speak of fertility of the earth and prosperity of man. The epithet ‘the Quietest’ that meant ‘Prayerful’, i.e. praying for peace in his country, that was included into the Russian Tsar’s title in the XVII century, was a sign of this prosperity of the Russian Tsardom in the reign of the righteous Tsar Alexey.

The image of the Garden of Eden that found the brightest expression in the XVII century ‘royal’ art lived on from the XVIII to early XX century in the art works created in church and popular milieu. The folk art of the XVIII and XIX centuries borrows much from the ‘royal’ XVII century art traditions and forms. That is why our exposition features fragments of wood house carving, glazed tiles and household items dating back from the XVIII to early XX century.

The present exposition’s intention is to show the important place of Izmailovo in the XVII century culture and to reveal the key cultural and ideological image of the Russian art of the XVII – early XX centuries. The XVII century architectural sites (Intercession Cathedral, Bridge Tower) and the island itself make an ideal environment of the exposition.

Entrance tickets price 100 roubles;
Reduced price: 50 roubles;
Exposition opening hours: 10.00-18.00
How to get there
1, bldg 4 Bauman City, Bridge Tower
“Partizanskaya’ underground station, further take No 22 trolley-bus and go up to “Glavnaya Alleya” stop

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