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The Frontispiece of Peter the Great’s Simvoly i Emblemata (1705): An Iconographical Analysis*

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image of Canadian-American Slavic Studies

The reign of Peter the Great witnessed a “revolution in Russian imagery,” to borrow the title of James Cracraft’s book. A crucial role in this revolution was played by a handbook of Western symbolism, Simvoly i Emblemata, published in Amsterdam in 1705 on Peter’s order. While Tsar Peter was on his grand tour of Western Europe in 1697-98, he became fascinated by the emblem book of Daniel de la Feully (Devises et Emblémes), published in Amsterdam in 1691. Peter ordered a Russian translation of the book and a new frontispiece as well. The frontispiece, designed by Joseph Mulder, contained Peter’s Western-style portrait surrounded by eight 8 devices (images and mottos) with bilingual Latin and Russian inscriptions. Until now, there has been no study of the iconography of the frontispiece which aimed to glorify Tsar Peter as a military leader – a new Hercules – in Russia and abroad. Careful study of the frontispiece reveals hidden messages addressed to the enemies of Russia and also shows how Peter was presented as the creator of a new Golden Age of Russia. Iconographical analysis is used here to decode the ideological and propaganda messages conveyed by the frontispiece.

Affiliations: 1: University of Pécs, Hungary


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