God and Art: The Emergence and Decline of Mir iskusstva

Barbara A. Brown, Central Washington University

The goals of the Mir iskusstva were to bring about a renaissance of Russian literature and art, and to initiate a dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church. Some members of Mir iskusstva were interested only in the artistic and literary endeavors of the Symbolist movement, while other members wanted to focus on the literary, artistic and religious aspects of the proposed renaissance. The Mir iskusstva group worked together during the first years (1898-1900) on these ideas, and achieved several fundamental successes. However, with each success the group began to splinter and to engage in artistic, literary, and religious polemics. In particular, the international art exhibitions Sergej Djagilev produced in 1899 and 1900 afforded the Mir iskusstva significant national as he was appointed Personal Assistant to Manager of Imperial Theaters in 1901. (Pyman, 351). As Mir iskusstva neared the end of its publication, other prominent figures such as Zinaida Gippius, Dmitrij Merežkovskij, and Dmitrij Filosofov decided to channel most of their energies into a religious dialogue with the Church. They envisioned a major renaissance of Russian literature and art based on God as the center of any artistic or literary success. According to Merežkovskij, in his lecture “O pričinax upadka i o novyx tečenijax sovremennoj russkoj literatury,” the best representative of Russian literary culture could not as yet be found. But Merežkovskij was very clear that no matter who this representative was, God had a personal stake in the art this person created. Merežkovskij stated, “Poetry is a primordial and eternal force, an involuntary and spontaneous gift from God” (Merežkovskij, 3). Obviously, Merežkovskij saw a direct link between poetic creation and divine inspiration. Ultimately, this paper will show that the monolithic title of Mir iskusstva or even the term “Silver Age” blankets significant divisions between two major threads of discourse. Sometimes these divisions intermeshed, but they are still distinctive from one another and should be defined and discussed within the larger context of Silver Age Culture.

Mir iskusstva contributed to Silver Age culture throughout Russia and Western Europe long after the journal shut down publication in 1904. This paper will seek to explain the emergence of the Mir iskusstva as an important forum for the Symbolist artists and writers after the 1898 closure of the journal Severnyj vestnik forced them to establish their own, “truly Symbolist” journal. It will also examine the dissolution of the group after 1904, and follow Sergej Djagilev’s move to Paris and his subsequent foundation of the Ballets russes. Additionally it will discuss the continued commitment of the Merežkovskijs and Filosofov to the metaphysical approach of Mir iskusstva thought.

A comparison between the two distinct lines of artistic pursuit deserves exploration and discussion. Each laid the foundation for what is currently thought of as “Silver Age Culture.” This technical term encompasses a very compelling time in Russian culture and history, and its components should be defined and examined in current scholarship.


Дмитрий Мережковский. «О причинах упадка...». Санкт-Петербург: Издательство В. М. Вольфа, 1893.

Avril Pyman. A History of Russian Symbolism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.