(Art) The Martial Mytho-fantasies of Konstantin Vasilyev

“Konstantin Vasilyev died on October 29, 1976 in a railway accident near Kazan. His family and friends never believed in the official version of his death and suspected that the painter was murdered. Vasilyev was buried in the village of Vasilyevo, where he lived since 1949.

Recognition came posthumously. Vasilyev’s oeuvres steadily gained in popularity through the late Soviet and early post-Soviet periods, until they have reached a virtually iconic status among Russian nationalists, neo-pagans and fantasy geeks. A documentary “Vasilyev from Vasilyevo” was released in 1978. The minor planet 3930 Vasilev, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Zhuravlyova in 1982, is named after him. The Konstantin Vasilyev Museum opened in Moscow in 1998. In 2013, the Konstantin Vasilyev Art Gallery was opened in Kazan.” (Adapted from Wikipedia)

It’s hard to know what to make of Russian symbolist painter Konstantin Vasilyev (1942-1976). In depicting Slavic and Teutonic myth, his work are now beloved of Russian nationalists, which is disturbing, but in composition, there’s nothing you wouldn’t find on the pages of any Dungeons and Dragons manual, or in museums across the Western world. Indeed, Marvel has a major character and a whole series of movies taken directly from Teutonic myth. That’s the problem with symbols; they’re fluid and easily co-opted by later generations, for good or bad.

Little is known about Vasilyev’s personal beliefs, especially since his fame came posthumously, but his apparent assassination at the hands of the Soviet state would suggest he wasn’t a good communist. I suspect he was simply a man who liked battles and fantasy stories and who drew upon the only inspiration he had.

He was certainly prolific, producing over 400 works in his short lifespan. My favorite is his portrait of Nastasia Mikulichna, a female warrior from a Russian epic myth. I love in particular how one of her gauntlets has been thrown, and how the seemingly innocent tree in the foreground cuts her in half, foreshadowing a gruesome fate.

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