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Baroque in Russian Literature of the Late Seventeenth Century

 

In the literature of the seventeenth century, unlike that of the Middle Ages, it is impossible to discern common stylistic principles. The seventeenth century is the age of the emergence, establish­ment and struggle of different literary schools and trends, both those deriving from Russian traditions and those based on West European practice. From Europe, primarily Poland, through the Ukraine-Byelorussian intermediacy, Russia borrowed Baroque that was destined to be the style of Moscow courtly culture for the last third of the seventeenth century. What were the specific features of this style?

In Europe Baroque replaced the Renaissance. Whereas man held pride of place in the Renaissance system of values, Baroque returned to the mediaeval idea of God as the first cause and purpose of earthly existence. Baroque heralded a whimsical synthesis of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This whimsicali­ty, artificiality, is present in the very term “Baroque”, whether it is seen as deriving from jewellery in which barroco was the word for a strangely shaped pearl, or from logics in which it denoted one of the irregular figures of a syllogism.

By turning once again to the Middle Ages, the art of Baroque revived mysticism, the danse macabre, the themes of the Last Judgement and infernal torment. At the same time Baroque (in theory at least) did not break with the heritage of the Renaissance or renounce its achievements. The antique gods and heroes remained the personages of Baroque writers, and antique poetry retained for them the importance of a high and unattainable model.

The “dual” nature of European Baroque was of great importance for the assimilation of this style by Russia. On the one hand, mediaeval elements in Baroque aesthetics helped Russia, for whom mediaeval culture was by no means a thing of the distant past, to accept the first European style in its “post-Horde” history relatively easily. On the other hand, the Renaissance element that fertilised Baroque determined the special role of this style in the development of Russian culture: in Russia Baroque performed the function of the Renaissance.62 Russia is indebted to the style of Baroque for the emergence of regular syllabic poetry and the theatre.

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