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11. Ucha Japaridze, Lado Gudiashvili, and the Spiritual in Painting in Soviet Georgia

Jennifer Brewin

© 2017 Jennifer Brewin, CC BY 4.0

This chapter examines the career of the Soviet Georgian painter Ucha Japaridze (1906–88) (fig. 11.1) who, despite being little known in the west, was among Soviet Georgia’s most successful artists in the Stalin and post-Stalin eras. The first reassessment of Japaridze’s painting since his death, it offers a fresh analysis that investigates, in particular, themes of religion, spirituality, and mysticism that recurred in his painting throughout his career. It makes a case for examining his encounters with modernist currents in Russian, Georgian, and European painting and literature, including, in particular, the Symbolist movement, as sources of those themes. In doing so, it makes an initial step towards resurrecting the neglected history of Georgian artists’ negotiation of modernist impulses, national cultural mythologies, and Soviet cultural dictates. At the same time, it helps to demonstrate the reach and endurance of modernism’s legacy and of the spiritual as a source of imagery and ideas in Soviet painting, extending beyond Russia’s borders and beyond the usual chronology of modernism and spiritual enquiry in Russian and Soviet art.

The Soviet regime sought to achieve a secular, atheist society and it thus became increasingly difficult for artists to engage with religious or spiritual themes. Once socialist realism was declared the official formula for the arts in the Soviet Union in 1934, Soviet painting was required to operate within a defined set of state-approved parameters. Painters were to portray Soviet life as if the state’s socialist (and secular) utopia of tomorrow had already been realised today; thus there could be little room for religious content, or, at least, for positive portrayals of religious practice in Soviet life. Nevertheless, just as secular rule did not translate to a fully atheist society, these limitations did not mean the absence of all religious content or of the spiritual in Soviet art. In certain periods, when it was deemed to be politically beneficial (for example, during the Second World War and following the failures of Nikita Khrushchev’s anti-religious campaign of 1958–64), the Soviet regime strategically tolerated public religious observance. But even during its most aggressive crackdowns on religion, when public religious activity was vastly diminished throughout the Soviet Union, religious belief did not disappear, especially within rural communities and among older generations.1 Where secularisation limited religious expression and practice, it brought ‘not a loss of religion, but religious change’ — change in the ways religiosity manifested itself, but not its disappearance.2 Cultural traditions rooted in abandoned practices remained a part of daily life even as they became disassociated from their religious roots.3 As a result, painting could evoke memories of and associations with religion or suggest the sacred while excluding explicit reference to religion, especially when depicting rural life. Many artists, moreover, continued to draw on the lessons of religious art and of artists who had concerned themselves with spiritual enquiry in previous decades, and used imagery with religious or spiritual associations in constructing their vision of life in the Soviet Union. Japaridze, as this chapter will argue, is one such artist.

My investigation takes as its starting point the collection of Japaridze’s work preserved in the artist’s former studio in Tbilisi, maintained as a house museum under the aegis of the Georgian National Museum. It examines the treasures of this important, but little-known collection, including previously unstudied early sketchbooks and mature works, and analyses them in conjunction with biographical and contextual evidence drawn from the memoirs of contemporaries and the accounts of several Soviet biographers. Its first task is to redress gaps in Soviet accounts of Japaridze’s career that are concerned primarily with charting and celebrating his contributions to the canon of Soviet socialist realism.4 Placing particular emphasis on the nostalgic portraits of traditional life in rural Georgia for which Japaridze became known in the 1950s and 60s, Soviet authors presented Japaridze as a committed, life-long adherent of socialist realism, the patriotic creator of a lyrical, romantic vision of life in Soviet Georgia. This characterisation is fair with respect to sections of Japaridze’s artistic production, but these accounts disregard works and information that do not fit as easily into the narrative of his development as a socialist realist painter. In particular, they pay little attention to his early contacts with Tiflis’s early twentieth-century avant-garde or to evidence of these encounters in his painting.5 As a result, Japaridze’s engagement with artistic and literary influences associated with the culture of the fin-de-siècle, and, in particular, the Symbolist movement, have been underplayed, as have religious and spiritual themes present in his painting. I set out here to resurrect the history of that encounter and, in doing so, to resituate Japaridze’s mature painting within the contacts and contexts of his formative years.

It is not the aim of this chapter to argue that Japaridze was not a socialist realist painter, or that he was a Symbolist or otherwise modernist and dissident painter whose work somehow passed without notice under the radar of the Soviet censor. However, as a result of his engagement with pre-Revolutionary and modernist trends, he produced a body of painting which increasingly trod a path between conformity and dissidence. His art remained within the bounds of the acceptable, while also gently criticising the regime, by presenting a subtly pessimistic view of the transformation of rural life in Georgia under Soviet rule. In that sense, its closest analogy is to be found in the Village Prose movement, a literary movement that appeared during the 1950s and 1960s and existed within the official culture of the era, yet expressed regret for a traditional way of life that its authors felt had been lost.6 In some instances the nostalgic mood of Japaridze’s representations of rural Georgia simply reflected the sentimental turn which socialist realism took as a whole in the post-War years. Yet in others Japaridze presented more sinister visions of Soviet life, many of which drew imagery directly from his early encounters with the Symbolist movement. The impact of these earlier encounters on Japaridze’s mature painting is evidenced by the frequent recurrence of imagery from early works, almost verbatim, in paintings of the 1950s onwards.

11.1 Ucha Japaridze, Self-Portrait, 1941. Ink on paper, 21 x 15 cm. Ucha Japaridze House Museum, Tbilisi. Photograph © Georgian National Museum, all rights reserved.

11.2 Lado Gudiashvili. 1910s. Photograph. Konstantin Zanisi. The National Parliamentary Library of Georgia. Photograph in the public domain. Wikimedia,

11.3 Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, View of Tiflis in the early 1900s. Photograph in the public domain. Wikimedia,,_in_the_early_1900s,_Sergei_Mikhailovich_Prokudin-Gorskii.jpg

The chapter is divided into two sections. The first revives the history of Japaridze’s interaction with representatives of the Symbolist movement in Georgia, above all, the literary society known as the Blue Horns (Tsisperi qantselebi) and the painter Lado Gudiashvili (1896–1980) (fig. 11.2). It explores evidence of this encounter in Japaridze’s artistic output between 1925 and 1935, much of which is examined here for the first time. I then turn to Japaridze’s continued engagement with Symbolist sources and imagery and the prevalence of themes of religion, spirituality, and the occult in his mature painting. I examine the intimate representations of life in rural Georgia with which Japaridze’s name became synonymous in the post-War period, focusing in particular on his representation firstly of animals and livestock, and secondly, of women. In Symbolist iconography, both are associated with the visualisation of the spiritual, the magical: that which is beyond everyday reality. As we will see, in Japaridze’s painting, they frequently evoke heightened emotional and psychological states explored in Symbolist art and literature, including fear, anguish, distress, apprehension or grief, or they carry associations of the divine. Through the introduction of these motifs and the employment of certain pictorial devices that counter canonical forms of socialist realism, ostensibly harmonious pastoral scenes become deeply ambiguous, sometimes even dark and unsettling.

Becoming an Artist in Early Soviet Georgia

Japaridze’s childhood and teenage years coincided with the dramatic and unprecedented transformation of cultural and intellectual life in Georgia’s capital that took place in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Georgia, and Tiflis (fig. 11.3) in particular, being situated at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, had been home to an extraordinarily diverse multi-ethnic population throughout its long history. For centuries its demographic had incorporated large communities of Persians, Armenians, and Russians, as well as Georgians and other national groups, many of whom were drawn to the city for trade. Moreover, invasions and occupations by powerful neighbours, including the Persian, Ottoman, and Russian Empires, had inevitably led aspects of occupying powers’ cultural traditions and religious practices (as well as their peoples) to be absorbed and integrated into modern Georgian culture.7 In the 1910s and 1920s, however, Tiflis became still more cosmopolitan when the city suddenly became a sanctuary for Russian and European artists, writers, and intellectuals seeking refuge from the ravages of revolution and war to the north and west.8 In addition to its already cacophonous jumble of ethnic and cultural identities, a bustling new avant-garde community of writers and artists of various inclinations colonised the city, founding journals, holding events, and opening taverns where they could meet to discuss the latest movements in European, Russian, and Georgian art, literature, and philosophy. Well-known Russian artists, writers, and intellectuals including Aleksei Kruchenykh, Vasily Kamensky, Igor Terentev, Iuri Degen, Sergei Gorodetsky, and Vera and Sergei Sudeikin all became visitors or temporary residents of this ‘fantastic city’ whose sudden cultural flourishing peaked during Georgia’s brief independence from Imperial Russian and subsequently Soviet rule between 1918 and 1921.9

Through the arrival of these figures, as well as the activities of Georgia’s own emerging cadres of modernist artists and writers, a whole new vocabulary of intellectual thought and political, philosophical, literary, and artistic ideas appeared in Georgia. The arrival of European and Russian literary and artistic movements, including Symbolism and Futurism, as well as the currents of Romanticism still prevailing across Europe and Russia (with its fascination, in particular, with all things ‘oriental’), were reshaping the ways both Georgians and foreigners conceived of and represented Georgia and Georgian culture. These transformations formed the unique intellectual environment in which Japaridze found himself as a young aspiring painter.

Japaridze moved to Tiflis to study painting only in 1922, a year after the Bolsheviks had taken control of Georgia and established the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in February 1921. Thus he arrived in the city only after anticipation of Bolshevik hostility had dispersed part of its vibrant intellectual community. As such, he has been assumed to have little or nothing connecting him with the cultural flourishing of pre-1921 Tiflis. He belongs to the first generation of Georgian painters educated under Soviet power, those graduating amidst the upheaval of Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan and Cultural Revolution when organisations such as the Association of Artists of the Revolution (AKhR, 1928–32) in Moscow, and the Georgian Association of Revolutionary Artists (SARMA, 1929–32), were demanding the proletarianisation of the arts and declaring their opposition to the ‘bourgeois’, ‘decadent’ avant-garde movements of the preceding decades.10

Indeed, Japaridze’s immediate and consistent success in Soviet Georgia has reinforced notions of his distance from Georgia’s pre-Soviet avant-garde. Even as he was finishing his studies at Tiflis’s Academy of Arts (established 1922), his works shown at SARMA’s exhibitions in 1930 and 1931 were attracting praise in the local press.11 By 1936, following three years’ work experience in Moscow and boasting a network of useful contacts in the Soviet capital, he returned to Tiflis to be given a teaching post at the Academy alongside his former teachers — a position that he retained throughout his career. By that time Japaridze had adopted a realist style of painting compatible with the gradually crystallising demands of socialist realism, and he was contributing canvases to Stalin’s personality cult, answering demands from Transcaucasian Party Secretary Lavrenty Beria for works illustrating Beria’s new, highly falsified history of Stalin’s role in the Bolshevik conquest of Transcaucasia.12 In the post-War period he earned further fame fulfilling several high-profile commissions, including eight-metre-long frescoes for Tbilisi’s branch of the Institute of Marx-Engels-Lenin. These commissions, along with numerous state prizes, positions of authority, and the large personal exhibitions with which he was honoured (in Moscow in 1963, in Tbilisi in 1948, 1961, 1968, and 1970, and in his home village of Gari in 1962) affirmed his enduring position as a leading figure of Soviet Georgia’s artistic establishment, and reinforced assumptions about his distance from Georgia’s pre-Soviet avant-garde.

Nevertheless, a mass of visual and biographical evidence also attests to Japaridze’s extensive engagement with that avant-garde community, a significant contingent of which continued to be active in Tiflis for at least a decade after the arrival of Bolshevik power, including the Blue Horns. This also included Gudiashvili, who taught Japaridze at the Academy and became his friend and mentor from that period onwards. Soviet scholarship tended to overlook the importance of these encounters — Japaridze’s early contact with Gudiashvili was presented as little more than an unfortunate period during which his work briefly strayed into “arbitrary proportions” and “hypertrophy of form”.13 Though some Soviet texts mention in passing Japaridze’s personal connections with members of the Blue Horns association, no serious enquiry into his professional engagement with their writing has been offered. Moreover, in post-Soviet Georgia, painters of the Stalin era have attracted little interest among scholars.14

Since the late 1980s, flourishing western scholarship on socialist realism in literature, music, and the arts has demonstrated the complexity of the Stalinist cultural project, despite its aesthetic retrospection and tragic implications for intellectual and personal freedoms, and made a clear case for its further study. Pioneering studies by Boris Groys, Katerina Clark, Evgeny Dobrenko, Irina Gutkin, and others have transformed our understanding of socialist realism, elucidating its mechanisms and explaining its cultural origins in both the preceding avant-garde movements and the intellectual currents of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.15 Since the majority of this scholarship focuses on the artists and institutions and the political machinery operating in Moscow, at the Soviet centre, however, an examination of artistic activity on the Soviet periphery is much needed, not least in Georgia’s case in light of the limited scholarship concerning the republic to date, and Georgia’s special significance as the place of Stalin’s birth.16

Irina Gutkin has demonstrated the important role that Russian Symbolist philosophers and writers including Vladimir Solovev (1853–1900) and Viacheslav Ivanov (1866–1949) played in the genesis of socialist realism and socialist realist language.17 The Symbolists were engaged with theories concerning the occult, meaning a tangible higher realm existing beyond the visible, material reality, and with the idea that the observable world is made up of signs which can be decoded by the artist to reveal a higher reality. Responding to Solovev’s theurgic aesthetics assigning artists and poets with the task of transfiguring the world through “the possession of the religious idea”, Ivanov developed his theory of the mythological properties of artistic language.18 He proposed Symbolist poetic language, in which the ordinary language of empirical, material things, as distinguishable from the poetic-metaphorical language of a higher, spiritual plane, would be the penultimate linguistic stage in an evolution towards a mythological language in which material and spiritual realities are synthesised. As Gutkin shows, socialist realist language represents a realisation of Ivanov’s prediction in that it constructs Soviet reality through a set of carefully controlled myths that conflate two realms — a beautiful mythologised present and future. Its vocabulary was made up of “a limited menu of positive and negative epithets, depending on whether it signified something belonging to the Soviet future-like world or the old, capitalist world”, and every word was “bonded together into a rigid system of politically correct correspondences […] coded to officially sanctioned mythologems”, ensuring absolute control over the way they were read.19 The cultural myths this language employed then served “as grids of perception through which […] so-called reality” was presented.20 Through the continual repetition of this vocabulary of stock myths, presented through political rhetoric, literature, and visual culture, the people’s cognition of those myths was automated so that they entered the Soviet citizen’s subconscious and came to form the lens through which reality was perceived (or, following Dobrenko’s argument, the material from which socialist reality was produced).21

In some of his artistic production from the Stalin era, and more explicitly during the post-Stalin era, Japaridze increasingly eluded this rigid system of signs by interspersing imagery and symbols drawn from Symbolist art and literature, and from Georgia’s particular national cultural mythology, in his portraits of Soviet Georgia. As has been noted before, despite the rigidity of socialist realism’s vocabulary of stock myths and images, since symbols could “have several meanings, even at the same time, and […] can often be used ambiguously”, artists and writers could harness “the multivalence of literature’s [and visual culture’s] iconic signs” to convey meanings outside of the official viewpoint.22 The relatively liberal climate of the post-Stalin years in particular allowed for a looser definition of socialist realism which drew on an increasingly broad range of sources that could be combined to create even greater ambiguities in their interpretation. In Japaridze’s case, because national cultural myths were as entrenched as Soviet myths in Georgians’ conception of reality (helped by Soviet nationalities policies that encouraged the preservation and popularisation of Georgian cultural heritage), symbols could often be read ambiguously as responding either to Georgian national or Soviet myth systems (or both), thus giving rise to multiple meanings.23 Moreover, since socialist realist language itself drew heavily on Christian and occult themes and imagery (for example, the supernatural abilities with which, as Groys, Clark, and others have observed, Stalin or other heroes and villains were imbued in countless socialist realist novels), there was scope for experimenting with mystical and occult themes pervading in Romantic and Symbolist visions of Georgia.24 As I argue here, while enjoying the pragmatic support of the State, extended to him in part due to the Georgian public’s emotional investment in Japaridze’s painting as the visualisation of their own national feeling, Japaridze, like many artists in the post-Stalin era, inhabited a space between artistic conformity and dissent.

Fantastic City: Japaridze and Tiflis in the 1910s and 1920s

The Blue Horns association, which included poets Paolo Iashvili and Titsian Tabidze, was a prominent feature of Tiflis’s cultural community in the late 1910s and 1920s. Formed under the mentorship of the Georgian writer and publicist, Grigol Robakidze, in the Georgian city of Kutaisi in 1916 (relocating to Tiflis in 1919), it was Georgia’s first home-grown modernist literary organisation. Many of the group’s members were returning to Georgia following studies in St Petersburg, France, and Germany, and brought with them knowledge of contemporary European literary and intellectual movements. Although their interests were eclectic (several of them, like Gudiashvili, also participated in Futurist activities) they were united, above all, by their allegiance to contemporary Symbolist and Decadent movements sweeping Europe and Russia.25 By engaging with these movements they were the first to break with the strict linguistic forms that had governed Georgian literature before them. They adopted European Symbolism’s concern with the expression of intense emotional and psychological experiences and its prevailing themes of love, death, anguish, and unrequited desire. Moreover, they shared the European Symbolists’ belief in a higher spiritual realm that the poet or artist could communicate to the reader or viewer through a system of symbols. Their writing adopted common Symbolist visual motifs and sources — otherworldly creatures, virginal maidens, tormented demons — as well as Symbolism’s debt to Greek mythological and biblical sources.

However, the Blue Horns were not concerned simply with importing the innovations of their European colleagues to Georgia. Instead they sought to establish a modern literary canon that was rooted in Georgia’s own national cultural mythology. Their poetry and prose exploring Symbolist preoccupations of love, anguish, and death was set in the malarial marshes of Georgia’s lowlands or against the vast peaks of the Caucasus mountains, and populated with imagery mined from Georgia’s unique cultural history. References abound to Georgia’s powerful medieval dynasties and famous chivalric traditions, to the poetry of Shota Rustaveli (Georgia’s twelfth-century national bard), and the country’s multifarious religious beliefs and practices. Moreover, the Blue Horns’ adoption of imagery from Greek mythology held specific connections to Georgia’s cultural ancestry, due to the extensive cultural influence Ancient Greece asserted over the proto-Georgian kingdom of Colchis (which occupied the western territories of modern Georgia). In turn, Transcaucasia claimed a prominent place in the ancient Greek imagination as the exotic, untamed land of Prometheus and Jason and the Argonauts. As such, the Blue Horns’ engagement with mythological sources had particular significance in their construction of their own and Georgian national identities. For example, the group’s meeting place, the Kimerioni café, took its name from Greek mythology’s chimera, a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature usually represented as part lion and part goat, with a snake for a tail. Since the chimera was fabled to inhabit Asia Minor, a territory that to the Greek imagination, like Colchis, represented the wild, exotic lands of an unknown east, the choice of name reflects the self-orientalising, self-exoticising vision of Georgia that the Blue Horns cultivated in their writing.26 This exoticisation of Georgian identity is of particular interest in considering Japaridze’s relationship with the Blue Horns writers, and his representation of Georgia in the Stalin and post-Stalin eras.

Japaridze’s connections with the Blue Horns predated his relocation to Tiflis in 1922. His brothers, twins Grigol and Lado, had been active members of the society since the year of its formation in 1916. As such, Japaridze, who was only nine years old when it formed, was surely familiar with its ideas and members from a young age. Indeed Japaridze’s father, who was also a published writer, reportedly held frequent literary evenings at the family home and kept an extensive library, making it probable that Japaridze was well versed in the latest literary and artistic movements in Europe and Russia by the time he entered his teens.27 While there is no specific written record of Japaridze’s professional interactions with the group in the 1920s, the absence of such records is not conclusive evidence that they did not take place. Instead, the denouncement (and in several cases, murder) of many of the Blue Horns writers in the Great Terror of 1937–38 offers plentiful explanation as to why any such connections might have been suppressed. It is clear that Japaridze was close with the group at least by the mid-1930s, as he later recalled how Titsian Tabidze and Iashvili would often visit him in Moscow in the 1930s to “wander the streets” and “talk about art” together.28 These friendships in the 1930s, and connections via his brothers and Gudiashvili, suggest a professional interaction in the 1920s and early 1930s that is also reflected in Japaridze’s painting.

Like Japaridze’s brothers, Gudiashvili was a close collaborator of the Blue Horns from the group’s inception.29 His painting during the 1910s and 1920s is known for its eclectic blend of influences and references, with debts to sources as disparate as Georgian ecclesiastical wall-painting, Persian miniature painting, the beguiling portraits of the Jewish-Italian painter and sculptor Amadeo Modigliani (whom he met during a period of residence in Paris from 1920 until 1925), and the anatomical distortions of Art Deco design. However, his most sustained engagement was with the Blue Horns. Like the group’s poetry and prose, Gudiashvili’s painting of the period is replete with Symbolism’s magic and mysticism, yet uniquely Georgian in its imagery. Numerous paintings present sinister visions of Tiflis’s destitute underclasses in which the city’s carousing kintos (petty tradesmen), often lustful and demonic in appearance, mingle with the criminals and fallen women of Ortachala, the city’s impoverished bohemian district. An insipid palette and distorted, un-naturalistic treatment of space and form imbues them with an eerie, unreal quality. Other works conjure strange exotic landscapes inhabited by bewitching, otherworldly nudes, nymphs, and virgins surrounded by lush foliage and magical creatures, all lit up in the ethereal glow of twilight. Marrying Symbolism’s exotica with Georgian settings, works such as Green Woman (Spring) (1920), Virgin in the Mountains (1923), and In the Waves of Tskhenistsqali (1925) offer visual analogies to the poetry of Titsian Tabidze, who claimed to put “Hafisz roses in Prudhomme’s vase, Baudelaire’s poisonous flowers in Besiki’s garden”.30

Georgia’s rich history of spiritual traditions is a central wellspring of the Blue Horns’ and Gudiashvili’s imagery. Although the history of Christianity in Georgia stretches back as far as the fourth century, the country has also played host to a panoply of other traditions, each of which has seeped into a cultural mythology of modern Georgia. Islam and Islamic cultural traditions became a part of Georgian life during Persian and Ottoman occupations in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries and continue to colour Georgian culture today. Similarly, the pre-Christian pagan beliefs and practices of the proto-Georgian kingdom of Iberia occupy an important place in modern Georgia’s identity, not least due to the fusion of pagan and Christian beliefs and practices that is still observed in Georgia’s remote, north-eastern regions such as Khevsureti and Pshavi.31

Twentieth-century perceptions of Georgia’s spiritual traditions have been shaped to a significant degree by nineteenth-century intellectuals’ representation of them. As Susan Layton has shown, Russian Romantic writers including Lermontov, Pushkin, and Bestuzhev-Marlinsky presented an image of Georgia that emphasised Muslim and pagan ‘oriental’ elements of her spiritual and cultural identity.32 They constructed Georgia as both Asiatic and feminine, wild, and irrational — vis-à-vis a civilised, rational, male Russia — to produce a narrative legitimising Russia’s annexation and ‘protection’ of Georgia. They advanced a “dualistic construct of woman”: Georgia, personified through their female characters, was “an intensely good figure (the innocent virgin, the devoted mother)” yet “liable to metamorphose into a fiend (the murderess, the sorceress, the temptress)”.33 Drawing on Islamic and pagan motifs in realising the latter incarnation in particular, these writers created a vision of Georgia that was beautiful and desirable, yet also dangerous and unpredictable — a land to be loved, but also controlled. These Russian writers and their Georgian followers, such as Ilia Chavchavadze, Grigol Orbeliani, and Nikoloz Baratashvili provided a vocabulary for constructing Georgian identity with reference to her spiritual and cultural traditions that the Blue Horns, Gudiashvili, and ultimately Japaridze would adapt to their own visions of Georgia and Georgian-ness.34

Ucha Japaridze and Symbolism in Georgia

Japaridze’s early works and sketchbooks of the 1920s and early 1930s abound with the otherworldly imagery of the Symbolist movement, including motifs particular to Gudiashvili’s and the Blue Horns’ markedly Georgian brand of Symbolism. However, such imagery was often more mystical than spiritual. For example, Japaridze’s sketchbooks feature fantastical beasts familiar from Georgian mythology: majestic pheasants, howling wolves, and rearing stallions. These appear alongside ‘oriental’ princes and menacing demons with grotesquely distorted, laughing faces indebted to the carnivalesque, erotic imagery of Gudiashvili’s painting, inspired in turn by that of Sergei Sudeikin, the Russian Symbolist painter known for his fantastical decorations adorning St Petersburg’s Stray Dog cabaret, and Gudiashvili’s collaborator on the murals decorating the Kimerioni café. In addition, watercolour illustrations of contemplative, virginal maidens in long draping dresses recall the forlorn maidens of Galaktion Tabidze’s early poetry and the Pre-Raphaelites in England.35 Favoured Symbolist themes of death, mourning, and despair are similarly abundant: on one page a skull embraces the artist’s disembodied head as if delivering a kiss of death. Other illustrations present mourning figures kneeling at gravesides, their bodies bent in grief or arched to the sky in despair, while one shows stooping crows that metamorphose into mourners.

Numerous pictures from this period reflect Japaridze’s engagement with Gudiashvili’s painting and Symbolist themes more broadly. An early pastel image, Sleeping Shepherd (1935) (fig. 11.4), for example, demonstrates the breadth of Symbolist sources to which he was responding. Ostensibly a realist picture, the image, in which a shepherd reclines against a twisting, knotted tree overhanging the bank of a river, unites a familiar set of motifs. In presenting the figure asleep in the landscape it aligns itself with the Symbolists’ interest in the cognitive possibilities of dreaming, which they associated with accessing higher spiritual planes. It recalls representations of dreaming in the works of the Russian Symbolist painters of the Blue Rose group, such as Petr Utkin’s The Dream (1905), as well as the reclining kintos of Gudiashvili’s Dreamers of Ortachala (1920).36 The curve and twist of Japaridze’s shepherd’s elongated body, moreover, his narrow waist, broad shoulders, slender limbs and arched neck clearly emulate the willowy figures of Gudiashvili’s kintos. Their distorted forms introduce otherworldly strangeness that contributes to the sense of their dream-world setting, and impart a divine quality through stylisation of form comparable to that found in Byzantine and Orthodox mural painting. The work’s azure palette, moreover, aligns it with the Symbolists’ association of the colour blue with spiritual realms.

11.4 Ucha Japaridze, Sleeping Shepherd, 1935. Pastel on paper, 17 x 30cm. Ucha Japaridze House Museum, Tbilisi. Photograph © Georgian National Museum, all rights reserved.

A pair of buffalo that wallow in the river near Japaridze’s shepherd also connects the image with Symbolist precedents. Buffalo feature frequently in Symbolist art and literature in light of their meaning in various religious traditions, in which they often embody masculine potency and fertility. Indeed, Japaridze’s buffalo recall the wallowing beasts (buffalo and horses) which appear in Gudiashvili’s Green Nymphs (1925), In the Waves of Tskhenistsquali (1925), and Buffalo Tandem (1931), which in turn make reference to other Russian and European Symbolist sources. In Gudiashvili’s Green Nymphs, an otherworldly female nude perches on the back of a buffalo wading in swirling waters, while another nymph swims at its side. The image calls to mind the myth of the Rape of Europa, in which Zeus disguises himself as a tame bull in order to gain Europa’s trust, abduct and rape her — a subject also treated by Valentin Serov in 1910. Gudiashvili’s In the Waves of Tskhenistsquali, meanwhile, presents another naked beauty floating on her back in a river, this time flanked by a pair of red horses. As well as bringing to mind Hamlet’s Ophelia — a favourite subject of the Russian Symbolists and the English Pre-Raphaelites alike — Gudiashvili’s image clearly refers to Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s seminal Symbolist painting, Bathing of a Red Horse (1912), in which adolescent male nudes and red and white horses are presented bathing in a clear blue pool.37

Beyond their shared subject matter, Japaridze’s painting also bears compositional similarities with each of these works. The animals presented in each are viewed from a high vantage point causing them to appear suspended in the flattened space of the surrounding water, rather than on its surface. The plane of the water’s surface is disconnected from the naturalistic space rendered in the remainder of each picture so that the animals seem to inhabit an alternate realm. Elliptical compositions produced by the curve of the water’s edge in both Petrov-Vodkin’s and Japaridze’s images and in Gudiashvili’s Buffalo Tandem, moreover, make this division between the separate planes still more pronounced. In Japaridze’s picture, as a result, the animals are read as belonging to the domain of the shepherd’s dream, rather than to his waking reality.

It has been suggested that the elliptical composition of Petrov-Vodkin’s Bathing of a Red Horse refers to the distortions produced in frescoes adorning the domed ceilings of Byzantine and Russian Orthodox churches. Indeed, Gudiashvili’s and Petrov-Vodkin’s engagement with the formal devices of ecclesiastical mural painting is widely acknowledged. Japaridze’s picture reflects comparable debts to Christian art (whether in direct reference to ecclesiastical sources, or absorbed indirectly via contemporaries such as Gudiashvili and Petrov-Vodkin), not only in its elliptical composition, but also in the Byzantine stylisation apparent in the delicately drawn hands and feet and linear facial features of Japaridze’s shepherd, his saint-like head bowed and presented in profile.

In addition to the extensive evidence of Japaridze’s engagement with Symbolist precedents and aesthetics in these early works and sketchbooks, five pages from these early sketchbooks are of special interest, in appearing to represent an attempt to develop a system of symbolic imagery through which spiritual, emotional, and psychological experiences could be communicated. Each of the five pages presents a set of two images side by side on a single page: a pencil portrait on one side (four self-portraits and a fifth, likely of the artist’s fiancée, Margarita), and beside it a watercolour image that appears symbolically to visualise the portrait subject’s inner experience or emotional condition.38 Subtle variations in the sitters’ facial expressions indicate emotional or psychological states that are reiterated in the accompanying watercolour image. In one, for example, the artist’s head is tilted to one side, resting on his palm, and his eyelids droop heavily over his eyes, intimating lethargy or fatigue. Beside it is a picture of a haystack (fig. 11.5), apparently unrelated. However, there is a compelling visual correspondence between the two images. Like the artist’s head resting in his hand, the haystack leans at almost the same angle onto a bowed stick, which is propped against it and looks close to snapping under its weight. The juxtaposition, then, reads as an attempt to visualise the weight of the portrait-subject’s emotional or psychological experience in the otherwise banal, everyday form of the haystack. In that sense it sets an important precedent for considering the psychological and spiritual symbolism in Japaridze’s painting in subsequent decades.

The remaining pairings operate in a similar way. A second, as in the first example, is connected through visual-spatial correspondences — the strength and dynamism of the artist’s portrait, now drawn in profile, is reiterated in the image of an ancient tree whose gnarled branches seem to strive forward in the same way as the portrait. The remaining three watercolours, however, respond to their accompanying portraits through more explicit symbolic narratives. In a watercolour alongside one self-portrait, for example, the artist is attacked by a winged demon, which envelops him with large black-green wings, coiling its body around his. The demon binds the artist’s wrists with one large hand, preventing him from accepting the palette and brush offered to him by the figure of a woman who emerges spirit-like from the clouds. This battle between good and evil narrates the internal conflict reflected in the accompanying portrait, in which the artist grasps his temple with one hand in apparent despair as he looks out at the viewer. It plays with classical sources, but also with Symbolism’s preoccupation with apocalyptic and transcendental themes and its romantic dramatisation of the duty of the artist. Most obviously, it brings to mind Mikhail Lermontov’s poem, The Demon, and Vrubel’s famous Demon series of paintings (figs. 2.7 and 2.17; also see figs. 2.8 and 2.14) re-envisaging Lermontov’s subject as a tormented soul, a fallen angel struggling to reconcile his humanity with the wild destructive passions that deny him peace, understanding, and belonging. Indeed, Japaridze’s pair of images, which embodies exactly such a struggle, makes explicit reference to Vrubel in various aspects of its formal resolution, recalling in particular the latter’s Demon Cast Down (1902) (fig. 2.17) in its contortion of the artist’s and the demon’s consumptive, sinewy bodies, the dark, swirling, enveloping forms of the demon’s wings, the image’s sublime backdrop of snow-capped mountains and looming skies, and its ethereal palette of purples and blues.39

In a final example, a portrait of the artist’s fiancée, Margarita (fig. 11.6), is presented alongside an image of a white horse standing atop a rocky cliff. The horse’s body is stretched back as if braced against a powerful wind that arches a nearby tree and makes its foliage, and the horse’s mane, flow horizontally on the air. The sky swirls with clouds, except for a patch of clear, still sky, yellow with the glow of a setting sun, illuminating a winding mountain path leading up to a medieval Georgian church on a distant hilltop. In the foreground a second horse rears on its hind legs and three large rocks stand immovable on the cliff edge. The image incorporates various Symbolist themes: its concern with the sublime and nature’s power, with creatures of ancient myth and medieval legend, and the forces of the mystical, magical and supernatural. Visual correspondences between the white horse and Margarita’s pale portrait, both presented in profile, facing the viewer’s left, and both with delicate, feminine eyes looking straight ahead, position the image as an allegory of Margarita’s character. As such, the horse’s colour and dynamic stance evoke qualities of purity and steadfastness, while this impression of its durability is reiterated in the rocks in the foreground of the scene. The sense of stillness and calm that surrounds the distant church, then, embodies the peace brought by her Christian faith, while the trinity of boulders associates her Christian faith with her steadfastness and resolve.

These pairs of images offer evidence of Japaridze’s engagement with Symbolist themes of the mystical, magical, and spiritual. However, they also reflect an early attempt to communicate spiritual and psychological experiences through the imagery of everyday rural Georgian life or, vice-versa, to instil the everyday with intense emotional tension or spiritual feeling.

11.5 Ucha Japaridze, untitled self-portrait and watercolour, unnumbered sketchbook, 1928 (Haystack). Ucha Japaridze House Museum, Tbilisi. Photograph © Georgian National Museum, all rights reserved.

11.6 Ucha Japaridze, untitled portrait and watercolour, unnumbered sketchbook, 1926 (Margarita). Ucha Japaridze House Museum, Tbilisi. Photograph © Georgian National Museum, all rights reserved.

Animals and Psychological Symbolism in Japaridze’s Mature Painting

Soviet art history has perceived Japaridze’s many images of Georgia’s rural livestock as an elemental component of a lyrical, romantic, patriotic vision of the country, embodying the timeless calm of Georgia as a rural idyll.40 However, an examination of these images demonstrates that Japaridze’s animals frequently express alarm, conflict, or anguish, or, through certain pictorial devices or symbolic associations, are imbued with a sense of the sacred or divine. They appear to express something beyond the physical world, to embody psychological or spiritual content that connects them with Symbolist concerns, and in doing so present subtexts that run counter to the optimism and harmony of canonical socialist realism.

Soviet art historian Andrei Lebedev alluded to the psychological intensity of these images, noting that they capture the “inner world” of the animals depicted.41 Of one canvas (Waiting, 1956), for example, he observes that the poses of the cattle “express such fatigue that it seems that no human strength could get the animals up”.42 The impression of overwhelming physical exhaustion Lebedev observes here is apparent in a whole series of Japaridze’s images of Georgian animals. Nikortsminda (1972), for example, is a pastoral scene in which a pair of cattle draws a cart so heavily laden with straw that its cargo engulfs their hind legs and fills the majority of the picture space.43 Its underlying narrative is one of weighty physical and psychological burden. Another work (Single Combat, 1956), presents a scuffle between a calf and a goat kid which, Lebedev comments, “masterfully reveals the stubbornness and cockiness of goat kids”.44 Yet Lebedev’s comment ignores its compelling subtext of unequal conflict. A comparable sense of violence and discord is apparent in a series of still-life paintings, including Still-life With a Bird and a Dish (1935) and Game (1967). These works are striking in their overwhelming starkness, which focuses attention on the animals’ violent deaths, on the unnatural angle of their broken necks, presenting a metaphor for human violence and mortality. They have little in common with the images of abundance associated with canonical socialist realist still-life.

Several of these works draw on familiar Symbolist motifs to evoke particular psychological or spiritual states. Both Nikortsminda and Waiting, for example, use the natural world to reinforce a sense of unease: in Waiting, thick, billowing clouds roll into the picture frame behind the cattle, augmenting the impression of foreboding suggested in the work’s title (which might also be translated as ‘expectation’). In Nikortsminda, the colossal form of a mountain in the distance echoes the great mass of the cart’s burden, amplifying the impression of its scale. In the visual language of socialist realism, directional light illuminating the cattle from a point directly ahead of them implies their symbolic, even sacred, struggle towards a brighter future, of Georgia’s striving forward. However, the struggle Japaridze portrays is tragically impeded by the enormity of the burden on the animal’s shoulders, on the shoulders of the Georgian people. Instead of the bright light of dawn illuminating a glorious communist future, low, golden, directional light in Japaridze’s image indicates the coming dusk, with its own metaphorical implications of death, decay, and darkness. In that sense the image inverts socialist realism’s controlled visual language, replacing its vocabulary of awe and optimism with opposing symbols and signs drawn from Symbolist aesthetics.

A 1939 oil study entitled Small Aurochs is of particular interest in this sense. In it, an aurochs calf appears to writhe in distress. Its neck is stretched back awkwardly and alarmingly against its body like the game in Japaridze’s still-life paintings. Its back is tense and arched and its legs seem to buck beneath it. Even the flicks of its fur appear to reiterate the violence of its movement. Its turmoil is further extenuated by the starkness of the image in which the animal is harshly lit against an indistinct, muddy ground. A tightly enclosed picture space contributes further to a sense of tension and claustrophobia. The choice of the aurochs, moreover, an already extinct ancient ancestor of modern domestic cattle and the archetype of a noble, untameable wild beast, connects the image with the Symbolists’ reverence for the wild, and makes the reduction of the animal to a state of helpless anguish all the more poignant.

Notably, this disquieting image reappears two years later, in a portrait of the artist’s wife. In this painting (Margarita Sleeping, 1941) (fig. 11.7), which is notably neglected in Soviet writing on Japaridze, Margarita is pictured sitting, apparently on the floor in a dark corner of the artist’s studio. Her knees are drawn tightly to her chest with her hands clamped over them and her head rests dolefully against the wall. Her eyes are closed and her face is sombre and expressionless. Despite the work’s title, her upright foetal pose hardly suggests sleep. Instead, filling the bulk of the picture space, it expresses the same claustrophobic tension as Small Aurochs. Moreover, the appearance of Small Aurochs, reproduced in the top right corner of the portrait, functions in the same way as the watercolour-portrait juxtapositions in Japaridze’s early sketchbooks: the distress visible in the animal’s writhing body reiterates the torment expressed in the image of the women curled up on the bare floor. As in the earlier pairings, a host of visual correspondences between the two images confirm their dialogue. They are united by their shared palette of murky browns, their oppressive composition and harsh directional lighting casting dark, muddy shadows. The identical positioning of the woman’s and the animal’s heads also unites the images: each tilts away from the viewer, starkly exposing the throat, creating an alarming dual image of vulnerability whose violence is further evoked in flashes of red paint that appear through each canvas. The bare flesh of the woman’s arms, legs, and feet reiterates a child-like vulnerability that is echoed in the image of the fledgling animal. In that sense they bring to mind themes of ritual sacrifice, and inevitably evoke the slaughter and sacrifice of the Stalinist Purges of the years immediately preceding the work’s completion.

11.7 Ucha Japaridze, Margarita Sleeping, 1941. Oil on canvas, 52 x 38 cm. National Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi. Photograph © Georgian National Museum, all rights reserved.

11.8 Ucha Japaridze, unnumbered drawing, unnumbered sketchbook. Pencil and chalk on paper. Ucha Japaridze House Museum, Tbilisi (sketch for In the Field, 1930. Oil on canvas. 70 x 100 cm. Ucha Japaridze House Museum, Tbilisi.) Photograph © Georgian National Museum, all rights reserved.

The imagery occurring in almost all of the mature works discussed here finds prototypes in Japaridze’s early sketchbooks, suggesting that the genesis of their ideas often occurred decades before their realisation, during the artist’s encounter with Symbolism in Georgia. Small Aurochs finds a clear precedent in a twisted, deer-like creature in an early sketchbook. Similarly, a pencil sketch for a painting titled In the Field (1930) (fig. 11.8), in which the figure of a peasant man drinking deeply from an urn is differentiated in red chalk from an otherwise grey-scale background, presents a probable early incarnation of the demonic character we find in a much later canvas, Thirst (1983), discussed later in this chapter. Moreover, two versions of a composition titled ‘Solitude’, produced nearly fifty years apart in 1930 and 1977 respectively, demonstrate Japaridze’s mature engagement with the concerns of his youth. The title itself makes reference to a central theme of several Georgian Symbolists, for which one-time Blue Horn Galaktion Tabidze was nicknamed a “chevalier in the order of loneliness” by his cousin, Titsian. In each version, a solitary buffalo, raising its head up, sends a moan out into a dark, brooding sky and appears to break itself free from a wooden plough resting on its shoulders. Produced at the very beginning and end of the artist’s career, these images clearly reflect his continued engagement with the Symbolist trope of the solitary, tormented soul most famously embodied in Vrubel’s demons, and with its conception of animals and the natural world as conduits for the expression of the spiritual.

“Georgia as an Oriental Woman”45

Japaridze’s representations of women and the feminine respond to constructs of woman in the Romantic and Symbolist traditions and to Georgia’s own cultural mythology of woman. Women have occupied an unusually prominent place in Georgian history, and conceptions of woman as a result of this history are an important part of the nation’s cultural mythology. A woman, St Nino, for example, is credited with introducing Christianity to Iberia in the fourth century. Queen Tamar, moreover, who ruled Georgia between 1184 and 1213, oversaw a Golden Age in the country’s history during which Georgia achieved massive territorial expansion, increased economic and military power, and a flourishing in literature, art, and architecture. She is often conceived of as the nation’s spiritual mother.

These specifically Georgian models of female virtue embody characteristics different to the construction of woman within the Romantic and Symbolist traditions. As touched on with respect to Russian Romantic literature, in Symbolist iconography, woman often occupies an ambiguous space between beautiful object of desire — the pure, innocent, vulnerable, virginal maiden, sensitive, spiritual, and self-sacrificing — and the demonic seductress, fiendish, untrustworthy, and dangerous. She takes the form of earthly women — the fallen woman, prostitute, or madwoman (as in many of the Pre-Raphaelites’ canvases) — or is based on the female protagonists of Greek mythology (sirens, goddesses, nymphs, and harpies). In either guise these constructions are based in conventionally female attributes viewed from a male vantage point. Male writers and painters represent woman — as the embodiment of the spiritual — via ‘feminine’ qualities including physical beauty, serenity, loyalty, and gentleness.

In Georgia’s cultural mythology, however, woman, represented in the models of St Nino and Tamar, often embodies both traditionally male and female virtues. Although Tamar is celebrated in medieval Georgian chronicles in terms of gendered female virtues including piety, generosity, and beauty, she is also admired for her military prowess and is even referred to as a “King of Kings”. Moreover, Nestan Darejan, the heroine of Rustaveli’s twelfth-century poem Knight in the Panther’s Skin (which has been described as a “moral codex of Feudal Georgia”), is said to have been modelled on Tamar’s image.46 In addition to ‘feminine’ attributes of beauty and loyalty, she displays conventionally ‘masculine’ qualities of courage, resolve, and stoicism rarely attached to women in Symbolist and Romantic literature and art. These models of woman in Georgia, together with conceptualisations of woman in Georgian religious and secular culture, ranging from the female deities of pagan Georgia to notions of women’s roles in Soviet society, contribute to a tapestry of associations defining to the feminine in Georgia that inform Japaridze’s painting.

Some images of women in Japaridze’s early sketchbooks clearly respond to European Symbolism’s model of woman. In one undated watercolour (probably late 1920s) (fig. 11.9) a beautiful figure clothed in white, with what appear to be wings folded behind her back, floats on a white cloud. A large crescent moon hangs in the night sky. In her hand is a willowy branch, perhaps borrowing from classical representations of the laurel branch as a symbol of peace, protection of the purity of one’s soul, or psychic sensitivity. The curve of the branch over her head, together with that of the large crescent moon, form a protective space around her, while sweeping pencil lines and swirls of blue paint in the sky indicate an encircling gale. In that sense she is the archetypal maiden of European Symbolism: serene, pure, contemplative, desirable, and otherworldly in her supernatural stillness.

Decades later, in 1966, Japaridze returned to a similar conceptualisation of woman in a series of works made in connection with the celebration of the eight-hundredth anniversary of Rustaveli’s birth. He made a series of portraits of Nestan Darejan and a set of book illustrations to The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, both of which drew on Symbolist aesthetics (and on Vrubel in particular) and emphasise occult themes found in Rustaveli’s masterpiece. In the poem, Nestan is kidnapped and held captive by several supernatural villains, first by devis — demonic ogre-like creatures dwelling in the caves of remote mountains — and then by the Kadji — the dangerous sorcerers of the impenetrable city of Kadjeti. Japaridze made two large graphic portraits of Nestan. Nestan in White (1966, Georgian National Museum) (fig. 11.10) depicted Nestan in an ornate white gown during her first meeting with her love, the knight, Tariel. In Nestan in Black (1966), the princess’s dress and veil turns black to reflect her grief as she languishes without hope of escape, imprisoned in a high tower by the Kadji.

11.9 Ucha Japaridze, untitled watercolour, unnumbered sketchbook. Probably late 1920s. Ucha Japaridze House Museum, Tbilisi. Photograph © Georgian National Museum, all rights reserved.

11.10 Ucha Japaridze, Nestan in White, 1966. Tempera on paper, 56 x 42 cm., Ucha Japaridze House Museum, Tbilisi. Photograph © Georgian National Museum, all rights reserved.

11.11 Mikhail Vrubel, Swan Princess, 1900. Oil on canvas, 142.5 x 93.5 cm. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Photograph in the public domain. Wikimedia,

Nestan in White (and several further preparatory versions of this work) make clear reference to Vrubel’s Swan Princess (1901, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) (fig. 11.11). Vrubel’s painting presents a vision of Odette, the princess from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, who, cursed by an evil sorcerer, is turned into a swan. Her story and Nestan’s have much in common. Like Nestan, Odette is the victim of evils inflicted by supernatural forces, a beautiful princess saved by the enduring love of her prince (or, in Nestan’s case, her knight). Japaridze’s Nestan in White is united with Vrubel’s canvas in its composition and palette. Nestan, like Vrubel’s Odette, is dressed in a full-skirted white dress and veil. Her skirt fills one half of the picture space, billowing out in rich folds of satin-like fabric decorated with tiny white flowers recalling the amorphous feathery forms of the dress-cum-wings engulfing Odette. Nestan’s long dark braided hair and delicate facial features mirror those of Vrubel’s princess, as do her decorative headdress (though hers is more modest than Odette’s) and her veil. The formal resolution of Japaridze’s image also united it with Vrubel’s. The folds of Nestan’s dress and the pleats of draped fabric laid across her left arm, for example, mirror the fragmented, mosaic-like forms of fabric and feathers in Vrubel’s image. Moreover, Japaridze creates an impression of crispness and translucency in the fabric of Nestan’s veil through angular lines that closely echo Vrubel’s treatment of the same material. The overwhelming lapis-lazuli glow of Japaridze’s image supplies a heavenly quality that is comparable to the magical purple hues of Vrubel’s equally monochrome palette, while ecclesiastical wall paintings of Georgian saints visible behind Japaridze’s Nestan reiterate her purity and even divinity.47

It is not only in works on literary subjects, however, but also in a series of mature paintings concerned with life in rural Georgia, that Symbolist motifs and devices merge with models for the feminine found in Georgian culture. In several paintings, for example, female protagonists are imbued with symbolic motifs that connect them with women’s roles in Georgian society, and her image in Georgian cultural mythology. In particular, in works such as Mother’s Contemplation (1945), Woman with a Jug (1955), and Mother — Native Regions (1957), two aspects of women’s identity in Georgian culture are stressed: firstly, motherhood and the image of ‘Mother Georgia’ (kartlis deda), the Georgian incarnation of the Soviet ‘mother of the homeland’ (rodina-mat’) — a female personification of the nation rooted in the conglomerate image of Tamar, St Nino, Nestan, rodina-mat′, and ancient divinities from the pagan Great Mother goddess Nana and the divine Sophia; secondly, Japaridze’s women also appear to refer to practices of mourning in Georgian culture, and to women’s traditional role in Georgian society as the leaders of mourning.

Discussing the culturally traditional role of Georgian women as “proclaimers of suffering” in Georgian communities and the nation as a whole (grounded partly in historical religious practices), Lauren Ninoshvili has demonstrated how in post-Soviet Georgia women’s public performances of personal grief and political anger have seen women adopt the “stylistic, gestural, and discursive-interpretive conventions” of the traditional funeral lament — wailing rites known as khmit nat′irali (voiced weeping).48 Japaridze’s women, through certain symbolic details and pictorial devices, appear similarly to draw on these conventions. Personifications of motherland became commonplace in the visual culture of the late Stalin era, when the image of rodina-mat′ became an important symbol of Soviet resistance and losses in the Second World War. She, and her national republican incarnations, were envisaged not only as figureheads of national mourning, but also as formidable protectors of the Motherland — enormous, robust, and armed, prepared to defend her citizens and land.49

Japaridze’s symbolic personifications of Georgia, however, have little in common with these towering maternal warriors. Instead, the gestures of the solitary female figures in Mother’s Contemplation, Woman with a Jug, and Mother — Native Regions evoke the conventions of mourning that Ninoshvili observes in wailing rites, whereby female mourners “cup their hands at their mouths or muffle their sobs with handkerchiefs” or “clutch their heads in a gesture of despair and disbelief”.50 In each painting the head of the woman portrayed is bowed slightly, a hand is raised to her mouth, and her face is marked with a solemn, contemplative expression. Each figure, moreover, is positioned at ninety degrees to the viewer, in a static contemplative pose that recalls the representation of saints in Byzantine and Orthodox icons and frescoes, and the Russian religious Symbolist paintings of Mikhail Nesterov, in whose work the same device is a constant motif. By drawing on these devices Japaridze reiterates the spiritual authority of his figures as saint-like, spiritual guardians of the Georgian nation.

Through their visual associations with Christian saints, with motherhood, and mourning, Japaridze’s women bring to mind the image of Michelangelo’s Pietà (1498–99), in which the Madonna cradles the dead body of Christ in her arms — a representation of personal grief that embodies the mourning of the Christian community at large. They depart from the Pietà, however, in that here the absence of reference to a child delivers the narrative of loss. This becomes most apparent through a comparison of Mother’s Contemplation with the earlier Friends of Youth (1939). The two works are almost identical in composition and subject. The same peasant woman stands in the landscape, with one hand raised towards her mouth, apparently in thought. The only significant difference is the appearance in Friends of Youth of an elderly male peasant, standing before a basket of apples. His disappearance reminds us of the mass disappearance of men from wartime Georgia, while the basket, a common symbol of fertility and regeneration, reiterates the repercussions of those losses for Georgia’s prospects of replenishment and renewal. As a personification of Georgia, then, this mother also personifies the nation’s mourning.

Japaridze’s Mother — Native Regions, too, has more aligning it with the ‘mother-mourner’ of Mother’s Contemplation than with canonical Soviet motherland images.Mother,’ here, is the artist’s own elderly mother. However, details in the work make clear that she also embodies a more universal image of Georgian motherhood identified in the previous examples. As in those examples, she does not adopt the powerful, standing pose of traditional Soviet personifications of motherland. She sits, instead, on a hillside under the shade of a tree, surveying the valley below. Pursed lips and a hand she raises to her mouth connect her with gestural conventions of mourning, as does her traditional black mourning dress, while her representation in profile imbues her again with a saint-like quality. As she looks down into the valley below — a swathe of parched yellow-orange land scattered with electricity pylons and large new farm buildings and scarred with paths recently cut by combine harvesters — she appears to lament Georgia’s physical transformation under Soviet rule.

In terms of visual precedents, this painting cites the work of another of Japaridze’s former professors — David Kakabadze’s (1889–1952) Imereti — My Mother (1918) (fig. 11.12). The two works share subject matter and compositional resolution. In Imereti, the artist’s mother is, like Japaridze’s, seated on a hillside under a tree, against a native landscape. In both works, her pose is static and saint-like in full profile. She wears modest dress and a contemplative expression. The two works are also united in their shared debts to various Symbolist sources. As well as the women’s poses, decorative, minutely painted foliage and flowers in the foreground of each canvas recall both the work of Nesterov and the Pre-Raphaelites. The employment of symbolic objects, moreover, further aligns the paintings with Symbolist sources.

11.12 David Kakabadze, Imereti — My Mother, 1918. Oil on canvas. 137 x 153 cm. Art Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi. Photograph © Georgian National Museum, all rights reserved.

With the help of these objects, divergent personifications of Georgia are presented. In place of the sword usually wielded by official Soviet incarnations of motherland, for example, Japaridze’s mother is presented with a closed umbrella propped against her knee. The umbrella, a portent of coming adversity met with resigned forbearance that contrasts with the aggressive defiance of Soviet motherland images, positions her as both a lamenter of past losses and an anticipator of future hardship. By contrast, a tightly bound ball of wool rests at Kakabadze’s mother’s feet. She entwines it in her fingers and begins to weave a cloth like the delicate shawl laid across her knees. Produced in the years of Georgia’s independence, Kakabadze’s Mother thus appears as a holy ‘mother-creator’, a saintly source of Georgian beauty and regeneration, where Japaridze’s post-War ‘mother-mourner’ is a grieving, politically impotent, though morally resolute Madonna.

In the final two decades of Japaridze’s career he returned again to occult themes, transforming rural genre scenes into dark, nightmarish visions. A series of genre canvases including Visiting the Tea Grower (1971), Thirst (1983), and the earlier, unfinished Girl from Khevsureti (1965), for example, share a strange, unnatural palette uniting bright scarlet with pale violet, lemon yellow, teal, murky blue-grey and black, imbuing their portrayal of life in rural Georgia with a sickly, hallucinatory aura that has more in common with the painting of Sudeikin or Gudiashvili than with canonical socialist realist constructions of Soviet reality.51

Representations of women in these works draw on the dichotomous constructions of woman belonging to the Symbolist tradition, and of the spiritual construction of Georgia found in Russian (and Georgian) Romantic literature. In Thirst, a woman in a summer dress and headscarf cups her hands at a well for a man to drink. It is an everyday rural scene in which, in line with socialist realist visual language of productive, domestic harmony, the woman provides care for a man who has likely just returned from the field. But there is something unnerving and vampirish about the image. The man appears to force the woman’s hands (or rather, her wrists) towards his mouth. His flesh and clothing are strangely red: a devil-like scarlet form contrasted against the sickly, jade tinge of her seemingly blood-drained face and arms. Grotesquely stylised, sharp, angular facial features confirm his demonic persona. Finally, a dagger stowed in the man’s belt introduces further violent associations. Next to the innocence and purity symbolised in the woman’s bare arms, legs, and feet, and in light of the well’s altar-like appearance, it invokes associations of ritual sacrifice previously observed in Margarita Sleeping. In that sense, in its reference to pagan practices still performed in certain remote mountainous regions of Georgia it plays on Asiatic, exotic, non-Christian elements of Georgian culture, in order to transform an image of harmonious, productive rural life, familial kinship, and motherly female virtue compatible with the language of socialist realism into a nightmarish vision of violence, desire, and female submission to male lust.

In Girl from Khevsureti, Soviet life also appears transformed through reference to the occult and the demonic. Set in Khevsureti, a stronghold of paganism in twentieth-century Georgia, it evokes exotic, Asiatic aspects of Georgian culture through the figure of a local woman. Notably, Khevsureti’s unique religious culture is characterised by a binary system of beliefs in which men, considered the ‘purest’ section of the society (with shamans and mediums as the purest among them), lead the spiritual life of the community. At the opposite end of the scale, women, and particularly those of child-bearing age, are considered the least pure and are relegated figuratively and literally to the periphery of the community, since contact with them is believed to risk the pollution of the male community.52

Through a series of associations, the woman portrayed here embodies the demonisation of women in pagan Khevsureti. Her face, directed slightly away from the viewer, is completely obscured with black paint whose dark tone suggests a supernatural, demonic darkness blacker than her veil. She embraces a young man beside her. The embrace, and the veiled face pressed into the male figure’s throat, have the same ghoulish, unnatural quality as the encounter portrayed in Thirst, their unnaturalness reiterated, as in Thirst, in the sickly greenish-yellow colour of the man’s face. He in turn appears static, as if powerless to move away, reasserting a sense of a supernatural power held over him by the woman. As in Thirst, a palette of teal, lemon yellow, lilac, scarlet, and black imparts an aura of the phantasmagorical that encourages associations with witchcraft or black magic, while the colourful, patterned fabric of the woman’s dress and apron tie her further to an exotic, Asiatic identity. These works reflect Japaridze’s deliberate appropriation of Asiatic and non-Christian elements of Georgian culture in order to transform images of life in Soviet Georgia into something dark and sinister.

In Girl from Khevsureti, then, Japaridze imbues an ostensibly ethnographic subject with connotations of mysticism and magic grounded in the non-Christian spiritual traditions of the region presented. The result is an image that has more in common with the Symbolist tradition, and with Romantic writers’ dichotomous visions of Georgia as at once a desirable beauty and a dangerous Asiatic other, than with the wholesome, optimistic language of socialist realism. In that sense, these works belong to a trend in the late Soviet period whereby “after Stalin’s death, occult and related themes were used counter-culturally to criticise Soviet reality”.53


Drawing on the visual vocabulary of the Symbolist movement, and evoking national cultural myths (moulded through Russian and Georgian Romantic visions of Georgia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), Japaridze constructed a portrait of Georgian reality that played on the ambiguities afforded by the collision of Soviet and Georgian national myth systems. In the post-War years in particular, Christian and other spiritual imagery informed images of life in rural Georgia that find their best analogy in the Soviet Village Prose movement of the 1950s and 1960s: produced and permitted within the official cultural climate of the relatively liberal post-Stalin epoch, they gently criticise Soviet realities and yearn for a lost way of life. Resurrecting favourite Symbolist motifs, including, in particular, imagery associated with the occult, and repurposing ideas explored in his youth, Japaridze’s visions of life in Soviet Georgia were transformed still further in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Scenes, ostensibly pastoral but unshakably disturbing, seemed to reflect a growing mood of dissent in Georgia that would eventually contribute to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

1 On religiosity and secularisation in the Soviet Union, see Catherine Wanner, ed, State Secularism and Lived Religion in Soviet Russia and Ukraine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) and Heather J. Coleman, ‘Atheism versus Secularization? Religion in Soviet Russia, 1917–1961’ (Review), Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, 1, 3 (Summer 2000) (New Series), 547–58. On the persistence of religious belief and observance in Russian peasant communities in the 1930s, see ‘Religion’ in Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 204–13.

2 Catherine Wanner, ‘Introduction’, in State Secularism and Lived Religion in Soviet Russia and Ukraine, pp. 1–26 (p. 9).

3 As Sheila Fitzpatrick comments regarding Russian peasant life following agricultural collectivisation in 1929–31: ‘The longterm effect of the Soviet assault on religion was to strip away much of the Orthodox veneer that had covered the pre-Christian religion of the Russian peasantry, leaving most of the basic folk rituals and beliefs intact.’ Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants, p. 207.

4 For Soviet monographs on Japaridze see: Andrei Lebedev, Ucha Malakievich Dzhaparidze (Moscow: Izobrazitel′noe iskusstvo, 1982); Lidia Zlatkevich, Ucha Dzhaparidze — khudozhnik i pedagog, ed. by Lado Gudiashvili (Tbilisi: Ganatleba, 1980); Igor Urushadze, Ucha Dzhaparidze (Tbilisi: Zaria Vostoka, 1958); and Nodar Dzhanberidze, Ucha Dzhaparidze (Tbilisi: Khelovneba, 1980).

5 The city of Tiflis was renamed Tbilisi in 1936.

6 On the Russian Village Prose movement, see: Kathleen F. Parthé, Russian Village Prose: The Radiant Past (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992); G. A. Tsvetov, Russkaia derevenskaia proza: evoliutsiia, zhanry, geroi: uchebnoe posobie (St Petersburg: St Petersburg State University Press, 1992); A. Bol’shakova, Russkaia derevenskaia proza XX veka: kod prochteniia (Shumen: Aksios, 2002).

7 For a history of Georgia prior to Sovietisation, including the cultural impact of successive occupations, see ‘Part One: The Rise and Fall of the Georgian Monarchies’ and ‘Part Two: Georgia in the Russian Empire’, in Ronald Grigor Suny, The Making of the Georgian Nation (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994) (second edition, first edition published 1988), pp. 3–181. Suny, for example, discusses the cultural dominance of the occupying Ottoman Turks in Eastern Georgia and of Iranian power in Western Georgia from the mid-sixteenth century until the end of the seventeenth century, and to that of Imperial Russia thereafter (pp. 48, 52).

8 On cultural life in Tiflis in this period, see Tat′iana Nikol’skaia, ‘Fantasticheskii gorod’: russkaia kul′turnaia zhizn′ Tbilisi (1917–1921) (Moscow: Fifth Country, 2000); Luigi Magarotto, Marzio Marzaduri, et al., L’Avanguardia a Tiflis: studi, ricerche, cronache, testimonianze, documenti (Venice: University of Venice, 1982); and Harsha Ram’s extended review of Nikol’skaia’s volume: ‘Modernism on the Periphery: Literary Life in Post-revolutionary Tbilisi’, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, 5, 2 (Spring 2004), 367–82,

9 The Georgian modernist writer and publicist Grigol Robakidze wrote that Tiflis in this period had become a “fantastical city” and Paolo Iashvili referred in his poetry to “fantastic Tiflis”. The phrase was adopted in the title of a recent study of avant-garde activity in early twentieth-century Tiflis: Nikol’skaia, ‘Fantasticheskii gorod’.

10 The Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (AKhRR, 1922–28) gradually increased its dominance over artistic activity in Russia over the period of its existence. In 1928 it remodelled itself as the Union-wide Association of Artists of the Revolution (AKhR, 1928–32), and began to oversee the establishment of local branches of AKhR across the Soviet Union. The Tiflis branch (later, All-Georgian Republican Centre) of AKhR (REVMAS, Revoliutsiis mkhatvarta asotsiatsia) was initiated in 1928 by Georgian artists Mosei and Irakli Toidze, who had become members of AKhRR in Moscow in 1927. However, archival records suggest that the branch only formalised its activities and gained approval for its membership from AKhR’s central bureau for the administration of its branches in 1930. It existed until 1931, before being subsumed into the more dominant Georgian Association of Revolutionary Artists (SARMA, Sakartvelos asotsiatsia revoliutsionur mkhatvarta) following orders from Glaviskusstva (RGALI, f. 2941, op. 1, ed. khr. 197 and 198). There were also further branches of AKhR inside the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (GSSR). Notably, AKhRR’s documentation also refers to branches outside of Russia prior to its re-branding as AKhR, including in Tashkent as early as 1925, and in Batumi, the port and capital of the Achar ASSR, which was part of the Georgian SSR, in 1926. The Batumi organisation later became the Achar SSR branch of AKhR, reportedly organised under the supervision of AKhRR founder-member, Boris Ioganson, in 1927 (RGALI, f. 2941, op. 1, ed. khr. 179, st. 1; f. 2943, op. 1, ed. khr. 193, l. 15).

11 The Academy was in a state of flux in this period, undergoing several reorganisations and changes of name in the space of a few years. Established in 1922 as the Georgian Academy of Arts, in 1929–31 it became the Higher Art and Technical Institute, based on Moscow’s art institute of the same name (Vysshii Khudozhestvenno-Tekhnicheskii Institut (Vkhutein), 1926–29, formerly Vkhutemas, the Higher Art and Technical Studios (Vysshie khudozhestvenno-tekhnicheskie masterskie (Vkhutemas), 1920–26)). In 1931 it was closed and replaced with a Faculty of Fine Arts within Tbilisi Pedagogical Institute, but was reinstated as the independent Tbilisi State Academy of Fine Arts in February 1933. For praise of Japaridze’s painting in the contemporary press, see V. Sokol, ‘SARMA’, Na rubezhe vostoka, 9–10 (1930), p. 119.

12 Lavrentii Beria, K voprosu ob istorii bol′shevistskikh organizatsii v Zakavkaz′e (‘On the question of the History of Bolshevik Organisations in Transcaucasia’. Report of the meeting of the Tiflis Party Organisation, 21–22 July 1935) (Moscow: Partizdat, 1935).

13 See Lebedev, Ucha Malakievich Dzhaparidze, p. 9 and Zlatkevich, Ucha Dzhaparidze, p. 22.

14 To my knowledge, post-Soviet scholarship concerning Japaridze is limited to a single short article in Georgian on Japaridze’s book illustration: Mariam Gachechiladze, ‘Ucha Japaridze — tsignis mkhatvari’, Mtsignobari ’06 (2006), 169–84.

15 See: Katerina Clark, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000. First published 1981); Evgeny Dobrenko, Political Economy of Socialist Realism, trans. by Jesse M. Savage (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2007); Boris Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond, trans. by Charles Rougle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988); Irina Gutkin, The Cultural Origins of the Socialist Realist Aesthetic, 1890–1934 (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999); Socialist Realism without Shores, ed. by Evgeny Dobrenko and Lahusen Thomas (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1997). For a new analysis of socialist realism as a strand of modernism, see Petre Petrov, Automatic for the Masses: The Death of the Author and the Birth of Socialist Realism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015).

16 There exists a small but growing body of scholarship concerned with art in the former socialist countries of Eastern and Central Europe in the second half of the twentieth century. For a useful introduction to this field see: East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe, ed. by the Slovenian artists’ group IRWIN (London: Afterall, 2006). In the early 1990s two brief articles and an exhibition catalogue published in English offered high-level surveys of artistic activity across each of the Soviet Union’s national republics and regions. See Musya Glants, ‘“From the Southern Mountains to the Northern Seas”: Painting in the Republics in the Early Soviet Period’, and Milka Bliznakov, ‘International Modernism or Socialist Realism: Soviet Architecture in the Eastern Republics’ in New Perspectives on Russian and Soviet Artistic Culture: 4th World Congress for Soviet and East European Studies: Selected Papers, ed. by John Norman (New York; Basingstoke: St Martin’s Press; Macmillan Press, 1994), pp. 95–111 and pp. 112–30, and Matthew Cullerne Bown, Soviet Socialist Realist Painting 1930s–1960s: Paintings from Russia, the Ukraine, Belorussia, Uzbekistan, Kirgizia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova selected in the USSR (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1992). For recent scholarship concerning art in Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus see: Aliya Abykaeva Nurteevna de Tiesenhausen, ‘Socialist Realist Orientalism?: Depictions of Soviet Central Asia 1930s–1950s’ (unpublished PhD thesis, The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, 2010); Cloé Drieu, Fictions nationales: cinéma, empire et nation en Ouzbékistan (1919–1937) (Paris: Éditions Karthala, 2013); Vardan Azatyan, ‘On the Ruins of the Soviet Past: Some Thoughts on Religion, Nationalism and Artistic Avant-Gardes in Armenia’, Springerin, 4 (2008),; Vardan Azatyan, ‘Disintegrating Progress: Bolshevism, National Modernism, and the Emergence of Contemporary Art Practices in Armenia’, ARTMargins, 1, 1 (February 2012), 62–87,

17 Gutkin, The Cultural Origins of the Socialist Realist Aesthetic. See in particular Chapter 2, Part 4, ‘Myth and Socialist Realism: Symbolic Language, the Soviet Novel, and the Formation of Collective Consciousness’, pp. 64–80. See also Gutkin, ‘The Magic of Words: Symbolism, Futurism, Socialist Realism’, in The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, ed. by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1997), pp. 225–46. Although Gutkin was the first to offer a comprehensive study of the cultural origins of socialist realism, including Stalinist culture’s appropriation of the ideas of the Russian Symbolists, Groys, Clark, and others also acknowledge the importance of these ideas as well as the centrality of occult themes in the genesis of socialist realism.

18 Vladimir Solovev, “Tri rechi v pamiat’ Dostoevskogo,” in his Sobranie sochinenii v dvukh tomakh (Moscow, 1988), quoted in Gutkin, ‘The Magic of Words: Symbolism, Futurism, Socialist Realism’, in The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, ed. by Rosenthal, p. 226.

19 Gutkin, The Cultural Origins of the Socialist Realist Aesthetic, pp. 68–69.

20 Ibid., p. 72.

21 Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism, pp. 44–45; ‘Chapter 1: Socialism as Will and Representation’ in Dobrenko, Political Economy of Socialist Realism, pp. 1–74.

22 Clark, The Soviet Novel, p. 12.

23 Nino Nanava has shown how Georgian intellectuals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries consistently drew on myths and symbols of Georgia’s primordial past, both religious and secular, in articulating a conceptualisation of the modern Georgian nation that in turn filtered as fact into Georgian national self-conception. See Nino Nanava, ‘Conceptualising the Georgian Nation: The Modern Intellectual Discourse of Georgian Identity’ (unpublished PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, 2005). For an introduction to the Soviet nationalities policy and the Soviet government’s systematic promotion of the distinct national cultures of each of the officially designated Soviet nationalities see: Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001).

24 Scholars have long noted socialist realism’s appropriation of Christian religious imagery, not least in the Lenin and Stalin personality cults. On the fantastical and superhuman abilities of heroes (including Stalin) and villains in socialist realist literature, see Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism, pp. 59–72 and ‘Chapter 6: The Sense of Reality in the Heroic Age’ in Clark, The Soviet Novel, pp. 136–59. On the influence of occult ideas in Soviet culture, including Maxim Gorky’s interest in quasi-occult, quasi-scientific theories of thought transference and its potential for controlling the minds of the Soviet masses, see Rosenthal, The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture.

25 The Blue Horns also translated Futurist works from Russian and Italian, and Iashvili Italianised his first name, Pavle, to Paolo in homage to the Italian Futurists. See Donald Rayfield, The Literature of Georgia: A History (Surrey: Curzon Press, 2000. First published Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 231 and 257.

26 The group’s name was also a reflection of its marriage of European Symbolism’s aesthetic innovations and imagery rooted in Georgia’s unique culture and geography. As Titsian Tabidze explained, ‘blue’ stood for azure skies, romantic dreaming, and the establishment of a powerful kingdom. ‘Horns’ referred to the traditional Georgian drinking vessel, citing both a national and ethnic dimension and, as Tabidze declared, carrying associations of drunkenness as a means of stimulating intuition and facilitating comprehension of the mysteries of the universe. Rayfield, The Literature of Georgia, p. 231.

27 Urushadze, Ucha Dzhaparidze, p. 6.

28 Zlatkevich, Ucha Dzhaparidze, p. 29.

29 Having first met Galaktion Tabidze in 1915, a year before the society was formed, while both were contributors to Ioseb Imedashvili’s journal Theatre and Life (Teatri da tskhovreba), Gudiashvili quickly developed close and lasting friendships with many of the group’s members. He became their constant companion in the late 1910s and 1920s, attending the various literary salons emerging in Tiflis. Later, Gudiashvili recalled how he spent “almost every day” in their company. Their shared friendship and aesthetic vision is reflected in Gudiashvili’s artistic formulation of and illustrations for the group’s journal Dreaming Gazelles (Meotsnebe niamorebi, 1919–22 and 1922–24) as well as his fantastical murals decorating the Kimerioni café. Lado Gudiashvili: kniga vospominani; stat′i; iz perepiski; sovremenniki o khudozhnike, ed. by L. Sh. Gagua (Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1987), p. 101. On Gudiashvili’s painting during the 1910s and 1920s see John E. Bowlt, ‘Lado Gudiashvili’, in L’Avanguardia a Tiflis: studi, ricerche, cronache, testimonianze, documenti, ed. by Luigi Magarotto, Marzio Marzaduri, and Giovanna Pagani Cesa (Venice: Università degli Studi di Venezia, 1982).

30 The Georgian poet, politician, and diplomat, Besarion Zakarias dze Gabashvili, commonly known as Besiki (1750–91). Titsian Tabidze, quoted in Rayfield, The Literature of Georgia, p. 239.

31 There is some debate as to whether pagan beliefs and practices have been retained from these early pre-fourth century origins, or whether these regions in fact adopted Christianity soon after its arrival in lowland Iberia but have since unwittingly diverged from certain Christian practices and beliefs during the thirteenth through to the seventeenth centuries as waves of Mongol, Turkish, and Persian invasions cut them off from Christian centres in the Georgian lowlands. See Kevin Tuite, ‘Highland Georgian paganism — archaism or innovation?’ Review of Zurab K′ik′nadze, Kartuli mitologia, I: jvari da saq′mo (Kutaisi: Gelati Academy of Sciences, 1996), Annual of the Society for the Study of the Caucasus, 6–7 (1994–96), 79–91.

32 Susan Layton, Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); see Chapter 11, ‘Georgia as an Oriental Woman’, pp. 192–212.

33 Layton, Russian Literature and Empire, p. 193.

34 Georgian Romantic writers’ conceptualisations of Georgia’s relationship with her Imperial coloniser were, however, constructed in particular and distinct ways. See Harsha Ram and Zaza Shatirishvili, ‘Romantic Topography and the Dilemma of Empire: The Caucasus in the Dialogue of Georgian and Russian Poetry’, The Russian Review, 63, 1 (January 2004), 1–25.

35 Japaridze would have been familiar with the work of the Pre-Raphaelites through his contact with the Blue Horns and Gudiashvili since the Russian Symbolists, of whom the Blue Horns were followers and colleagues, acknowledged the Pre-Raphaelites as an important influence. Japaridze might also have been familiar with the coverage of the movement in the Russian periodical press, beginning in 1863 with Russian critic Dmitry Grigorevich’s extended report in The Russian Herald, ‘Paintings by English Artists at London Exhibitions in 1862’ (Dmitrii Grigorevich, ‘Kartiny angliiskikh zhivopistsev na vystavkakh 1862 goda v Londone’, Russkii vestnik, 43 (1863), 31–92). Coverage of the Pre-Raphaelites peaked at the turn of the century. For example, Sergei Diaghilev’s journal, The World of Art (Mir iskusstva), published extensive reviews of the Pre-Raphaelites’ activities. John Ruskin’s ‘Pre-Raphaelitism’ was translated into Russian by Olga Soloveva, the wife of Russian Symbolist philosopher Vladimir Solovev, and published in The World of Art in 1900. See Rosalind P. Blakesley, ‘Slavs, Brits and the question of national identity in art: Russian responses to British painting in the mid-nineteenth century’, in English Accents: Interactions with British Art c. 1776–1855, ed. by Christiana Payne and William Vaughan (Aldershot: Ashgate Press, 2004), pp. 203–23, and Anna Poznanskaia, ‘The Pre-Raphaelites in Russia’, The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine, 39, 2 (2013),

36 An oil version of Dreamers of Ortachala, dated 1920, was sold at Sotheby’s in 2009 (Russian Art Evening Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 8 June 2009, lot 21). It seems more likely that this was painted in the 1940s after a sketch of 1920; if so, it would have been the latter that likely came to the attention of Japaridze.

37 Tskhenistsquali is the name of a river that runs through western Georgia. Notably its name translates literally as ‘water of horses’. As such, Gudiashvili’s image is not simply one of horses bathing. Instead it represents a symbolic vision reflecting the river’s mythology. They also resemble horses appearing in Gudiashvili’s Portrait of Galaktion Tabidze and “Blue Horses” (1919), which was painted in response to Tabidze’s poem of that name. Tabidze’s poem in turn was written with reference to the English painter (and disciple of the Pre-Raphaelites) Walter Crane’s painting, Horses of Neptune (1892), in which Neptune rides the crest of a huge wave made up of dozens of galloping horses. In Tabidze’s poem the thundering speed of the galloping horses is employed to reflect the sense of rushing time that is experienced by a person mourning a recent death; the rushing water and powerful horses in Gudiashvili’s In the Waves of Tskhenistsquali reassert the image’s reference to the tragic death of Ophelia, and its engagement with Symbolist ideas.

38 The five images run across two small sketchbooks, and are dated between 1926 and 1928, although several of them occupy successive pages and were made within weeks of each other.

39 Both Lermontov and Vrubel were widely known in Georgia at this time. Specifically, Japaridze would likely have seen Vrubel’s illustrations to special editions of Lermontov’s works commissioned for and published in 1891 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the poet’s birth. He also likely saw Vrubel’s works reproduced in Russian fin-de-siècle periodicals and in person during a visit to Moscow in 1925. For further analysis of Vrubel’s demon paintings, see Chapter 2 of this volume.

40 See, for example: Lebedev, Ucha Malakievich Dzhaparidze, p. 34.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid., p. 23.

43 Nikortsminda is a village in Upper Racha.

44 Lebedev, Ucha Malakievich Dzhaparidze, p. 22.

45 Heading borrowed from Susan Layton, Russian Literature and Empire.

46 N. Berdzenishvili, Sakartvelos istoriis sakitkhebi, Vol. V (Tbilisi, 1966) in Nanava, ‘Conceptualising the Georgian Nation,’ p. 45.

47 Japaridze’s 1966 book illustrations of Nestan are equally indebted to Vrubel, and equally concerned with the occult and mystical aspects of Rustaveli’s poem. One etching depicts Nestan held hostage in the tower, reacting to a letter received from another character, P′hatman, who tells of Tariel’s plans to rescue her, and his distress at her captivity. In reflecting Nestan’s distress and agitation, Japaridze presents her with several overlapping faces, so that she appears at once to be reading the letter and looking around her in several different directions. This gives the image a sinister quality that seems to refer to the dark magic of the Kadji’s sorcerey. Although the date of acquisition cannot be known, Japaridze owned several books and albums on Vrubel’s painting, including a large reproduction of The Swan Princess, which remain in the artist’s library at his studio in Tbilisi.

48 For discussion of these rituals, see Lauren Ninoshvili, ‘“Wailing in the Cities”: Media, Modernity, and the Metamorphosis of Georgian Women’s Expressive Labor’, Music & Politics, 6, 2 (Summer 2012), Similar rites, taking place in Ancient Armenia, are also described in Charles Burney and David Marshall Lang, The Peoples of the Hills: Ancient Ararat and Caucasus (London: Phoenix Press, 1971).

49 At the time of its unveiling in 1967, the Stalingrad (now Volgograd) statue was the tallest statue in the world. For a fascinating discussion of the particular symbolism of the Mother Albania monument which presides over the National Martyrs Cemetery of Albania in Tirana (constructed in 1972), see Raino Isto, ‘“We Raise Our Eyes and Feel as if She Rules the Sky”: The Mother Albania Monument and the Visualization of National History’ in Lapidari, ed. by Vincent W. J. van Gerven Oei (New York: Punctum, 2015), pp. 73–80.

50 Ninoshvili, ‘Wailing in the Cities’, p. 3.

51 In its resemblance to the artificially coloured, low-quality photographs found in many contemporary Soviet publications, this palette might also be taken to refer to the artificiality of official representations of Soviet reality.

52 Characterisation of the findings of Georges Charachidzé, published in Le système religieux de la Géorgie païnne: analyse structurale d’une civilization (Paris: François Maspero, 1968), developed by Zurab K′ik′nadze in Kartuli mitologia, and summarised in Tuite, ‘Highland Georgian paganism’, p. 83.

53 Rosenthal, The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, p. 28.