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Sacredness in Russian Socialist Iconography before and after 1917. Invention of a new revolutionary tradition, starting from the old one

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My investigation aims at describing how a particular miscellany of symbols and typologies, crossing the Christian legacy (i.e. icon painting), exploded in revolutionary Russia and increased at the outbreak of the Civil War (1918−1921). For this purpose I will draw attention not only to selected posters of the period, but also to a film chronicle recorded in November 1917. This footage shows how the Bolsheviks first drew on the bloody October in Moscow in order to cast the revolutionary experience as a personal sacrifice in the cause of collective ‘redemption’. Bolsheviks actually continued a practice of syncretism which was previously widely exercised in propaganda for the war loan, not only by the Provisional Government, but even by the tsarist establishment. In the period between February and October, very popular sacred archetypes drawn from Last Judgment iconography tended to be modified and adapted to revolutionary themes by various Russian socialist elites in the context of a battle for conquering the old symbols. The keynotes of the Second International were equally reasserted through religious images by the Bolsheviks in power, to reach the peasant soldier.
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Keywords: Russian revolutions; icon painting; iconography; parties; propaganda; syncretism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Siena

Publication date: 25 January 2011

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  • The poster-maker, the pamphleteer and the tagger aim to sway the popular heart and mind through visual public interventions. As new technologies rise, turning the public sphere into a transparent, ubiquitous communications medium and a global marketplace, is the privileged status of the poster doomed or are we seeing it transformed as part of a new wave of visual rhetoric? When the environment starts to become responsive to our very presence and aware of our individual nature what is the role of the 'traditional poster' delivering a classical rhetorical message? This peer-reviewed journal aims to lead the debate. The Poster stands as a vehicle for the ideas of media theorists; scholars of Cultural Studies and Cultural Materialism; for social psychologists of visual communication, for architects and designers of wayfinding schemes; for philosophers of Aesthetics and Politics, Society and Linguistics; for social scientists, anthropologists and ethnographers; for political campaigners and artist activists; for communications researchers and visual communications practitioners.
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