Rare Books Published in Imperial and early Soviet Russia is a collection of books that have been digitized by Watson Library, that were published primarily in Russia or Ukraine in the nineteenth or early twentieth century. The collection encompasses a wide array of themes and formats, ranging from albums of photographs, illustrated books, exhibition catalogs, and catalogs of private and institutional collections. While most of the works are focused on art created in Russia, the collection also includes catalogs of European and Ancient art, exhibited or held in Russian or Ukrainian collections.
Among the highlights of this collection are several albums from the library of Alexander III, Emperor of Russia from 1845-1894, of original photographs of religious architecture, objects, and works of art, from various places throughout the Russian Empire. One example, Alʹbom fotografīĭ k arkheologicheskoĭ poiezdkie professora A.B. Prakhova na Volynʹ v 1886 godu [Album of photographs from the archeological trip made by Professor A.V. Prakhov in Volynʹ in 1886], is particularly distinctive.
Adrian Viktorovich Prakhov (1846-1916) was a Russian art historian, known primarily for his efforts and interest in the preservation and conservation of Old Russian art and architecture. From 1880 through 1889, Prakhov directed the conservation and restoration of 12th century frescoes in the Church of St. Cyril of Alexandria in Kiev, and from 1884 through 1896, the interior decoration of St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kiev. Among the artists that Prakhov enlisted to assist with the projects are such star talents of Russian painting as Mikhail Vrubel, Viktor Vasnetsov, and Mikhail Nesterov. Prakhov’s other accomplishments include serving as editor of the arts section of the magazine, Pchela [The Bee], from 1875 through 1878, and succeeding Alexandre Benois as the editor of the journal, Khudozhestvennyia sokrovishcha Rossii [Art Treasures of Russia], from 1903 through 1907.
In the introduction to the present album, Prakhov notes that in 1886, he visited the Volyn region of modern-day Ukraine (Volhynia), in conjunction with two prospective restoration projects: a wooden church within a monastery in the village of Zymne dating back to the 11th century, and Assumption Cathedral (Uspenskii Sobor) in the city of Volodymyr-Volynsky, which had been built by Mstyslav Izyaslavovych in 1160, and collapsed in 1829. Toting a travel camera, Prakhov journeyed to other villages and cities throughout the region, documenting “everything that seemed worthy of attention” in places such as Liuboml’, Radekhiv, Budiatychi, Nyzkynychi, the Zagorovskii monastery, Zaturtsi, Kovel’, Lutsk, Dubno, Ostrog, Pochaivs’ka lavra, Dermanskii monastery, and Novyi Malin.
Prakhov’s primary focus is religious art and architecture, and the album showcases relics and architectural remnants from a wide span of time periods and religions. While Prakhov and the expedition’s sponsor, Alexander III, were noted proponents of Russian Orthodoxy, he explains in the introduction that he decided that the album should present a complete picture of the breadth of historical and contemporary indigenous “nationalities” and religious practices of the region, which is why it includes images representing Roman-Catholicism and “followers of Mosaic Law.”
Altogether there are 59 photographs in the album, each of which is accompanied by a descriptive, letterpress caption. Among the photographs are: fresco fragments from Assumption Cathedral (Uspenskii sobor); bindings and pages from church manuscripts and miniatures; church vestments and liturgical objects; and sacred icons such as the miracle-working Mother of God of Pochayiv lavra. The album also includes a number of city views, and interior and exterior photographs of churches, cathedrals, monasteries, and a synagogue.
While this is the only album in the Rare Books Published in Imperial and early Soviet Russia collection that offers a photograph of an eighteenth century silver-gilt vessel in the form of a snail, anyone interested in additional images of Old Russian art and architecture will certainly find browsing the collection to be worthwhile.