Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Underwater Kingdom

A long time Russian folk hero, Sadko has appeared in epic stories, a poem by Alexi Tolstoy, an opera and a film by Aleksandr Ptushko. In the story illustrated here, Sadko is a humble gusli player from Novgorod, a city between Moscow and St. Petersburg. A gusli is a Slavic zither-like instrument. As the story goes, Sadko was playing his gusli, when the Sea Tsar, who admired his playing, appeared and gave him a tip to win a bet against wealthy merchants. Sadko followed the advice, made and won the bet and untold riches followed. Later, while Sadko was sailing his fleet of merchant ships, they all stopped dead in the water, unable to sail on. He jumped overboard to bribe the Sea Tsar with gold, but to no avail. The Sea Tsar was appeased by more gusli playing, though, and offered Sadko a new bride. As Sadko lied down with the maiden of his choosing, he awakened on the shore and rejoined his true wife.

The painting above is called "Sadko In The Underwater Kingdom", painted in oil on canvas in 1872 by Ilya Repin. It currently hangs in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. It depicts Sadko in the Sea Tsar's kingdom, chosing a new wife from amongst the Tsar's maidens.

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