An extract from Ivan Tsarevich and the Gray Wolf folk tale
The tale about Ivan Tsarevich and his loyal companion the Gray Wolf is a favourite in Russian folklore. It is impossible not to be drawn into this almost detective story, where Ivan Tsarevich’s luck seems never to run out and where he builds a warm friendship with an animal. Famous Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov, a passionate enthusiast of ancient Rus’ with its beautiful and poetic folk tales, could not resist using this unique storyline for one of his paintings. His workIvan Tsarevich riding the Gray Wolfinspired this stone sculpture.
Vasnetsov produced this painting at the peak of his career. He searched for the true Russian beauty and greatness and found it in history and folklore. He came up with the idea for the painting rather unexpectedly. In the late 1880s, he was commissioned to paint the St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kiev with biblical stories and portraits of heroes from the past. However, when the idea for a painting about Ivan Tsarevich suddenly occurred to him, he locked himself up in his studio and worked passionately on the painting.
The folk tale focuses on the adventures of Ivan Tsarevich, the youngest of the tsar’s three sons, who set off on a quest for the wonderful Fire Bird and came back not only with the Bird, but also with Elena Prekrasnaya (‘The Beautiful’) and the Horse with the Golden Mane. The Gray Wolf volunteered to help Ivan to make it up to him for coveting his horse. During Ivan’s journey the wolf shows the way, carries Ivan on his back, gives valuable advice and helps in every possible way. Interestingly, only Ivan perceives the wolf as a friend and an equal, while the rulers of other kingdoms are extremely frightened when they see the werewolf in his wolf guise.
The picture, as well as the stone sculpture, depicts Ivan with abducted Elena Prekrasnaya fleeing on Gray Wolf’s back. They seem to be floating above a bog in a dark, dense and sinister forest. Vasnetsov painted the clothes and the landscape with great precision; Ivan’s golden kaftan and Elena’s blue dress immediately conjure up the images of a fantasy world, full of magic and wonders. He made the wolf’s eyes seem almost human, reflecting the ambiguous nature of a werewolf.
When reinterpreting this story in stone, the stone carvers managed to preserve the magical ambiance of a fairy tale through bright colours, precision and a dynamic composition, which together tell the wonderful story of friendship between a human and an animal.
In the evening, when the sun began its descent to the west and the air became cooler, Elena Prekrasnaya went for a walk in the garden with her nannies and the ladies-in-waiting. As she entered the garden and approached the gate behind which Gray Wolf was hiding, he leapt into the garden, grabbed Elena Prekrasnaya, leapt back over the wall and took flight.
He reached a green oak in an open field, where Ivan Tsarevich was waiting for him, and said, ‘Ivan Tsarevich, sit on me quickly for they will not be far behind!’ Ivan Tsarevich jumped on his back and the Gray Wolf sped away to Tsar Afron’s kingdom.
All the nannies, nurses and ladies-in-waiting that were walking with Elena Prekrasnaya in the garden immediately ran to the palace and sent the pursuers, but no matter how fast they ran, they could not catch up with Gray Wolf and they returned.
While riding the wolf with the beautiful Elena, Ivan Tsarevich fell in love with her and she fell in love with him. When the Gray Wolf reached Tsar Afron’s country and Ivan Tsarevich had to bring Elena Prekrasnaya to his palace, Tsarevich became sad and started crying. Gray Wolf asked him, ‘Why are you crying, Ivan Tsarevich?’ To which Ivan Tsarevich replied, ‘My dear friend, Gray Wolf! How can I, a young man, not cry and not grieve? I love beautiful Elena with all my heart, but I have to give her up to Tsar Afron for the Horse with the Golden Mane, for if I do not, then Tsar Afron will dishonor my name in all countries!’ ‘I have helped you a lot, Ivan Tsarevich,’ said Gray Wolf, ‘but I will help you again. Listen, Ivan Tsarevich, I will take the shape of the beautiful Elena, and you will bring me to Tsar Afron and take the Horse with the Golden Mane. He will think that I am the true Elena Prekrasnaya. And as soon as you jump on the Horse with the Golden Mane and go far away, I will ask Tsar Afron to let me go for a walk in an open field. And when he lets me go with the nannies and the nurses and the ladies-in-waiting and we reach an open field, remember me and I will join you once again!
Ivan Tsarevich and the Gray Wolf
Author: Grigory Ponomaryov
Craftsman: Andrey Pavlov
Jewellers: Viktor Sobolev, Dmitry Babushkin
Finishers: Igor Manturovsky, Roman Bakhtin
Materials:chrysoprase, chalcedony, tiger’s eye, carnelian, flint, mother-of-pearl, agate, jasper, moss agate, marble, sapphirine, crystal, phianite, topaz, bronze, silver-plating, gold-plating, silver, patination
Dimensions: 43 × 26 × 54 cm