An extract from a folk tale about Marya Morevna
Koschei is one of the most famous villains in Russian folklore and he is well-known by every Russian child from an early age. He is represented as a tzar, a sorcerer and he is usually the one who steals the main protagonist’s bride. However, his most important feature is his immortality.
Koschei’s image presumably originated from the pagan Slavic legends about the guardian of the underworld. That is why he always appears white as death, pale-skinned and old, and sometimes he is even represented as a skeleton. For any Russian speaker Koschei’s name is unmistakably similar to the words ‘kost’ (bone) and ‘kozha’ (skin). In some folk tales this contrast with the world of the living is emphasised when Koschei smells a human approaching and screams ‘It smells of Russian bone!’
The character from the world of the dead is, of course, unfamiliar with human death, be it through natural causes, in a battle or in a fight. In order to defeat Koschei, a folk tale hero needs to uncover his closely-guarded secret — that of his death. Interestingly, despite the great variety of story lines featuring Koschei, his death is invariably found in the point of a needle, the needle in an egg, an egg in a duck, a duck in a hare, a hare in a chest, a chest hanging on a chain from an oak tree branch, and the oak is either on a distant island or high up in the mountains. In some fairy tales it is Baba Yaga — an ambiguous and contradictory character — who helps uncover Koschei’s secret. After overcoming all of the difficulties with some assistance from magical little helpers, the main character finally reaches Koschei’s needle and manages to defeat him.
It is worth saying that Koschei is usually perceived as a stingy, greedy and mean person who is extremely preoccupied with safeguarding his treasures. Therefore it is quite logical that it is not only material wealth that he is trying to lay his hands on, but also the beloved of Prince Ivan and other characters of Russian folk tales. As the language evolved, it became more and more common in Russian to compare a greedy person to Koschei.
The compelling quality of Koschei’s sculpture is mostly down to the choice of jasper stone, which was used for the head: skin-coloured, with red knots and veins, it bears a striking resemblance to an old person’s skin. The choice of materials for his armour is equally interesting. ‘Gold-plated’ details are carved out of fragile pyrite, while the hematite pattern looks like dark iron on the greaves.
Marya Morevna grew fond of Prince Ivan and they got married. Marya Morevna, the fair Princess, carried him off into her own realm. They spent some time together, and then the Princess took it into her head to go a warring. So she handed over all the house- keeping affairs to Prince Ivan, and gave him these instructions:
‘Go about everywhere, keep watch over everything; only do not venture to look into that closet there.’
He couldn’t help doing so. The moment Marya Morevna had gone he rushed to the closet, pulled open the door, and looked in — there hung Koshchei the Deathless, fettered by twelve chains.
Koschei begs Prince Ivan:
‘Have pity upon me and give me to drink! Ten years long have I been here in torment, neither eating nor drinking; my throat is utterly dried up.’
The Prince gave him a bucketful of water; he drank it up and asked for more, saying:
‘A single bucket of water will not quench my thirst; give me more!’
The Prince gave him a second bucketful. Koshchei drank it up and asked for a third, and when he had swallowed the third bucketful, he regained his former strength, gave his chains a shake, and broke all twelve at once.
‘Thanks, Prince Ivan!’ cried Koshchei the Deathless, ‘now you will sooner see your own ears than Marya Morevna!’
and out of the window he flew in the shape of a terrible whirlwind. And he came up with the fair Princess Marya Morevna as she was going her way, laid hold of her and carried her off home with him.
But Prince Ivan wept full sore, and he arrayed himself and set out a- wandering, saying to himself, ‘Whatever happens, I will go and find Marya Morevna!’
Alexey Antonov’s Studio
Design: Vladislav Ozhegov
Craftsmen: Faris Khayrlanamov, Nikolay Skripin
Bronze work: Anastasia Mirkuryeva
Jeweller: Pavel Vetrov
Materials: jasper, dolerite, pyrite, hematite (blood stone), fossilized wood, tiger’s eye, aventurine, bronze, gold, silver
Dimensions: 39 × 32 × 32 cm