Nikolai Gogol, May Night, or the Drowned Maiden
Rusalkas (a relative, although not a particularly close one, of the European mermaid) represent the mystic, the dark and the otherworldly in traditional Russian culture. This air of mystery both attracts and scares people at the same time.
Numerous tales and legends about rusalkas exist, and they can vary considerably from region to region. In some areas, they are portrayed as forest-dwelling creatures, in others they live in rivers. Sometimes they are seen dancing in the fields to ensure fertility and good crops, other times they sneak into houses and steal unbaptized babies. In their previous lives, Rusalkas were most commonly young women who drowned or were killed, hence a certain sympathy that exists in some legends. Rusalkas, much like Greek sirens, were believed to lure in men and attack women.
The image and character of rusalkas is so irrational that they often have rather contradictory features. For instance, their deadly and unnatural beauty was, in a way, compensation for their inability to have children. However, there are legends in which rusalkas save children, protecting them from wild animals and rapids.
Rusalkas are always portrayed with loose hair, which emphasizes their striking difference from normal women, for whom such a hairstyle was unthinkable. According to a popular belief, beautiful rusalkas come out of the water at night and comb their long hair sitting on riverbanks. They also enjoy swinging from the tree branches (there is a famous quote from Pushkin’s poem ‘Rusalka sits on the branches’) and weaving crowns of flowers, sedge grass and twigs.
Such a poetic image could not have gone unnoticed by the Russian writers, poets and artists. They tend to portray rusalkas as mysterious, sad and beautiful, so close yet so unreachable.
At first sight, the colour scheme of the composition seems markedly contrasting. Against the background of green grass (made of greenstone) and bright brown and orange hillock (made of carnelian), rusalka looks pale and almost transparent, like a phantom, and her body is made of milky-white chrysoprase. However, an attentive visitor will see the remarkable choice of stone; on closer inspection you can see light-green streaks and brown spots on the white stone. The play of bright colours and gleams helped the craftsman achieve delicate harmony of shades without compromising the freshness of the colour.
But instead of dark shutters, he saw light streaming from brilliantly lit windows. Presently one of them opened. Holding his breath, and without moving a muscle, he fastened his eyes on the pool and seemed to penetrate its depths. What did he see? First he saw at the window a graceful, curly head with shining eyes, propped on a white arm; the head moved and smiled. His heart suddenly began to beat. The water began to break into ripples, and the window closed.
Quietly he withdrew from the pool, and looked towards the house. The dark shutters were flung back;
[...] A window opened gently, and the same girl whose image he had seen in the pool looked out and listened attentively to the song. Her long-lashed eyelids were partly drooping over her eyes; she was as pale as the moonlight, but wonderfully beautiful. She smiled, and a shiver ran through Levko.
“Sing me a song, young Cossack!” she said gently, bending her head sideways and quite closing her eyes.»
There was a quiet and scary spot by the river, where an evil spirit was believed to live. People often saw strange things there. Misha Kryukov, who lived on topof the mountain, told us this:
— It happened at night. We were on our way to the windmill when we suddenly saw a naked woman sitting by the river. People were saying she was a rusalka. She was sitting there with her hair loose, punching water and screaming ‘Shine, crescent! Or I’ll chopyou! Shine, crescent! Or I’ll chopyou’. We were scared to death and did not know how to cross the river.
Hard stone carving studio “Svyatogor”
Author: Grigory Ponomaryov
Crafstman: Grigory Ponomaryov
Finishers: Alexey Atemasov, Sergey Tsygankov
Jeweller: Viktor Sobolev
Materials: agate, chrysoprase, carnelian, greenstone, flint, quartz, smoky quartz, moss agate, silver, bronze, gold-plating, silver-plating, palladation, niello technique
Dimensions: 36 × 37 × 35 cm