An extract from Ivan Tsarevich, The Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf folk tale
The stone composition is dominated by a golden bird sitting on a branch with golden apples. The image of this wonderful bird exists in fairy tales in most countries. The search for the Fire Bird in Slavic folklore always involved major obstacles that the main character had to overcome together with his helpers. A symbol of fire and light, the Fire Bird can dissipate darkness with just one feather, and her wings resemble tongues of fire. This makes catching the bird while it is pecking golden apples — which give youth, beauty and immortality — next to impossible. The only way to catch the bird is to make a trap— a golden cage with magic apples inside.
Many folk tales share a similar storyline whereby the elusive Fire Bird loses one single feather, which continues to shine and radiate warmth long after. The main character finds the feather and becomes restless; he wants to take possession of the Fire Bird so much that he is ready for any challenge. Legends often ascribe healing qualities to the bird; it gives sight to the blind and cures the sick with its song. The golden apples, which the bird eats at night having left its cage, give it eternal youth, beauty and immortality.
Such a colourful and romantic image could not escape attention of poets and artists. No longer limited to the realm of fairy tales, the Fire Bird began to symbolize an object of desire, at once mysterious and unreachable. Wealth, wellbeing, happiness, love... the Fire Bird has always been associated with the people’s deepest hopes and aspirations. However, the Fire Bird is notoriously difficult to catch because it lives in far off lands in a golden cage with bogatyrs protecting her.
In this stone sculpture there are three warriors safeguarding the Fire Bird — an old warrior, a middle-aged warrior and a young warrior. They represent the continuity in preserving the most precious things from generation to generation. An allegorical composition enhances the effect; the older and the middle-aged warriors were tired and fell asleepwhilst on watch, whereas the youngest is awake and always ready to protect the precious bird. The stone carvers have expressed the readiness of the younger generation to take responsibility and preserve the national treasures, hopes and aspirations.
<...> At last it was time for the youngest son to stand watch. He was walking around the apple tree and did not dare to sit so as not to fall asleep. He had been standing watch for an hour, then another hour passed and one more. When he started to dream, he took dew from the grass and wiped the dream from his eyes. Midnight came and suddenly there was light in the garden. The light was coming directly at him and the garden became as light as day. He saw the Firebird sitting in the apple tree, pecking at the golden apples. Ivan Tsarevich crawled toward the apple tree and grabbed the bird by the tail. The Fire Bird flapped its wings and flew away, leaving one tail feather in Ivan’s hand.
In the morning, Ivan Tsarevich went to his father, told him what kind of thief had come to their garden and showed him the Fire Bird’s feather. The tsar was pleased that his youngest son managed to snatch at least one feather, and hid it in his chamber. From then on the Fire Bird stopped coming to their garden and the tsar began to eat and drink and sleep. As he admired the feather, he thought about the Fire Bird and decided to send his sons to catch it. He called his sons and said to them,
‘My dear children! Saddle your good steeds and go about the world, to places unknown, where you might catch the Fire Bird and bring it to me, otherwise it will start coming to our garden again and stealing our apples.’
The older children bowed to their father, saddled their fine horses, put on their chain mail and set out in search of the Fire Bird. Ivan Tsarevich, however, was deemed too young and the father did not let him go. Ivan Tsarevich begged his father tearfully and the tsar agreed so Ivan Tsarevich saddled his horse and set out too. It is tales that are quickly spun; deeds are sooner said than done. After a while, he reached the crossroads, with three roads leading in different directions and a stone with the following inscription:
‘Whoever goes straight on from this stone, will be cold and hungry; whoever turns right, will be alive and well, but his horse will die; and whoever turns left, will die, but his horse will survive’.
Ivan Tsarevich read the inscription and for a long time pondered which way to go. Finally, he decided to turn right because then he would stay alive.
[...] After a long time, or a short time, he reached a stone wall. Gray Wolf stopped and said, ‘Ivan Tsarevich, climb over the wall. Behind the wall, there is a garden, and in the garden, there is the Fire Bird in a golden cage. All the guards are asleepso take the Fire Bird but be careful not to touch the cage, or you will cause great trouble.’
Ivan Tsarevich listened to Gray Wolf, climbed over the stone wall into the garden and saw the Fire Bird in the golden cage. He took the bird out of the cage and almost turned back, when he thought, ‘Why should I take the Fire Bird without the cage and carry it in my bosom? Besides, the cage is so valuable, all covered in diamonds’. He forgot what Gray Wolf had told him, went back for the cage and as soon as he touched it, the garden filled with noise and ringing. The cage was attached with invisible strings to numerous bells and rattles.
The guards woke up, ran into the garden, seized Ivan Tsarevich and brought him to Tsar Afron.
The Fire Bird and three bogatyrs
Hard stone carving studio “Svyatogor”
Author: Ivan Golubev
Craftsmen: Ivan Golubev, Stas Shiryaev, Viktor Korobeynikov, Ivan Vandyshev, Roman Bakhtin, Konstantin Antipin
Finishers: Igor Manturovsky, Sergei Tsygankov, Roman Bakhtin
Jewellers: Alexander Shakirov, Dmitry Evdokimov
Materials: pyrite, jasper, agates, Gazgan marble, silver
Dimensions: 53 × 56 × 56 cm