Fyodor Dostoevsky Exhibition In Mikhailovsky Castle

by Anna de Nord
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In 2021, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fyodor Dostoevsky. This exceptional Russian writer is known all around the world. The novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky had a huge impact on other writers and public thought.

Fyodor Dostoevsky: life and works of the prominent Russian writer. Notes from the exhibition dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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The exhibition “Me — Dostoevsky. To the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fyodor Dostoevsky” opened in the Russian Museum in November 2021. It takes place in Mikhailovsky Castle. The exhibition presents the writer’s personal belongings, books, portraits and the first editions of the works of Dostoevsky.

Moreover, the visitors make the acquaintance of the old copies of paintings that the writer considered iconic, genuine works of painting from the Tretyakov Gallery, the Hermitage, the Russian Museum and other partner museums of the exhibition.


BIOGRAPHY OF FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY

Before we plunge into the exhibition, I have to remind you of some important dates from the biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky:

11 November 1821 — born in Moscow

January 1838 — Dostoevsky enters the free Nikolayevsky Military Engineering Institute in Saint Petersburg. He studies military engineering.

June 1839 — the first signs of epilepsy that might appear when Dostoevsky learned about the death of his father. 

May 1845 — Dostoevsky completes his first novel “Poor Folk”. The novel will be released in January 1846 and will be commercially successful.

1846 — Dostoevsky resigns from his engineer post and decides to pursue his literary career. He also joins the Petrashevsky Circle that had proposed social reforms in Russia.

23 April 1849 — Dostoevsky is arrested together with other members of the Petrashevsky Circle. They were accused of preparing for a revolution and sentenced to death.

23 December 1949 — the day of the execution. Tsar Nicholas I replaces the death sentence with exile. During the next four years, Dostoevsky lives in exile with hard labour at a katorga prison camp in Omsk, Siberia.

14 February 1954 — they release Dostoevsky from prison. He must serve in Semipalatinsk (contemporary — a city in Kazakhstan) in the Siberian Army Corps.

7 February 1857 — first marriage with Maria Isaeva.

1859 — Dostoevsky is released from military service (because of his health issues) and allowed to come back, living in the European part of Russia. However, the writer remained under police surveillance for the rest of his life.

1862 — the first trip to Europe. Dostoevsky visits Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, the UK and Italy.

1864 — Dostoevsky loses his wife and brother. Maria and Mikhail pass away, leaving Dostoevsky all alone.

1866 — the first parts of the “Crime and Punishment” are published in the magazine “The Russian Messenger”.

15 February 1867 — Dostoevsky marries Anna Snitkina who will become a devoted wife and angel-guardian to the writer. 

1867 -1871 — Fyodor and Anna Dostoevsky live in Europe. They give birth to two girls (one of them died aged 3 months). They live poorly. Dostoevsky keeps gambling and losing all their money.

1871-1881 — Dostoevsky returns to Russia and spends his time between Saint Petersburg and Staraya Russa (a town not far from Novgorod the Great). The writer continues his work on new novels and stories. His health begins to decline.

9 February 1881 — Dostoevsky dies from pulmonary haemorrhage. He is buried in the Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Convent in Saint Petersburg.

Fyodor Dostoevsky and his family
Fyodor Dostoevsky and his family

NOTABLE WORKS OF FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY


ARCHITECTURE OF THE DOSTOEVSKY EXHIBITION IN MIKHAILOVSKY CASTLE

The exhibition takes place in Mikhailovlsy Castle. In the 19th century, the castle housed the Military Engineering Institute where Fyodor Dostoevsky studied. By the way, Mikhailovsky Castle is often named Engineer Castle.

What strikes you first is the architecture of the Dostoevsky exhibition. We are used to old-style exhibitions where visitors wander among paintings. New technologies increase the emotional impact. A new style exhibition is not something you just look at. It is immersion. From an observer, you evolve into a participant.

So what’s so special about the Dostoevsky exhibition on Mikhailovsky Castle?

The Dostoevsky exhibition in Mikhailovsky Castle is not about the biography of the writer. But it is important to remember how the life of Dostoevsky was. And, certainly, we can not forget about the characters from the novels of Dostoevsky.

The base of the exhibition is a collection of paintings from the imaginary “ideal museum of the writer”. These are art pieces that Dostoevsky had seen himself and appreciated a lot. The writer was a connoisseur of the Dresden Gallery, the Uffizi Gallery, and he often attended art exhibitions in St Petersburg. The masterpiece Sistine Madonna was among his favourite paintings.

When you step to the exhibition, from the well-lit halls of the palace, you find yourself in complete darkness. The walls are plain and black. Directional light beams snatch from the darkness only separate objects: photos, paintings, or books. Only the ceiling shimmers with cold silver light.


WHAT YOU WILL SEE AT THE DOSTOEVSKY EXHIBITION

The exhibition occupies six rooms. Officially, those rooms have no titles. But I entitled the rooms myself – based on my impression from them. 

Room 1 — St Petersburg at the times of Dostoevsky 

The first room shows us Saint Petersburg of the 19th century. Young Fyodor Mikhailovich welcomes us at the entry.

We wander in the streets and squares of the city. We enter the yards and meet people. 

Saint Petersburg in the 19th century
Saint Petersburg in the 19th century

The most interesting piece, in my opinion, is the aerial view of St Petersburg. This is how St Petersburg was in 1861. It was very small, compared to the contemporary city’s area.

A. Appert from the drawing by Joseph-Jean Charlemagne. Bird's-eye view of St. Petersburg in 1861.
A. Appert from the drawing by Joseph-Jean Charlemagne. Bird’s-eye view of St. Petersburg in 1861.

Room 2 — the early life of Dostoevsky 

In the second room, we already see Fyodor Dostoevsky as a writer. 

An intriguing thing: the exhibition is divided into two spaces. The first space is the real life of Fyodor Dostoevsky. This area is the area where we see the personal belongings, books and photographs of Dostoevsky. This area exists behind the walls, and we can not enter it. We can only take a glance at this space through small windows in the walls.

Photographs of Fyodor Dostoevsky and his wife Anna, the first edition of the novel "The Adolescent", an inkstand and a pen that belonged to Dostoevsky.
Photographs of Fyodor Dostoevsky and his wife Anna, the first edition of the novel “The Adolescent”, an inkstand and a pen that belonged to Dostoevsky.

The second space is the area of Dostoevsky’s imagination. This is where visitors walk. This is where we see characters from the novels of Dostoevsky and things that inspired the writer. 

The exhibition rooms are completely dark. Light beams concentrate our attention on the displayed objects.
The exhibition rooms are completely dark. Light beams concentrate our attention on the displayed objects. If you look through small glass windows in the walls, you see the personal belongings of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Room 3 — Fyodor Dostoevsky in prison and exile

The whole life of Fyodor Dostoevsky was not easy. But, perhaps, the most horrible years were the years of prisons and exiles. In the third room of the exhibition, we see paintings with prisoners and hard-working slaves: “Barge Haulers on the Volga” (1870) by Ilya Repin, “Portrait of a Convict” 1858) by Nikanor Tyutryumov and “An Arrested Person is Being Led” (1891) by Nikolay Yaroshenko.

Paintings by Ilya Repin, Nikanor Tyutryumov and Nikolay Yaroshenko depict the life of prisoners and hard-working peasants.
Paintings by Ilya Repin, Nikanor Tyutryumov and Nikolay Yaroshenko depict the life of prisoners and hard-working peasants.

In a glass case, two objects remind us that helped Dostoevsky to survive during the exile: family and faith. The first one is a letter of Fyodor Dostoevsky to his brother Mikhail. The second one is the Gospel that belonged to the writer. The Gospel was a gift to Dostoevsky in Siberia by the wives of the Decembrists. Now the book is kept in the collections of the Russian State Library in Moscow.

The Gospel is the only book allowed in prison,” Fyodor Mikhailovich recalled. – It was lying under my pillow in the penal colony. I read it to myself and read it to others. I learned to read one convict from it …

The Gospel that belonged to Fyodor Dostoevsky (above) and a letter from Fyodor Dostoevsky to his brother Mikhail.
A Gospel that belonged to Fyodor Dostoevsky (above) and a letter from Fyodor Dostoevsky to his brother Mikhail.

Room 4 — Artworks that Dostoevsky appreciated

The fourth room shows us artworks that Fyodor Dostoyevsky considered iconic. The divine and the diabolic interfuse and coexist side by side. The draft of the peaceful “Christ in the Desert” by Ivan Kramskoy hangs next to the “Before the Suicide” by Mikhail Mikeshin.

In the middle of this dark room, we see Mephistopheles, the personification of doubt and disbelief.

The most powerful image is a projection of “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb”. It is the most horrible work of German artist Hans Holbein.

One of the rooms of the Dostoevsky exhibition in Mikhailovsky Castle
One of the rooms of the Dostoevsky exhibition in Mikhailovsky Castle

Dostoevsky had seen “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb” in the Kunstmuseum Basel during his trip to Switzerland. This terrifying human image of Jesus made a strong impression on the writer and caused deep thought.

Later, in Geneva, Fyodor Dostoevsky began writing “The Idiot”. In this novel, he expressed the results of his reflections about the image of the dead Christ:

 “… when you look at this corpse of a tortured person, one special and curious question is born: if such a corpse (and it certainly had to be exactly like that) had been seen by all his disciples, by his future apostles, seen by the women who followed him, and who stood near the cross, all those who believed in him and adored him, how could they believe, looking at such a corpse, that if death is so terrible and the laws of nature are so strong, then how can they overcome them?.. “

Purses and a medicine bottle that belonged to Fyodor Dostoevsky
Purses and a medicine bottle that belonged to Fyodor Dostoevsky

Room 5 — gates of the Baptistery of Saint John in Florence

Dostoevsky had visited Italy several times. He had been to Rome, Turin, Venice, Florence and Milan. Those magnificent Italian cities inspired the writer. In the fifth room, which is a tiny passage between other rooms, we can admire a large photo of the gates of the Baptistery of Saint John in Florence. The gates are remarkable for ten gilded panels-bas-reliefs on biblical themes.

The gates of the Baptistery of Saint John in Florence
The gates of the Baptistery of Saint John in Florence

Room 6 — a farewell to Fyodor Dostoevsky

In the last room of the exhibition, we see a copy of Raphael’s painting “Saint John the Baptist as a Boy” (the original is in the Uffizi Gallery). There is also the peaceful “Dawning day in Saint Petersburg” (1867-1869) by Fyodor Vassiliev.

But the most striking object is the portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky in a mourning frame.

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1882) by N. Gusev (based on the photograph of the writer made by M. Panov in 1880)
Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1882) by N. Gusev (based on the photograph of the writer made by M. Panov in 1880)

INFO ABOUT FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY EXHIBITION IN MIKHAILOVSKY CASTLE

WHERE: Mikhailovsky Castle. 2, Sadovaya Street, Saint Petersburg

WHEN: 13 November 2021 — 14 February 2022

TICKETS: 500 Rub. (With this ticket, you can visit not only the Dostoevsky exhibition but also other exhibitions in Mikhailovsky Castle).

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