Russian Rome and the salons of Zinaida Volkonskaya
History
«The brilliant house of Princess
Zinaida Volkonskaya served as
a common center for writers and,
in general, for fans of all kinds of arts, music, singing, painting».

A.N. Muravyov
At all times Rome was like an omnipotent magnet, attracting travelers and inquisitive people. This city has a wonderful property to give energy and do inspire anyone who tries to gain an insight of its history, to understand its secrets and wonders, to rise above the bustle of the moment and see the signs of the past times from there. Rome left a notable trace in the work of remarkable Russian poets of different epochs: either of the Golden, and the Silver Age, and the post-revolutionary period. And it didn't really matter: whether these poets managed to visit Rome, or they projected into it only on the waves of their imagination, as it did A.S. Pushkin, E.A. Baratynsky, I.I. Kozlov, A.N. Pleshcheev.

No wonder that Rome, starting from Pushkin's times, has become a center of attraction not only for Russian poets and writers, but for artists, architects, composers, musicians. And there were several reasons for that. Of course, the main thing was that this cultural capital of Europe of that time, which had collected countless cultural and historical riches over the centuries, could've given and gave people of creative professions the precious experience, inspiration, opportunity to study and communicate with creative people from all over Europe.

And it happened that the dawn of the Russian presence in Rome fell on the 20-40s of the XIX century, when the Russian salons of Zinaida Volkonskaya shone in Eternal City, where 180 years earlier, in 1837, the great N.V. Gogol appeared, who found the desired paradise in city-on-Tiber!

Zinaida Volkonskaya: on
the way to Rome
«Representatives of the upper crust, dignitaries and beauties, youth and mature, intellectuals, professors, writers, journalists, poets, artists joined in the house of Volkonskaya. Everything in that house was imprinted with the service of art and thought».
P.A. Vyazemsky
Zinaida Volkonskaya was born on December 3 (14), 1789, in Dresden, in the family of Prince Alexander Mikhailovich Beloselsky-Belozersky, a noble aristocrat who was a Russia's ambassador at the Saxon court, and Varvara Yakovlevna Tatishcheva, who died when her daughter was only three years old. By 1792 her father had already been in the position of Russian ambassador at the court of the Sardinian kingdom in Turin. Prince Beloselsky-Belozersky had died in 1809, when his family returned to Russia. And Zinaida started a new stage of life: in 1810 she married a representative of a noble family, the master of the hunt (aide-de-camp) of Emperor Alexander I, Prince Nikita Grigorevich Volkonsky.
Zinaida's husband was to accompany the Emperor during his overseas campaigns after the events of 1812, and followed him to Dresden, Vienna, Paris and London, followed by his wife and son. And that's the time when Zinaida's and Alexander I's affair begins, the proof of which is their remained letters.

Zinaida had a beautiful contralto of high professional level, she painted beautifully, she wrote music herself and she can be called one of the first female composers of Russia, besides she was a poetess and was fond of prosaic genre. At that time being close to the Emperor only strengthened the popularity and publicity of the young singer, who began to perform at the stages of private and state theaters in Europe, including Paris, Rome and Verona.

In 1817 the princess and her sons returned from European wanderings to Russia in order to give them proper education. She enjoys a noisy social success, but she misses Italy that became almost native for her; in the fall of 1819 she leaves in Warsaw for several months, and in the spring of 1820 arrives in Rome, where she remains until 1822. Mingling in the highest quarters, she begins to gather a kind of "Russian circle" around herself, inviting visitor Russian writers, musicians and especially artists and sculptors to her place (artist OA Kiprensky, K.P. Bryullov, F.A. Bruni, S.F. Shchedrin, V.K. Sazonov, sculptor S.I. Galberg, architect K.A. Ton).

n 1826, Zinaida Volkonskaya met with Alexander Pushkin. Zinaida highly appreciated the poet's talent as a Russian genius, and Pushkin dedicated a poem to her. They'd never seen each other again. The world's first monument to Pushkin was erected precisely by Volkonskaya in the Alley of Memory of her Roman villa.
Many Italian artists visited theatrical performances and meetings in the house of Volkonskaya then, such evenings were actually pave the way for the famous Russian salons of Zinaida Volkonskaya, which on an ongoing basis began to be held from the end of the 1820s. Until now, it has not been found out exactly where the Volkonskaya gathered her friends in 1820-1822s, but it certainly did not happen in the Palazzo Poli – neither in the palace, which until 1830 was in ramshackle condition and which Volkonskaya occupied on a permanent basis basis only from the autumn of 1834 till 1845.

The contribution of the Princess in the field of promotion of arts was then appreciated in Rome by her admission to the famous Academy of Arcadia, which her father had been a member of. And Zinaida was admitted to the Academy under the pseudonym Karitya Chidonia.
In 1822 Zinaida Volkonskaya returns to St. Petersburg to take care of further education of her sons, and in the fall of 1824 she moved to Moscow, joining the period when the glory of her salon on Tverskaya Street, in a house that would later become known as the "Eliseevsky Shop", rattled throughout the country. Soon Zinaida Volkonskaya was attracted to a singer Miniato Ricci. And this affair, which for many in Moscow, and then in Rome was not a secret, turned out to be happy, despite the fact that Volkonskaya never divorced her husband, until his death in 1844.

Probably one of the main reasons for the departure of Volkonskaya to Italy in 1829 was precisely the love for Ricci and her desire to hush up the scandal, as well as the Princess's interest in Catholicism, which at first had been behind the scenes, but then in Italy, in 1833, led to Volkonskaya's beliefs changes and conversion to Catholicism. In addition, the departure of the Princess was influenced by the public atmosphere in the country after the Decembrist uprising and accession of Nicholas I. Volkonskaya's support of the wives of the Decembrists led to the spy upon her by the police.

Palazzo Poli, Roman villa
and Russian salons of Zinaida Volkonskaya
Zinaida Volkonskaya began to hold «Russian meetings» at the end of 1829. Her decision in 1830 to build a villa played the most important role in the future of the Russian salons Volkonskaya. Depending on seasons, composition of the participants and occasions for meetings, Volkonskaya gathered her salons one day at Roman apartments and the other day at the villa. During her life in Rome, Volkonskaya changed many addresses, and it would be wrong to think that she only held her salons at the Palazzo Poli and at her Roman villa. However, meetings were the most popular when they were held at Palazzo Poli.
In 1923, the Princess's heirs sold the villa to the Italian government, which on the eve of World War II transferred it to the residence of the German ambassador. In 1938, it was at this villa where Hitler stayed. Since 1947, the villa has been at the disposal of Great Britain and it is still the residence of the Ambassador of this country in Italy.
And as it was earlier in Rome, in 1820-1822s, and then in Moscow in 1824-1829s, her "Russian circle" began to attract many representatives of Italian, foreign artists, musicians, writers and architects, primarily Russian, who lived or came to the Eternal City for a short time. Here is an incomplete list of masters of Russian culture, who at different time and with varying frequency visited the Volkonskaya salons: Nikolai Gogol and Vasily Zhukovsky, Alexander Turgenev and Pyotr Vyazemsky, Stepan Shevyrev and Mikhail Pogodin, Nikolay Yazykov and Ivan Kireevsky, Mikhail Glinka and Vasily Stasov, Karl and Alexander Bryullov, Alexander Ivanov and Samuel Galberg, Fedor Bruni and Sylvester Shchedrin, Orest Kiprensky and Vasily Sazonov, Petr Basin and Fedor Matveyev, Fedor Iordan and Petr Orlov, Fedor Buslaev and Konstantin Ton.

And here's the names of foreign guests of salons that can grace any list of masters of world culture: Giacomo Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti, Bertel Thorvaldsen and Antonio Canova, Gioacchino Belli and Victor Hugo, Adam Mickiewicz and Walter Scott, Henri Stendhal and Fenimore Cooper, and most likely Alexandre Duma, who described the Palazzo Poli and the Trevi Fountain in the novel "The Count of Monte -Christo".

In 1844-1845s the salon began to come to naught, when after the death of her husband the Princess became more and more wrapped up in charity work, including helping the poor and supporting shelters. Volkonskaya began to engage in this activity almost immediately upon her arrival in Rome, which indirectly, most likely, influenced her decision to accept Catholicism. At the end of her life Volkonskaya increasingly chose charity over service to the muses. A few years before her death, the Princess decided to become a secular nun of the Order of St. Francis.

In 2003 by the decision of Pope Ioannes Paulus II, the Church of Saints Vincenzo and Anastasio was transferred to the use of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and it turns out that the Princess who converted to Catholicism returned to the fold of Orthodoxy to some extent or became a symbol of the unification of the two churches.
Zinaida Volkonskaya died on January 24 (February 5) in 1862. Her deposition is in the wall of one of the chapels of the Church of Saints Vincenzo and Anastasio, also known as the Mazarin's Temple, directly opposite the Palazzo Poli in the Trevi Fountain Square.

The Princess was the conductor and popularizer of Russian culture in Europe and at the same time she contributed to the transfer of the best achievements of European art to Russian soil. Thanks to the help of the Princess, Russian artists received orders from the Italian and European aristocracy, and musicians and composers had the opportunity to become famous in the city-on-Tiber.

Gogol as the essence
of Russian Rome
Many masterpieces of Russian literature were born and created away from the Motherland, as if from there, from afar, from abroad, Russia is seen better and more clearly, as through a magnifying glass.

However, the most vivid example of the literary work «removed from the Motherland» was and still is the "Roman experiment" by Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol, who spent abroad in total about 10 years of his almost 43 years of life. For the first time, Rome opened to the writer on March 25, 1837, when he came to him to continue work on "Dead Souls," and for the last time — almost en route — the writer visited the Eternal City in October-November 1847. And from these busy ten years Gogol gave almost four years to Rome.

Rome did not immediately became a that heavenly place, where Gogol longed to live and create. But when he visited Geneva in September 1837, the writer suddenly felt an irresistible desire to return to Rome. Arriving in Rome at the end of October 1837, Gogol was simply stunned by his splendor, finding in his soul a light, tranquility and desire to create nonstop.

«At last I broke free. If you knew with what joy I left Switzerland and flew to my darling, to my beautiful Italy. She's mine! No one in the world will take her away from me!»

N.V. Gogol
From the first days of his stay in Rome, namely from April 1837, Gogol found himself in the orbit of the salons of Zinaida Volkonskaya, who acted as the metreza and the "good genius" of Russian Rome. The Princess allowed the writer to come to her, when he only wished and for as long as he wished. Gogol often visited the Princess's apartment in Palazzo Poli and her villa, where he participated in parties and literary evenings. Gogol became close friends with Princess Volkonskaya, and he felt lonely in her absence in Rome. He participated in the salons of the Princess until about 1845, when they began to come to naught.
Gogol began to study Italian even before coming to Rome. He even gave Italian lessons to his friends, translated Italian texts and tried to write in this language himself, which differed him from many Russians who weren't learning the local language in Rome.

Rome gave the writer a creative take-off, he not only completed the first part of "Dead Souls", but also created many works included in the treasury of Russian literature: "The Overcoat", "Leaving the Theater, (After the Staging of a New Comedy)", "Nights at the Villa", "Excerpt" of the "The Gamblers" comedy, "Tyazhba", "Lakeyskaya". In addition, Gogol remade "Taras Bulba", "The Portrait", "The Government Inspector", and "Marriage", and began to write the whole Roman novel "Annunziata", which gradually developed into the novel "The Rome", the only work of the writer whose action takes place abroad.

Rome remained in the soul of the writer precisely as a newly-found paradise, as an eternal memory of happiness.
In world history, it is difficult to find the same example of the confluence of a great writer of one culture and country with a seemingly alien, foreign city, which became for him a newfound paradise. Rome and Gogol are the eternal theme of connecting different cultures in a single fusion of creativity and life; this is an example of the most universal responsiveness that is common for geniuses.*


Sergei Dmitriev. Extract from the book «Russian poets in Italy».
Print of the book is planned in 2018.
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