The Icon and the Square Russian Modernism and the Russo-Byzantine Revival

Maria Taroutina

In The Icon and the Square, Maria Taroutina examines how the traditional interests of institutions such as the crown, the church, and the Imperial Academy of Arts temporarily aligned with the radical, leftist, and revolutionary avant-garde at the turn of the twentieth century through a shared interest in the Byzantine past, offering a counternarrative to prevailing notions of Russian modernism.

Focusing on the works of four artists—Mikhail Vrubel, Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Vladimir Tatlin—Taroutina shows how engagement with medieval pictorial traditions drove each artist to transform his own practice, pushing beyond the established boundaries of his respective artistic and intellectual milieu. She also contextualizes and complements her study of the work of these artists with an examination of the activities of a number of important cultural associations and institutions over the course of several decades.

The Icon and the Square retrieves a neglected but vital history that was deliberately suppressed by the atheist Soviet regime and subsequently ignored in favor of the secular formalism of mainstream modernist criticism. Taroutina’s timely study, which coincides with the centennial reassessments of Russian and Soviet modernism, is sure to invigorate conversation among scholars of art history, modernism, and Russian culture.

Taroutina cover


  • $89.95 cloth, 978-0-271-08104-5
  • $89.95 ebook
  • 288 pages
  • 116 illus., 51 in color, 9 x 10 in.

about the author

As a scholar of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Dr Taroutina has focused her research primarily on the architecture, painting and sculpture of Imperial and early Soviet Russia with the aim of tracing its historical contribution to international modernism. In addition to The Icon and the Square, Dr Taroutina has published a co-edited volume, Byzantium/Modernism, which brings together a diverse range of interdisciplinary essays on art, architecture, theater, film, literature and philosophy. Together, these essays explore the multiple discursive intersections between Byzantine revivalism and European modernism and articulate how and why Byzantine art and image theory can contribute to our understanding of modern and contemporary visual culture. A second edited volume on the art and architecture of Russia and the former Soviet bloc is forthcoming in 2019 under the title New Narratives of Russian and East European Art: Between Traditions and Revolutions.

Dr Taroutina is currently working on a new research project: Looking East: Russian Orientalism in the Visual Arts under the Romanov Dynasty. It examines the various ways in which Russian artists responded to Russia’s historical relationship with Asia, closely analysing their participation in a fraught and multivalent discourse that advanced Russia’s colonial machinery on the one hand and critiqued it on the other. More specifically, the project explores how Russian Orientalism was structured by a complex triadic model involving Europe, Russia, and Asia and considers how “the Orient” became an important discursive site from which Russia’s own political, social and cultural shortcomings could be recognised and critiqued.

In her research, Dr Taroutina is primarily interested in rethinking the opposing binary categories of avant-gardism and revivalism, historicism and innovation, modernity and religion, and regionalism and internationalisation as they have been applied to the trajectory of modern European art.

Dr. Taroutina received her PhD in the History of Art from Yale University in 2013, after completing her undergraduate work at Yale as well.