The Power of Print: Dutch propaganda for a new Russia

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: History of Art

Abstract

Until the late twentieth century, the print medium was the most important vehicle through which political imagery was translated from one culture into another. Reproducible, portable, and affordable prints crossed international boundaries with far more facility than formal portraits and monumental sculptures and reached a significantly broader audience as a result. Political iconography was appropriated, hybridised and naturalised throughout Europe in the early modern period but no example of this cross-cultural borrowing is as dramatic or compelling as that of Peter the Great's creation of political propaganda for his Westernisation of Russia. It is both essential to examine the early history of printed propaganda at a time when the demise of the print media at the hands of the internet has been heralded and timely to consider its role in Russia as we approach the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 2017.

'The Power of Print: Dutch propaganda for a new Russia', explores the single most important moment in the history of the political print in Russia: Peter I's 1698 commission of Dutch printmaker Adriaen Schoonebeek to establish a new school of printmaking. Dutch technology, expertise, and iconography were applied to the project of propagandising the Westernization of Russia, with models borrowed from Romeyn de Hooghe's prints celebrating Stadholder and King of England William III's 'Glorious Revolution'. The printed image and its control by the state rapidly became central to the Russian government's discourse of power and identity - a practice that continued through the Great Reforms of the 1860s, the Revolution of 1917, and the construction of the Soviet state. The examination of the construction and use of political imagery in Russia provides insight into the complex issue of how different cultures borrow and assimilate political iconography to support, nuance or change their own notions of leadership and national identity.

The project's international and multi-lingual research network comprises experts in various aspects of Dutch and Russian print culture from iconography and print publishing to collecting and reception. Scholars from a range of disciplines and institutions in the UK, The Netherlands, and Russia will come together to engage in collective, collaborative research addressing the significance and impact of the appropriation of Dutch imagery, iconography, and ideology and its translation for use in some of the most important images produced in the Petrine era. The proposed workshops, training sessions, and events will forge collaborations that establish access to previously unstudied research material and archival resources and connect specialist knowledge from different fields and scholarly traditions. This constellation of varied specialists will engage with novel ideas about the development of political iconography and the relationship between the printed medium and cultural self-definition.

Planned Impact

This topic has the potential to engage many different constituencies as the importation of a visual iconography of power from the Netherlands into Russia, with the attendant machinery for mass production and wide dissemination thorough the medium of print, offers a remarkable example of the larger issue of cross-cultural translation and assimilation. The significance of Peter the Great's establishment of a printmaking school is obvious in the Russian context, but its potential ramifications extend well beyond Russia's borders and the Petrine era and this can be appreciated by some consideration of the subject's potential to interest and instruct non-academic beneficiaries.

Non-academic beneficiaries of our research include diplomats and members of government who seek to understand the early history of Russia's relationship with Europe; members of the press interested in the origins of the modern media and the much heralded demise of the print medium; UK museums interested in collaborating with great, if lesser-known, Russian institutions such as The Russian Museum and the National Library in St. Petersburg; and secondary school students of history, cultural studies, media studies and Russian.

With the territorial boundaries of the European Union, the definition of its mission, and the future of its economic might in flux, issues related to the complexities of national versus collective trans-national identity are more pressing than ever. The history of Russia's sophisticated hybrid culture, which has long been in dialogue with Europe, is crucial to understanding its current position on issues related to everything from foreign policy to cultural exchange. Our research will contribute to this political discussion by illuminating the origins of Russia's relationship with Western visual culture as well as its relationship to both its past and present cultural identity. Though Peter I's propaganda prints, replete with allegorical figures and classicising motifs, may now seem old fashioned, his use of the print medium as a political tool was the cutting edge technology of his day. Just as Twitter and Facebook have been credited with bringing about the 'Arab Spring' through cross-cultural communication and information sharing, Peter I's use of the print medium revolutionised the conveyance of political ideology and dissemination of propaganda and our examination of the birth and development of the political print in Russia will be of interest to those engaged in and studying the modern media.

Our research also has the potential to contribute to school curricula not only with subjects relating to Russia, such as AS Level Russian History 1881-1914, but also as a case study in 'critical viewing'. The goal of our workshop in the Cambridge Festival of Ideas is to encourage critical viewing not only of political images but also of the more seemingly casual imagery that we encounter on a daily basis. The cognitive and visual tools required to 'unpack' the political prints of the past are equally applicable to contemporary political imagery and our discussions will be designed to teach students how such messages are conveyed, thereby revealing their goals and biases. In an age in which images are ubiquitous, critical viewing is a crucial component of critical thinking.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Exhibition of Dutch/Russian prints 
Description We are in discussion with museums in the UK about the possibility of mounting an exhibition of the Dutch prints and Russian prints inspired by them. Many of these objects have never been exhibited and with three curators from Russian collection in my network (State Hermitage Museum, State Russian Museum, and National Academy of Science Library) we have unprecedented access to the material. The exhibition would have a UK and a Dutch venue and, we hope, also a Russian one. We are looking for funding for this project. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact not yet realised-in planning stages 
 
Description We found that though Peter the Great imported the technicians, tools and materials to establish a European-style print school and market, he did not utilise these resources to this end. His efforts stopped at constructing the possibility of establishing such a market but he used the technology purely for his own ends and on a surprisingly small scale. Thus, the impact of this remarkable 'European moment' in Russian print culture was limited at this stage. It was revisited again in the 19th century.
Exploitation Route We are publishing our papers in an edited volume and hope to mount an exhibition of this material in the UK and Russia, aimed at the general public. With further funding we would like to establish a database of this imagery for use by future scholars. I have secured a contract with Brepols for the publication of the papers, which will appear in 2019.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description They haven't been as of yet but with our exhibition we hope to explore certain larger questions of cultural borrowing, particularly those between Europe and Russia and the attendant problems of identity associated with them. The relationship between the UK and Russia has changed dramatically since we started this research and has, therefore, put our exhibition plans on hold. We feel, though, that these developments only underline the importance of considering the questions posed by our research.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description funds for travel to meeting/to give seminar on project
Amount € 1,000 (EUR)
Organisation University of Amsterdam 
Sector Academic/University
Country Netherlands
Start 06/2016 
 
Description Collaborations resulting from networking grant 'The Power of Print' 
Organisation State Hermitage Museum
Department Department of European Prints
Country Russian Federation 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I was the PI of the grant that funded our three seminars and conference throughout 2014. I organised most of the events from Cambridge and dealt with all of the finances and expenses. My grant allowed this collaboration to take place and my partners to do the research we've all done during this period.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Elmer Kolfin (University of Amsterdam) and Prof Roman Grigoryev (State Hermitage Museum) are project partners for my grant. Dr Kolfin led our Dutch seminar in January 2014 and Prof Grigoryev helped organise our Russian seminar in May 2014. Each of us is working on a different aspect of the research question and will collaborate to produce an edited volume as well as a bid for further funding to expand the project.
Impact An edited volume of papers presented at the Cambridge conference will be published by Brepols in 2016. All eight scholars involved are art historians, curators and historians. We have also initiated discussions for an exhibition though it is difficult to negotiate loans from Russia at the moment. We hope for an improvement of that situation so that we can mount the exhibition.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Collaborations resulting from networking grant 'The Power of Print' 
Organisation University of Amsterdam
Department Department of Art History
Country Netherlands 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I was the PI of the grant that funded our three seminars and conference throughout 2014. I organised most of the events from Cambridge and dealt with all of the finances and expenses. My grant allowed this collaboration to take place and my partners to do the research we've all done during this period.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Elmer Kolfin (University of Amsterdam) and Prof Roman Grigoryev (State Hermitage Museum) are project partners for my grant. Dr Kolfin led our Dutch seminar in January 2014 and Prof Grigoryev helped organise our Russian seminar in May 2014. Each of us is working on a different aspect of the research question and will collaborate to produce an edited volume as well as a bid for further funding to expand the project.
Impact An edited volume of papers presented at the Cambridge conference will be published by Brepols in 2016. All eight scholars involved are art historians, curators and historians. We have also initiated discussions for an exhibition though it is difficult to negotiate loans from Russia at the moment. We hope for an improvement of that situation so that we can mount the exhibition.
Start Year 2013
 
Description 'Art and Politics', talk for Festival of Ideas 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact My talk generated many questions and discussion about the current state of European cultural relations with Russia.

Members of the audience asked if they could see more images from technical material in Russia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Presentation, European University at St Petersburg 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Talk generated discussion with Russian students at European University of St Petersburg on print culture and the future of our project. The presentation led to a meeting with the Dutch Institute in St Petersburg, who are interested in collaborating with us on future developments of the project.

Practitioners in the museum sector and students expressed an interest in learning more about our project and getting involved if we receive further funding; this will be particularly important for our plans to mount a major exhibition of this material.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014