Ivan the Terrible in Cinema and Art

In this post I talk about a few cultural and historical works inspired by, or created in, the time of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan IV Vasilievich was widely known as Ivan the Terrible or Ivan the Fearsome. He was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547, reigning as the “Tsar of all the Russias” from 1547 until he died in 1584.


Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession (Иван Васильевич меняет профессию, 1973)

The film

Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession (Иван Васильевич меняет профессию, 1973) is a comedy by Mosfilm.

The film was directed by Leonid Gaidai (Леонид Гайдай) who directed some of the most memorable Russian films, particularly comedies, such as: The Twelve Chairs (12 сту́льев, 1971), The Diamond Arm (Бриллиантовая рука, 1969), and Operation Y and Shurik’s Other Adventures ( Операция «Ы» и другие приключения Шурика, 1965).

Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession was based on the play Ivan Vasilievich by Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov (Михаил Афанасьевич Булгаков). I have covered a different work of his which you can find here.

If you watch the film you will recognise the red -lad soldiers which were a military unit initiated by Ivan the Terrible called the The Streltsy (стрельцы).

My wife and I have had many a good laugh watching Gaidai’s films on our movie nights. Her favorite is The Diamond Arm while mine is Operation Y and Shurik’s Other Adventures, with Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession in second place, from this list.


Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession (Иван Васильевич меняет профессию, 1973)

Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession was another classic Russian comedy that was very popular in the soviet union. It was one of the most attended films when it was released with over sixty million tickets sold.

The painting

In the film, there is a scene where Ivan the Terrible looks at a painting in the apartment of Shurik. The irony being that he is unaware that it is a painting of himself (having accidentally killed his son). The idea that Ivan the Terrible killed his own son is quite a controversial point.

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 (Иван Грозный и сын его Иван 16 ноября 1581 года) by Ilya Repin (Илья Репин) 1883-1885.

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 (Иван Грозный и сын его Иван 16 ноября 1581 года) by Ilya Repin (Илья Репин) 1883-1885.

The painting is housed at the The State Tretyakov Gallery (Государственная Третьяковская Галерея).

One day when I visit Russia this gallery will be top of the list. It has so many of my favorite paintings. Paintings that I have as my wallpapers on my laptop and have even printed in my office.

This particular painting is controversial and has been the subject of attacks of vandalism over the years. The cause of death of Ivan’s second son depicted in the painting of Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich of Russia is debated and contested by some. On the 16th of January 1913 the painting was slashed several times with a knife. When the the curator of the gallery heard the news he thew himself under a train. Repin helped to restore the painting after this attack.

All this happened during an era with so much tragedy that it was called the Time of Troubles – marked by famines, political instability, political and religious persecution, and war.

Ivan the Terrible and His Son detail

Opera

My first exposure to the historical figure of Ivan the Terrible and the particular time period was when I listened to the Russian Opera Boris Godunov (Борис Годунов) by Modest Mussorgsky (Модест Петрович Мусоргский). Boris Godunov is the most recorded opera in the entire Russian repertoire.

After Ivan the Terrible’s son’s death there was no suitable heir to the throne, so Boris Godunov was elected Tsar.

It is a masterpiece and if there is only one Russian opera that you listen to in your life it should be this!

Boris Godunov (Борис Годунов) composed by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (Модест Петрович Мусоргский)

Mussorgsky was a member of the Mighty Five (Могучая кучка) which I have mentioned before in this post.

Domostroi (Домостро́й)

The Domostroi (Домостро́й) Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible is a manual on household management, published the in 16th century.

Here is a summary from Cornell University:

“A manual on household management, the Domostroi is one of the few sources on the social history and secular life of Russia in the time of Ivan the Terrible. It depicts a society that prized religious orthodoxy, reliance on tradition, and absolute subordination of the individual to the family and the state. Specific instructions tell how to arrange hay, visit monasteries, distill vodka, treat servants, entertain clergy, cut out robes, and carry out many other daily activities.”

I’ve ordered my copy and look forward to learning more about Russian history, culture, and daily life in the 16th century.

Russian films often have many historical references – some subtle, some overt – but Russia is steeped in culture and one work will often have many different branches of related or inspired works. I hope you enjoy the film!

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