Kathleen Scollins

A Haymarket Khozhdenie na osliati: Raskolnikov’s Donkey Walk and the Failures of Iconic Performativity


In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Moscow, Orthodox priests and celebrants reenacted Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in a ritual known as the Donkey Walk (Khozhdenie na osliati). Art historian Alexei Lidov has interpreted this reenactment as a “spatial icon,” in which city and inhabitants co-create a dynamic, living “Entry into Jerusalem” icon. This paper reexamines the final chapters of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment within the context of this ritual, arguing that Raskolnikov’s attempted act of penitence at the Haymarket represents a failed Donkey Walk, in which the city and its inhabitants resist the anticipated transformation, suggesting the impossibility of iconic performativity in Peter’s profane city.

Introduction: The Performing Icon, Past and Present

The question of an icon’s performativity—its ability to effect change or transformation within a reverent beholder or community—has remained a topic of theological and theoretical debate for over one and a half millennia, from antiquity through the Iconoclastic crisis and beyond, into the postmodern age. Through the ancient and medieval eras, theologians developed various subtle explanations for the divine image’s capacity to mediate between God and believer, including essentialist models that implied the presence of the divine prototype within the image and nonessentialist models that carefully distinguished a saint’s outer likeness from his divine essence. By the ninth century, Orthodox thinkers had landed on a solution to the iconoclasts’ challenge that carefully excised any hint of spirit from matter; but while their doctrines successfully shielded the devout from charges of idolatry, they failed to account for the icon’s miraculous properties. As a result, an uneasy fault line opened up between the dictates of iconoclast-era theology and the draw of popular belief, where legends of icons’ miraculous intercessory, protective, or healing performances blurred the fine lines these theologians had so carefully drawn to keep earthly image distinct from heavenly model.1For a more detailed introduction to icon theology and practice, see Moshe Barasch, Icon: Studies in the History of an Idea (New York: New York University Press, 1992); Alain Besançon, The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000); Bissera V. Pentcheva, The Sensual Icon: Space, Ritual, and the Senses in Byzantium (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010); St. John of Damascus, Three Treatises on the Divine Images, trans. Andrew Louth (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003); and Torstein Tollefsen, St. Theodore the Studite’s Defence of the Icons: Theology and Philosophy in Ninth-Century Byzantium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

Over the past several decades, as visual culture has taken shape as an academic field, the Orthodox icon has reemerged as the site of spirited debate, and an interdisciplinary assortment of scholars—historians, religious and literary specialists, political theorists, and art historians, among others—has sought to reassess Byzantine image theory in light of contemporary intellectual developments. Their reconsideration of the divine image takes place at a particularly lively scholarly crossroads, where the performative turn in the arts of the late twentieth century intersects with the recent material turn in religious studies.

The so-called performative turn of the late twentieth century occurred across multiple disciplines, as scholars sought to reexamine cultural phenomena as diverse as language, gender, and religious ritual through the central metaphor of performance. Artistic works were reconceived not as stable artifacts—independent texts, detached from their creators, ready to be consumed and interpreted by discrete spectators—but rather as ephemeral events, co-constructed and experienced by actors and spectators within a shared physical environment. The dynamic interaction among these participants has the potential to effect transformation in all three: in a work of performance art, for instance, the actor transforms her body, becoming both subject and object of performance; the spectator’s embodied response to this performance transforms him into actor and co-creator; and the physical performance space itself is transformed into an unstable and transient communal environment, charged with meanings and possibilities. Such performances routinely disrupt, and ultimately dissolve, traditional boundaries between actor and spectator, being and doing, art and life.2For a discussion of a specific performance that demonstrates the pivot from textual to performative culture, see Erika Fischer-Lichte, The Transformative Power of Performance: A New Aesthetics, trans. Saskya Iris Jain (London: Routledge, 2008), 11–23. For a general introduction to contemporary performance theory, see also Richard Schechner, Performance Studies: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2002); and Marvin Carlson, Performance: A Critical Introduction (London: Routledge, 2004). More recently, a material turn in the humanities and social sciences has invigorated a shift within the study of religion from the realm of the intellect—reversing a general Western tendency to prioritize ideas, doctrine, and theology as religion’s defining elements—to that of the body, reestablishing the primacy of matter—physical objects, sensory perceptions, enacted and emplaced ritual practices—in constituting, accessing, and experiencing the spiritual.3For more on the new materiality of religious studies and the vital connection between the corporeal and the spiritual, see Manuel A. Vasquez, More Than Belief: A Materialist Theory of Religion (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2011); Tim Hutchings and Joanne McKenzie, Materiality and the Study of Religion: The Stuff of the Sacred (London and New York: Routledge, 2017).

Both performative and materialist approaches emphasize corporeality, sensuous experience, and spatial context, establishing perception as a vital and meaning-making encounter between lived, phenomenal bodies and the physical environment. Cultural phenomena, including religious rites or artistic works, are understood to be experienced through the bodily senses—they are touched, smelled, heard, seen, and felt—rather than simply analyzed by a disembodied intellect. These new frameworks thus encourage a refocusing of the critical gaze, from the text or object itself to “its function as a performative and communicative act in a particular cultural situation”;4Carlson, Performance, 14. indeed, the very notion of a stable, fixed text is replaced by that of a fluid and ever-changing performance, generated through the dynamic interactions among participants within a shared space. Such artistic events generate meaning within the bodies and senses of the spectator, initiating the possibility of transformation in all participants and destabilizing conventional binaries, such that matter leads to spirit, spectator becomes performer, and performance constitutes reality.5Fischer-Lichte, “The Performance as Event,” in Transformative Power of Performance, 161-180.

It is within this corporeally charged critical context that contemporary scholars such as art historians Alexei Lidov, Bissera Pentcheva, and Nicoletta Isar have undertaken a critical reevaluation of the Orthodox icon.6See Alexei Lidov, Ierotopiia: sozdanie sakral’nykh prostranstv v Vizantii i drevnei Rusi [Hierotopy: The Creation of Sacred Spaces in Byzantium and Medieval Russia] (Moscow: Indrik, 2006); Bissera V. Pentcheva, Sensual Icon and “The Performative Icon,” The Art Bulletin 88, no. 4 (2006): 631–55; Nicoletta Isar, “The Vision and Its ‘Exceedingly Blessed Beholder’: Of Desire and Participation in the Icon,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 38 (2000): 56–72. As the debate has left the church and entered the academy, theological questions have largely been consigned to the Orthodox clergy, allowing scholarly attention to shift from the metaphysical nexus of divinity/icon/beholder, so essential to Byzantine thought, to the more material postmodern nexus of image/spectator/environment. This new generation of icon theorists has clearly kept up with the recent material and performative tendencies in cultural studies, traces of which mark their own studies of the divine image. Collectively, their approaches redirect attention from the icon as discrete object to its active role in iconic rituals, from flat surface to spatial emanation; emphasize the environmental context and spatio-material qualities of the divine image; and recognize the critical role of the beholder’s sensory response. In contrast to medieval theology, these more recent approaches stress the contextualized nature of iconic performance: the relationship between icon and venerator does not take place in isolation, but within a rich liturgical or ceremonial environment. These readings dramatize the interdependence of spirit, matter, and space: the charged spiritual atmosphere heightens the embodied perceptions of the beholder which, coupled with phenomenal changes in the environment—reverberations of music and chanted liturgy; hazy wafts of intoxicating incense; flickering candlelight, stirred by the breath of prayer—all animate the surface of the image which, in turn, sacralizes the environment and effects a transformation in the observer by facilitating an experience of the divine.7Pentcheva, Sensual Icon, 1–2 and “Performative Icon,” 631–32; Lidov, “Hierotopy: The Creation of Sacred Spaces as a Form of Creativity and Subject of Cultural History,” in Ierotopiia, 32–58. According to these recent reassessments, then, the performativity of the icon is determined not through the presence of the divine essence, but through the image’s material apprehension by living, sensing bodies within a sacrally charged environment.

The most influential of the recent frameworks to emerge from this new era of icon scholarship is undoubtedly Lidov’s theory of hierotopy, devoted to the creation of sacred spaces. An interdisciplinary field of study spanning anthropology, religion, and art history, hierotopy accounts for the material and performative means (including imagery, light, song, and rite) by which humans produce spatial or architectural links to the sacred; where hierophany refers to the breakthrough of the spiritual into everyday life, hierotopy involves human intention—not a spontaneous breakthrough, then, but an active, purposeful creation of sacred space.8Judith Kornblatt, discussant’s notes, “Performative Icons and the Arts” panel, National ASEEES Convention, Boston, Massachusetts, 2018. Like other performative approaches to the divine image, Lidov’s hierotopic schema ties the icon’s “performance”—the active transformation of its surroundings and spiritual transport of its beholder—to the dynamic interaction between image, viewer, and ritual space. Introduced in 2001 and developed in a significant body of research over nearly two decades, Lidov’s hierotopic approach has sparked spirited intellectual debate and inspired innovative interdisciplinary methodologies, particularly among art historians, medievalists, and scholars of religious studies. Having made a considerable splash in these diverse fields, the rich possibilities of this young research discipline have now begun to reach the shores of literary studies.9For an example of a hierotopic literary analysis, see Ksana Blank, “Ierotopiia Dostoevskogo i Tolstogo,” in Ierotopiia: Sravnitel’nye issledovaniia sakral’nykh prostranstv, ed. Alexei Lidov (Moscow: Indrik, 2009), 323–40. By now, the artistic strategies by which Orthodox authors like Dostoevsky and Bulgakov weave narrative icons into their texts are well documented, the critical literature replete with analyses demonstrating how literary works might be read “iconically” in order to illuminate new layers of spiritual meaning. As approaches like Lidov’s have broadened the concept of the icon from wooden object to energetic participant in the performance of the sacred, critical studies of such textual icons must likewise widen their analytical lens to encompass extra-pictorial elements of the icon such as ritual, devotional, and otherwise sacralized spaces. While previous scholars have located and identified verbal icons in Crime and Punishment, most prominently in the epilogue, the present study will focus on a different, previously unremarked icon in the novel’s final pages: the reenactment of a medieval iconic ritual. It is intended as a case study, illustrating how Lidov’s hierotopy can open sacred possibilities within narrative spaces, allowing literary expressions of performative icons to reveal new spiritual meanings in even the best-known works.

The Gospel according to Dostoevsky, and the Missing Entry into Jerusalem

A century and a half of readers—scholars and students alike—have discerned a familiar narrative pattern underlying Raskolnikov’s redemption plotline in the final chapters of Crime and Punishment: the passion and resurrection of Christ. George Gibian notes that the murderer’s taking up the cross and going on his “sorrowful way” to confess his crime are reminiscent of Christ’s path to Golgotha.10George Gibian, “Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment,” PMLA 70, no. 5 (1955): 990. Similarly, Gary Cox notes that this Via Dolorosa leading Raskolnikov through the Haymarket to the police station in the final chapter is the reverse of his path to murder in the first; see Crime and Punishment: A Mind to Murder (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990), 125. Jostein Bortnes argues that the Gospel modeling of Raskolnikov’s spiritual regeneration is initiated by Sonia’s reading of Lazarus, and continues through the epilogue, with his “descent into the hell of the Siberian prison,” symbolic victory over death, and eventual resurrection.11Jostein Bortnes, “Religion,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Classic Russian Novel, ed. Malcolm V. Jones and Robin Feuer Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 111. Susan McReynolds detects Raskolnikov’s self-association with Christ much earlier, noting his own conception of the crime as “taking sin and suffering on oneself in order to save others.”12Susan McReynolds, Redemption and the Merchant God: Dostoevsky’s Economy of Salvation and Antisemitism (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2008), 128 Priscilla Meyer has even suggested that the entire novel represents a modern-day revision of Dostoevsky’s beloved Johannine Gospel, in which the hero experiences a series of events that “parody” those recounted by John, including the Passover feast, cleansing of the temple, interrogation, and resurrection.13Priscilla Meyer, “Dostoevsky’s Modern Gospel: Crime and Punishment and the Gospel of John,” Dostoevsky Studies 2, no. 1 (1998): 2–3. See also 2n10 for a summary of scholarship on Dostoevsky’s use of the Gospel in his fictional works.

Notebooks for the novel preserve various possible outcomes for Dostoevsky’s criminal-hero, including the seeds that would eventually mature into the more fully incarnated evangelical design of the final version: within a few pages at the end of the draft, Sonia calls for Lazarus to arise, follows Raskolnikov to Golgotha at forty paces, and hangs a cypress cross around his neck.14F.M. Dostoevsky, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh, 30 vols, ed. V.G. Bazanov (Leningrad: Nauka, 1972-1990), 7:127, 129 (hereafter, all volumes of the Polnoe sobranie cited as PSS). Clearly, as Gibian points out, the Gospel references—at least those everyone agrees upon, most prominently the raising of Lazarus, Raskolnikov taking up the cross and bowing down at the crossroads, and his Siberian resurrection—are both intentional and intended to be read as a connected whole.15Gibian, “Traditional Symbolism,” 991. Most biblical readings construe Raskolnikov’s scene at the Haymarket as part of his Via Dolorosa: the “sorrowful path” he follows through the streets of Petersburg toward confession, trial, and eventual redemption (in fact, this is how he himself conceptualizes it, noting that Sonia had “accompanied him all along his walk of sorrows [skorbnoe shestvie]”).16Dostoevsky, PSS, 6:406. Hereafter, references to volume 6 of the PSS will be included parenthetically in the body of the paper by page number only. Unless otherwise noted, translations are adapted from Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992) and Oliver Ready (New York: Penguin Books, 2014). Perhaps, however, it is worth reconsidering this scene in light of a different episode: Jesus’s triumphant entrance to Jerusalem, the city in which he was to be condemned to death, recorded in all four Gospels as the link between Christ’s raising of Lazarus and the events leading to his own crucifixion and resurrection.

In Christian Orthodoxy, the celebration of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday completes the Week of Palms, commemorating the death and raising of Lazarus, and marks the beginning of Passion Week, which culminates on Easter Sunday. Situated between the penitence of Lent and the mourning of the Passion, the Feast of the Entry into Jerusalem provides a celebratory transition between Christ’s ministry on earth and his acceptance of death; it points backward to the Lazarus miracle and forward to the resurrection of Jesus, thus signifying the Christian triumph of eternal life. While details vary slightly across Gospel accounts, all four chronicle reverent crowds welcoming Jesus as he enters the Holy City on the back of a donkey.

In Crime and Punishment, the Haymarket scene is likewise situated between two resurrections—Sonia’s Lazarus reading and Raskolnikov’s ascent to the police station to confess, leading to his own spiritual rebirth in the Siberian prison. Remembering Sonia’s command, he kneels down in the middle of the marketplace, bows to the earth, and kisses it “with delight and happiness” (s naslazhdeniem i schastiem) (405), a sudden moment of jubilance heralding his ultimate embrace of redemption through suffering.17“‘Поди сейчас, сию же минуту, стань на перекрестке, поклонись, поцелуй сначала землю, которую ты осквернил, а потом поклонись всему свету, на все четыре стороны, и скажи всем, вслух: «Я убил!» Тогда бог опять тебе жизни пошлет […] Страдание принять и искупить себя им, вот что надо’” (322–3). He performs his act of penance and near-confession in a public square, before a crowd of onlookers, one of whom remarks aloud, “He’s going to Jerusalem” (Eto on v Ierusalim idet) (405). Although the Haymarket scene does not take place on Palm Sunday, Dostoevsky signals their association both structurally and thematically: within the final chapters’ established Gospel framework, Raskolnikov’s bow falls between two resurrections: one rehearsal, and one real. The joy with which he enacts his public repentance indicates that he has freely chosen Sonia’s difficult spiritual path, rather than Svidrigailov’s unrepentant fleshly shortcut; he understands and welcomes the suffering he will endure in hopes of spiritual redemption, just as Christ’s triumphal entrance into the Holy City traditionally marks his acceptance of physical torment/death in return for mankind’s salvation. Ironically, Raskolnikov’s confession is interrupted by the bystander’s explicit allusion to Christ’s entry into Jerusalem—his spiritual renewal will have to wait.

It seems likely that the biblical Entry into Jerusalem would have been on Dostoevsky’s mind at this time. He was already consumed by the composition of The Idiot as he completed work on Crime and Punishment and, as Michael Finke has observed, Prince Myshkin’s arrival in Switzerland was accompanied by the braying of a donkey in a marketplace, while his later entry into Petersburg society is accompanied by the story of that braying donkey.18Konstantin Barsht, “Defining the Face: Observations on Dostoevskii’s Creative Processes,” 23–57 (43), in Russian Literature, Modernism and the Visual Arts, eds. Catriona Kelly and Stephen Lovell (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Michael C. Finke, Metapoesis: The Russian Tradition from Pushkin to Chekhov (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 90. In his reading of the novel’s Christological plane, the donkey—with its strong Gospel associations—heralds Myshkin’s physical and spiritual transformation. Of course, it might also plausibly be argued that, if the braying ass accompanying Myshkin’s arrival in Switzerland signifies Christ’s entry to Jerusalem, then his return to Petersburg represents a reversal of that entry, ironically prefiguring that novel’s series of failed transformations and redemptions.19Amy Adams, private correspondence. On the novel’s failed or otherwise absent resurrections, see also McReynolds, Redemption and the Merchant God, 139–42. In Crime and Punishment, at least, the Jerusalem reference seems to signal, fairly straightforwardly, Raskolnikov’s readiness (after four hundred pages of self-justifying theory) for suffering and, eventually, resurrection. But as a closer reading of the passage suggests, Dostoevsky’s evocation of this Gospel episode served another, more political purpose, as well.

In early-modern Russia, the Feast day was celebrated in an annual ritual in which tsar and patriarch reenacted Christ’s donkey ride into Jerusalem, in the process transforming Moscow into an icon of the Holy City.20On the hierotopic transformation of urban environment into icon, see Lidov, “Spatial Icons: The Miraculous Performance with the Hodegetria of Constantinople,” in Ierotopiia, 349–57. The Palm Sunday Donkey Walk, considered one of the most important ceremonies of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Muscovy, functioned as a public display of the accord between political and ecclesiastical authorities. The ritual was abolished by Peter the Great in the late seventeenth century as part of his comprehensive subjugation of church to state. As this paper will argue, rereading the Haymarket scene in light of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem not only fills out the Gospel schema symbolically underlying Raskolnikov’s path to regeneration, but also reveals a previously overlooked artistic strategy by which Dostoevsky introduced into the final pages of his novel a critique of Russia’s post-Petrine schism from the Orthodox Church.

The Icon and the Iconic in Dostoevsky

Over the past half century, Dostoevsky scholarship has expanded its rigorous focus on the word to encompass the image, and particularly the Orthodox icon. While a full discussion of the theory and theology of the icon lies beyond the scope of this paper, at the most fundamental level it provides a link between material and spiritual worlds, uniting visible and invisible; it reveals the presence of an invisible prototype, drawing the believer into a sacred “iconic space,” and thus offering access to the divine.21For an introduction to the Orthodox icon, see Léonide Ouspensky, Theology of the Icon (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978); Léonide Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, The Meaning of Icons (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982); Michel Quenot, The Icon: Window on the Kingdom (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991); Pavel Aleksandrovich Florensky, Iconostasis (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996) and Beyond Vision: Essays on the Perception of Art, ed. Nicoletta Misler, trans. Wendy R. Salmond (London: Reaktion, 2002). In his 1966 Dostoevsky’s Quest for Form, R.L. Jackson argues that for Dostoevsky, art’s transformative possibilities—its potential to effect moral or spiritual transformation in its beholder—are tied to beauty, and particularly to the icon, “the visible symbol of the beauty of God” toward which man strives.22Robert Louis Jackson, Dostoevsky’s Quest for Form: A Study of his Philosophy of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), 47. In a superb analysis of Jackson’s work, Caryl Emerson remarks that the image reveals such beauty—the ideal type of beauty that Dostoevsky believed might save the world—more clearly and immediately than does the word.23Caryl Emerson, “Word and Image in Dostoevsky’s Worlds: Robert Louis Jackson on Readings that Bakhtin Could Not Do,” in Freedom and Responsibility in Russian Literature: Essays in Honor of Robert Louis Jackson, eds. Robert Louis Jackson, Elizabeth Cheresh Allen, and Gary Saul Morson (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1995), 250. Since Jackson’s pioneering study, an enormous body of scholarship has developed on the topic of icons in literature, and particularly in Dostoevsky’s narrative fiction; the following summary will attempt only to outline its rough form.

The recent explosion of articles and panels—even one full-length book—devoted to the aesthetic dimension of Dostoevsky’s verbal art attests to the high level of scholarly interest in the function and interpretation of the visual, and particularly of Orthodox iconography, in his fiction.24Katalin Gaal’s Iconic Representations in Dostoevsky’s Post-Siberian Fiction (Melbourne: Plenum Publisher, 2015) examines the redemptive role played by iconic beauty in the author’s later works. For a detailed summary of scholarship related to the icon and its transformative function in Dostoevsky’s art from “A Gentle Creature” through The Brothers Karamazov, see 14–34. Over the past several decades, literary scholars have scoured various levels of Dostoevsky’s fictional universe for suggestions of Orthodox imagery, ranging from references to individual icons on the page to the “iconic” structure of the works themselves. But whether such verbal icons are represented at the micro- or macro-level of text, they still possess what Valery Lepakhin calls “iconicity” (ikonichnost’), or iconic function—that is, they still provide a link between physical and spiritual worlds, allowing both characters and readers access to the unseen divine.25In Stephen Hutchings’s widely cited definition, a verbal icon involves the translation of iconic systems of representation, including inverse perspective, into narrative form. See Russian Modernism: The Transfiguration of the Everyday (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 37; 240n79. On the iconicity of such verbal icons, see Valerii Lepakhin, Ikona i ikonichnost’ (St. Petersburg: Uspenskoe Podvor’e Optinoi Pustyni, 2002); see also “Basic Types of Correlation Between Text and Icon, Between Verbal and Visual Icons,” trans. Margaret Tejerizo, Literature and Theology 20, no. 1 (2006): 20–1. In other words, Dostoevsky’s verbally rendered “icons”—whether in the form of spiritually pure characters like Prince Myshkin and Alesha Karamazov or iconographically organized spaces like Sonia’s room—possess the same redemptive potential as a physical icon.26In Orthodoxy, word and image represent equivalent, interconnected means of revealing truth or accessing the divine; contemplation of an icon facilitates spiritual transformation as surely as reading scripture. Dostoevsky’s characters’ spiritual renewal might thus be effected through divine encounters both verbal and visual, whether reading the Gospel, interacting with an “iconic” character, or inhabiting iconographically constructed physical or textual spaces. See Gaal, Iconic Representations, 10–12.

Carol Apollonio has noted that in Dostoevsky’s works, icons “work most effectively when masked.”27Carol Apollonio, “Dostoevsky’s Religion: Words, Images, and the Seed of Charity,” Dostoevsky Studies 13 (2009): 29. In that spirit, several scholars have demonstrated how Dostoevsky uses physical space (including city streets, interiors, etc.) to create a substructure of religious imagery, both cruciform and iconic, beneath the surface of his texts. In these readings, the St. Petersburg of Crime and Punishment occupies two planes at once: on a physical level, it remains a gritty urban center, while on the symbolic it becomes, in Janet Tucker’s words, a “giant icon.”28Janet G. Tucker, “Iconic Images in Crime and Punishment: Russia’s Western Capital,” in Profane Challenge and Orthodox Response in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008), 100. Tucker suggests that Dostoevsky incorporates Orthodox values into the profane world of St. Petersburg by embedding “an actual Orthodox novel […] beneath the surface of the novel form inherited from the West” (101). For a discussion of the novel’s cruciform imagery, see also Antony Johae, “Towards an iconography of Crime and Punishment,” in Dostoevsky and the Christian Tradition, ed. George Pattison and Diane Oenning Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 173–88. Others have mined the work for specific icons embodied in major characters: Amanda Murphy recognizes the famous Vladimir Mother of God as Lizaveta backs away from the murderer Raskolnikov, and again as Sonia listens to his confession; Tatiana Kasatkina discerns a composite Mother of God with Christ Child in the novel’s final pages, as Sonia and Raskolnikov silently clasp hands on the bank of the Siberian river.29Amanda Murphy, “Compassion as Grace Incarnate: Sonia Marmeladova’s Iconic Role in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment,” AAASS National Conference, Washington, DC, 2006; T.A. Kasatkina, “Ob odnom svoistve epilogov piati velikikh romanov Dostoevskogo,” Dostoevskii i mirovaia kul’tura 5 (1995): 18–36. Kasatkina locates narrative icons in the epilogues of Dostoevsky’s four “great novels”; her analysis of Sonia and Raskolnikov’s silent scene on the Siberian river indicates that their pose can only encode two icons of Mother of God with Christ Child: the Sporuchnitsa Greshnykh (Intercessoress of the Sinful) or the Kievo-Bratskaia ikona Bozhiei Materi (Icon of the Mother of God of Kiev-Bratsk), both miracle-working Hodegetria-type icons in which the hands of mother and child are joined. The spiritual dimension of Raskolnikov’s regeneration is thus expressed not only verbally (as in Sonia’s reading of Lazarus), but visually, as crowded streets come together in crossroads, filthy rooms reveal the “inverse perspective” of the icon, and characters strike iconic poses, providing a hidden scaffolding of Orthodox imagery for the novel’s Gospel structure.30Tucker postulates that the novel’s narrative construction according to the rules of inverse perspective functions to draw the reader in verbally, as the icon would visually (Profane Challenge, 95; 109). For a discussion of how the visual system of inverse perspective shapes both the interior space of Sonia’s room and the novel’s overall narrative structure, see Roger Anderson, “The Optics of Narration: Visual Composition in Crime and Punishment,” in Russian Narrative and Visual Art: Varieties of Seeing, eds. Roger B Anderson and Paul Debreczeny (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994), 87–98. For an iconographic approach to the novel’s geographical, thematic, and narrative construction, see also Jacqueline A. Zubeck, “Bakhtin’s Ethics and an Iconographic Standard in Crime and Punishment,” in Bakhtin: Ethics and Mechanics, ed. Valerie Z. Nollan (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2004), 33–55.

Jefferson Gatrall has catalogued the physical icons in the novel, demonstrating how they appear at the most crucial points along Raskolnikov’s moral trajectory—premeditation, crime, and confession.31Jefferson J. Gatrall, “The Icon in the Picture: Reframing the Question of Dostoevsky’s Modernist Iconography,” Slavic and East European Journal 48, no. 1 (2004): 9. It seems clear from the evidence above that the “embodied” or concealed icons, too, emerge at Raskolnikov’s most spiritually critical moments—his crime, confession to Sonia, and final reconciliation with her. It would make intuitive sense for such a narrative icon to appear at his moment of confession at the Haymarket. Indeed, several critics have already searched for one: Bruce Foltz reads Raskolnikov’s bow as an act of veneration toward the iconic earth, and Tucker argues that, in kissing the soil, Raskolnikov kisses an “icon of the mother of God.”32Bruce V. Foltz, “Nature Godly and Beautiful: The Iconic Earth,” Research in Phenomenology 31, no. 1 (2001): 113–55; Tucker, Profane Challenge, 126. In fact, I believe that the scene refers to a particular icon: Christ’s “Entry into Jerusalem,” one of the most popular icon subjects in Byzantine and Russian Medieval art (fig. 1). The reference is not to the physical icon, however, but to its associated ritual.

Fig. 1 Icon of the Entry into Jerusalem, 1405, Annunciation Cathedral, Moscow (artwork in the public domain; photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Over the past two decades, fertile new ground has opened up within the broader field of icon studies, stemming from Lidov’s hierotopy, which theorizes the creation of sacred spaces through the dynamic interaction between icons and their physical environment, as well as the heightened performative possibilities within those created spaces. Certain rituals have the power to temporarily transform a corner of the physical world (such as a city street or marketplace) into what Lidov terms a “spatial icon”: the energetic reenactment of an icon in the real world, possessing the same miraculous, transporting qualities as a material icon. For example, in the Byzantine “Tuesday rite,” a venerated Hodegetria icon was carried through the streets of Constantinople every Tuesday morning in a liturgical reenactment of the Siege of Constantinople of 626 and the miraculous appearance of the Mother of God, whose intercession had famously saved the city. At a crucial moment in the Tuesday rite, as the procession circled the marketplace, the icon appeared to fly on its own, carrying along its own bearer. Through the performance, according to Lidov, the miraculous power of the icon would emanate through the city, transforming profane urban space into an enormous living icon of the Holy City, an “earthly embodiment of […] Jerusalem.”33For Lidov’s first print elaboration of his 2001 theory of hierotopy, see “The Flying Hodegetria: The Miraculous Icon as Bearer of Sacred Space,” in The Miraculous Image in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance: Papers from a Conference Held at the Accademia di Danimarca in Collaboration with the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max-Planck Institut für Kunstgeschichte), eds. Erik Thunø and Gerhard Wolf (Rome: Erma di Bretschneider, 2004), 291–321. Medieval Muscovites adopted this and other similar rituals from Byzantium, in order to transfer the sacred space to Moscow—in the words of Marie Gasper-Hulvat, to “fashion the Russian city upon the prototype of [Jerusalem]—as if cities could model a prototype in the same way as icons.”34Marie E. Gasper-Hulvat, “The Icon as Performer and as Performative Utterance: The Sixteenth-Century Vladimir Mother of God in the Moscow Dormition Cathedral,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 57, no. 1 (2010): 181. In other words, just as an icon provides access to its unseen prototype, the “living pictures” generated through such rituals had the power to transport worshippers to the Holy City.35Lidov, “Creating the Sacred Space: Hierotopy as a New Field of Cultural History,” in Spazi e percorsi sacri: I santuari, le vie, i corpi, eds. Laura Carnevale and Chiara Cremonesi (Padova: Libreriauniversitaria.it, 2014): 76.

Lidov has written that Dostoevsky’s “iconic consciousness” (ikonicheskoe soznanie) enabled him to perceive the visible world as an image of another, invisible one; indeed, in recent years, literary scholars have begun to apply his hierotopical approach to the study of sacred textual spaces, specifically those found in the works of Dostoevsky.36Aleksei Lidov, Ikony: Mir sviatykh obrazov v Vizantii i na Rusi (Moscow: Feoriia, 2013), 32–33. In addition to Ksana Blank’s “Ierotopiia Dostoevskogo i Tolstogo,” see Katya Jordan, “The Meek One and Her Icon: Hodegetria’s Presence in Dostoevsky’s ‘Krotkaia,’” Toronto Slavic Quarterly 56 (Spring 2016). Ksana Blank notes that the boundaries of the sacred can be extended “beyond the temple” in the literary text; she is particularly concerned with those Dostoevskian confessions, sermons, or revelations that occur in “underground” or profane spaces, such as taverns or brothels.37Blank, “Ierotopiia Dostoevskogo i Tolstogo,” 311. She holds up Raskolnikov’s Haymarket repentance as a central example of hierotopy in Crime and Punishment, noting the astonishment of the bystanders and the resemblance between Raskolnikov’s ritual actions in the Haymarket and Lidov’s description of the Tuesday rite in the marketplace of Constantinople: in both instances, she argues, the market is transformed into a place of worship.38Ibid., 313–14. While I agree with Blank’s general assessment of the scene’s hierotopic potential, I would argue that it more closely resembles a different spatial icon described by Lidov.

The Donkey Walk: The History, Politics, and Art of a Ritual

In early-modern Russia, during the period between the reigns of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, the “Entry into Jerusalem” was just such an icon—its most visible iteration was not as an object of veneration on the wall of a cathedral, but as embodied in an annual ritual known as the Donkey Walk (khozhdenie or shestvie na osliati).39For detailed descriptions and analyses of the ritual, see Elena Vladimirovna Skripkina, “Obriad ‘Shestvie na osliati’ v kontekste tserkovno-gosudarstvennykh otnoshenii vo vtoroi polovine XVII v.,” Omskii nauchnyi vestnik 6, no. 102 (2011): 15–18; Michael Flier, “Breaking the Code: The Image of the Tsar in the Muscovite Palm Sunday Ritual,” in Medieval Russian Culture, vol. 2, eds. Michael S. Flier and Daniel Rowland (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 213–42; Michael Flier, “Obraz gosudaria v Moskovskom obriade Verbnogo voskresen’ia,” in Prostranstvennye ikony: Performativnoe v Vizantii i Drevnei Rusi, ed. Aleksei Lidov (Moscow: Indrik, 2011), 533–62; B. A. Uspenskij and V. M. Zhivov, “Tsar and God: Semiotic Aspects of the Sacralization of the Monarch in Russia,” in “Tsar and God” and Other Essays in Russian Cultural Semiotics, ed. Marcus C. Levitt (Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2012), 50–54; Paul Bushkovitch, Peter the Great: The Struggle for Power, 1671–1725 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 21. The Donkey Walk was a reenactment of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem performed every Palm Sunday in Moscow between 1558 and 1693. In it, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church, representing Jesus Christ, rode on the back of a donkey—a role actually played by a horse in long-eared donkey guise—being led by the tsar to an analogue for Jerusalem. The original procession started at the Uspensky (or Dormition) Cathedral in the Kremlin and ended at Pokrovsky, or St. Basil’s Cathedral (formerly known as Trinity), on Red Square (fig. 2). In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Trinity Cathedral was popularly known as “Jerusalem” due to its role in the ceremony, and its western entrance was called the “Entry into Jerusalem.” The procession reversed direction in 1656 under Patriarch Nikon: now, on the return trip from Pokrovsky, the patriarch mounted a horse at Lobnoe Mesto, a platform in front of the Cathedral on Red Square, and was led from there back to Uspensky (fig. 3).

Fig. 2 Dutch engraving of “The Donkey Walk” in Moscow, seventeenth-century (artwork in the public domain; photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Fig. 3 Dutch engraving of “The Donkey Walk” in Moscow, seventeenth-century (artwork in the public domain; photo: Wikimedia Commons)

While historians and semioticians have debated the intricacies and interpretations of the ceremony, this study will limit description to the following details, each of which will be relevant to the discussion of Crime and Punishment. At Lobnoe Mesto, where the procession began, an icon stand draped in a green shroud displayed the Gospels and various icons, including the Kazan Mother; the horse stood there as well, awaiting the patriarch and tsar. When the tsar arrived at Lobnoe Mesto, he ascended the dais, crossed himself, bowed down to kiss the Gospel, and abased himself by removing his crown. The patriarch mounted the horse, holding a cross in his right hand and the Gospels in his left. The tsar then led the horse to “Jerusalem” while a crowd of believers spread cloth and branches along their route. When the procession arrived at the Cathedral, tsar and patriarch blessed and kissed one another, publicly staging a show of harmony between Russian secular and sacred authority. As one of only two public events in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Muscovy involving both tsar and patriarch, the Palm Sunday ritual was viewed as a performance of the complex power relationship between earthly and ecclesiastical authorities, spotlighting the delicate and shifting balance between the two institutions.40In addition to the Palm Sunday procession, both tsar and patriarch participated in the blessing of the waters at Epiphany (Bushkovitch, Peter the Great, 21). The choreography of the event, in particular the tsar’s performed deference, has traditionally been interpreted as an expression of his submission before the head of the church.41See Paul A. Bushkovitch, “The Epiphany Ceremony of the Russian Court in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” The Russian Review 49, no. 1 (1990): 3. Recently, Michael Flier has reconstrued the tsar’s role in the ritual as a physical enactment of the earthly and spiritual duties of an ideal monarch, “at once humble and powerful, capable of leading his flock to salvation both before and after the end of the world” (Flier, “Obraz gosudaria,” 553). In his reading, the annual procession deliberately recalled Ivan the Terrible’s triumphant return to the Kremlin after his 1552 victory over Kazan, symbolically linking that political triumph both to Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem and to the anticipated Second Coming, when the tsar would lead his people to salvation in the New Jerusalem (see Flier, “Breaking the Code” and “Obraz gosudaria”).

Like the Tuesday Hodegetria rite discussed earlier, the Donkey Walk represents a “liturgical performance” adopted from Byzantium and interpreted by Lidov as an attempt to reproduce Jerusalem in central Moscow, generating a “huge spatial icon” and reaffirming the spiritual status of the Russian capital as embodiment of the Heavenly City.42Lidov, “Creating the Sacred Space,” 77. As Lidov and Andrei Batalov explain, in the medieval Orthodox imagination, the earthly Jerusalem presented “an icon of the Heavenly City,” the future New Jerusalem that would descend from Heaven (Rev. 21–22), providing Christian believers a site of eternal reconciliation with God at the end of human history. Moscow’s connection to the gated city of Revelation was reinforced through church architecture, iconography, and ritual of the period, particularly after the fall of Constantinople, when the Russian city “was interpreted with increasing frequency as an icon of the New Jerusalem.” See Batalov and Lidov, eds., “Introduction,” Ierusalim v russkoi kul’ture (Moscow: Nauka, 1994), 1–2. Adopting such rituals was an attempt to “transfer the sacred space” of Constantinople—and, by extension, Jerusalem—to Russian soil, such that Moscow actually became these holy cities in an iconic sense, thus entrenching Muscovy’s capital as “the appropriate geographical location for Christ’s arrival at the End of Days.”43Gasper-Hulvat, “The Icon as Performer,” 180–1. The mid-sixteenth century, when the Donkey Walk ritual was adopted, was a transformative period for the Russian state and monarchy. With the rise of Muscovy, the Russian state expanded south into the Caucasus and east into the Urals, and princedom swelled into tsardom. The newly anointed Ivan IV, first tsar of all Rus, skillfully employed ecclesiastical art, architecture, and ritual to build a new Russian political culture, project state power, and inspire national unity.44For more on the role of art and ritual in building a new Russian national political culture, see David B. Miller, “Creating Legitimacy: Ritual, Ideology, and Power in Sixteenth-Century Russia,” Russian History 21, no. 3 (1994): 289–315; Michael S. Flier, “Filling in the Blanks: The Church of the Intercession and the Architectonics of Medieval Muscovite Ritual,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 19 (1995): 120–37; and Sergei Bogatyrev, “Reinventing the Russian Monarchy in the 1550s: Ivan the Terrible, the Dynasty, and the Church,” The Slavonic and East European Review 85, no. 2 (2007): 271–93. As manifestations of the Orthodox faith, icons—their creation, veneration, and ritual displays—played a fundamental role in the formation and defense of the burgeoning Empire.45Michael Flier (discussant): “Icons and Identity: Defending Orthodoxy in Muscovy,” panel at the National ASEEES Convention, 2018, Boston, Massachusetts, Dec. 7, 2018. In an era of political turmoil and anxiety over the establishment of a new state and national identity, icons and their associated rituals, including the Donkey Walk, served to stabilize and legitimize the expanding Russian empire by solidifying the Muscovite connection to the Holy City. Indeed, Flier writes, the ritual was so popular because it “successfully [allowed] medieval Moscow to come into contact with ancient Jerusalem, as well as with the New Jerusalem.”46Flier, “Obraz gosudaria,” 538. Within the semiotics of Muscovite culture under Ivan IV, he elaborates, Moscow was equated, not only with the Third Rome on earth, but with the New Jerusalem on the eschatological plane.47Michael S. Flier, “The Church of the Savior on the Blood: Projection, Rejection, Resurrection,” in Russian Culture in Modern Times, eds. Robert P. Hughes and Irina Paperno (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 30.

At the end of the seventeenth century, eschatological anxieties peaked once again as a young tsar undertook a sweeping program of reforms; recent historians have argued that Peter the Great drew on the era’s apocalyptic apprehensions, envisioning his newborn city of Petersburg as a new New Jerusalem on the Neva. Robert Collis has reassessed popular conceptions of Peter’s rational, secular city, suggesting that the tsar initially intended to legitimize his new capital by aligning it semiotically with Jerusalem, thereby usurping Moscow’s spiritual status in the Russian state.48For a detailed account of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century attempts to associate Petersburg with the Holy City politically, culturally, and artistically, see Robert Collis, The Petrine Instauration: Religion, Esotericism and Science at the Court of Peter the Great, 1689-1725 (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 385–403; see also Grigorii Kaganov, “As in the Ship of Peter,” trans. Sidney Monas, Slavic Review 50, no. 4 (1991): 755–67, and “Jerusalem on the Neva,” Rossica International Review of Russian Culture (Spring/Summer, 2003), 38–51. Despite Peter and his officials’ best efforts, however, it proved impossible to map the Holy City onto the western grid of Peter’s capital. Instead, popular associations with the sinful city of Babylon persisted from the city’s very founding; prophesies of its eventual destruction by flood competed with official myths of its miraculous creation, portending a watery doom befitting a Russian Babylon created and ruled by an Antichrist-tsar.49The biblical rival of New Jerusalem, Babylon was corrupt, sinful, and oppressive, a site of avarice and consumption. In Revelation, the dazzling, doomed city is associated with carnality, idolatry, and the Antichrist. On Petersburg’s association with Babylon, see Sidney Monas, “Unreal City: St. Petersburg and Russian Culture,” in Russian Literature and American Critics: In Honor of Denting B. Brown, ed. Kenneth B. Brostrom (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1986), 381–91. Dostoevsky’s apocalyptic vision of a sinful Western city where spiritual transformation is difficult or impossible (Notes from Underground, The Idiot) sets him clearly in the Babylonian camp: the Petersburg of his fictional world is a corrupt, spiritually bankrupt slum presided over by whores and moneylenders and dominated by the Crystal Palace, which the author had explicitly identified as “something out of Babylon” in his “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions” (PSS, 5:70). For more on Dostoevsky’s Petersburg as a Babylonian city awaiting judgment, see William J. Leatherbarrow, “Apocalyptic Imagery in Dostoevskij’s The Idiot and The Devils,” in Shapes of Apocalypse: Arts and Philosophy in Slavic Thought, ed. Andrea Oppo (Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2013), 122–33. In any case, as Uspenskij and Zhivov have detailed, by the late seventeenth century, the general perception of the Palm Sunday ritual as “emphasizing the greatness of the patriarch and […] belittling the power of the tsar” had begun to undermine Peter the Great’s efforts to subordinate the church to the state.50Uspenskij and Zhivov, “Tsar and God,” 52. As part of his broader reforms, Peter formally abolished the Donkey Walk in 1697, about a quarter-century before eliminating the Patriarchate itself. In its place, he introduced a blasphemous new ceremony that satirized the ritual: on Palm Sundays from now on, a mock patriarch and his retinue now rode through the city “on oxen and donkeys, or in sleighs drawn by pigs, bears or goats.”51Ibid., 54.

In the two centuries following Peter the Great’s state-mandated overhaul of icon production and his attempts to reseed the artistic landscape with European conventions, the medieval sacred image and its associated processional and devotional expressions receded from the public life of educated, urban Russians.52It should be noted that while post-Petrine artists were trained in European techniques at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and in the West, the heritage of iconography remained present beneath this Western veneer; as James West has convincingly argued, “the residual iconic vision [never] entirely lost its force in Russian art.” See “The Romantic Landscape in Early Nineteenth-Century Russian Art and Literature,” in Russian Narrative & Visual Art: Varieties of Seeing, eds. Roger B. Anderson and Paul Debreczeny (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994), 36. For more on the persistence of sacred imagery in post-Petrine Russia, see James Cracraft, The Petrine Revolution in Russian Imagery (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 294–305 By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the rise of realism in the verbal and visual arts coincided with a rise in nationalist sentiment, including the spread of Slavophile ideas and a promotion of native “Slavic” ideals over the Western secularism promoted by Peter’s eighteenth-century reforms. This tumultuous era of political, cultural, and artistic reevaluation galvanized an impulse to develop a distinct school of visual representation that would identify and elevate national subject matter, honestly represent Russian reality, and facilitate the construction of a new national identity.53See Rosalind P. Blakesley, The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, 1757–1881 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 241–69. Toward this end, artists sought and emphasized distinctive signifiers of Russianness, drawn from Orthodox imagery, folk culture, and medieval history; the resulting return to the pre-Petrine past led to a renewed interest in religious and historical themes, including a reemergence of icons and iconography in Russian intellectual life.

Viacheslav Shvarts (1838–1869) has been identified as the first visual artist to revive this lost Russian past, producing detailed and accurate scenes from medieval Rus, skillfully reimagined in oil on canvas.54Camilla Gray notes that Shvarts was “the first painter to apply himself to the pictorial reconstruction of medieval Russia” (The Russian Experiment in Art, 1863–1922 [New York: H.N. Abrams, 1971], 21–2), and Molly Brunson credits him with taking “the first steps toward reinventing the history painting” by accentuating the distinctively Slavic elements of his paintings, from the Orthodox imagery to the accurately drawn realia (“Painting History, Realistically: Murder at the Tretiakov,” in From Realism to the Silver Age: New Studies in Russian Artistic Culture: Essays in Honor of Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier, eds. Rosalind P. Blakesley and Margaret Samu [DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014], 97). Shvarts’s work heralded the broader late-nineteenth-century recovery of subjects drawn from Russia’s historical and religious past toward the expression of an emergent national identity; his efforts to develop a mode of pictorial representation corresponding to his return to lost Orthodox traditions anticipated the aesthetic and ideological direction of the following two decades in visual art.55His historical representations anticipated the work of Vasily Surikov, Viktor Vasnetsov, and other well-known artists of the influential Peredvizhniki School of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. In the fall of 1865, Shvarts’s painting Palm Sunday in Moscow under Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich: The Procession of the Patriarch on a Donkey was displayed at the Annual Exhibition of the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, for which he was awarded the title of academician (fig. 4). Correspondence with his father from this period depicts an anxious young artist, impatiently anticipating the upcoming exhibition and public response. Judging had ended on September 8, but the exhibition did not open for over a month after that; his nervous letter home on October 9 frets that it had not yet opened.56V.G. Shvarts, Viacheslav Grigor’evich Shvarts: Perepiska, 1838–1869: k 175–letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia (Kursk: Izdatel’stvo Polstar Kursk, 2013), 115. By the time he sent his next letter on October 18, however, the exhibition had already received the first of many sharply negative reviews, with a critic from Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti opining that the exhibit was “lacking in good works.”57Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti no. 271, Oct. 16, 1865. Other reviews were equally critical: one noted that the exhibition is “not particularly rich” (Russkii invalid no. 234, Oct. 24, 1865), another that it has everyone in town “complaining” (Sovremennik no. 10, Oct. 1865), and a third that it “is so poor, even with mediocre things, that it amazes everyone” (Illiustrirovannaia gazeta no. 44, Nov. 11, 1865). Shvarts complained to his father that the Vedomosti critic had “clearly not even taken the trouble to walk through the exhibition” before reviewing it.58Shvarts, Perepiska, 115. Despite the disparaging reviews of the exhibit, however, the critics unanimously praised Shvarts’s Palm Sunday for its “accurate,” “precise,” and “archeological” restoration of ancient Russian life.59The review in the Invalid praised Shvarts for conveying “the conditions of ancient Russian life (byt) […] with remarkable diligence and accuracy,” while the Illiustrirovannaia gazeta proclaimed, “Shvarts has precisely restored before us ancient Russian life […], for which patriots should be grateful to him. Only the reviewer for the Vedomosti remained lukewarm, observing that Shvarts’s paintings were “not incurious from an archaeological point of view.”

Fig. 4 Viacheslav Shvarts, Palm Sunday in Moscow under Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich: The Procession of the Patriarch on a Donkey, 1865, oil on canvas, 60 cm x 122 cm. St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum (artwork in the public domain; photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Given Dostoevsky’s activities and interests during this period, it is quite likely that he would have seen Shvarts’s Palm Sunday at the Academy Exhibition. Having spent the summer of 1865 in Germany, where he had begun working on the drafts that would eventually grow into Crime and Punishment, the writer returned to St. Petersburg on October 15, just before the opening of that year’s exhibition.60His letter to the publisher Mikhail Katkov in September of 1865 describes the novella he had been working on for two months, focusing on the psychological aftermath of a crime committed by a young man under the seductive influence of certain Western ideas “in the air”; letters from two months later indicate that the novella had grown into a novel (PSS, 28/II:136-38; September, 1865). Evidence from the Notebooks suggests that the Wiesbaden drafts, containing the material that would become Part II of the novel, correspond to what Dostoevsky had referred to in his September letter to Katkov. The novel transformed dramatically following his return to Petersburg in October, as new aspects of Raskolnikov and his spiritual journey emerged. Dostoevsky’s strong interest in and views on visual art are well attested: when he was still in exile, he had proposed a treatise on its Christian mission, to be titled Letters about Art. While that book was never completed, by the early 1860s Dostoevsky had begun to produce polemical assessments of the contemporary art scene, including reviews of the Annual Exhibitions of the Academy of Arts.61PSS, 28/I:229, April, 1856 letter to A.E. Wrangel. For a detailed discussion of Dostoevsky’s positions on art and its socio-political implications, particularly as articulated in the 1861 article “Mr. –bov and the question of art,” see Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012), 304–16. In an anonymously published review of the 1860–61 Exhibition in the journal Vremia, Dostoevsky accused gold-medal-winning painter V.I. Iakobi of “straining for photographic truth,” and in so doing producing “a lie.”62PSS, 19:151-68. See G.M. Fridlender on the inclusion of this unsigned letter among his collected works, PSS, 19:314-21. The author calls instead for a realism that goes beyond such a mechanical reproduction of surface reality: truthful art, he writes, must endeavor to discover a deeper and more essential spiritual truth; it should penetrate the surface to reveal a version of reality transformed through art, giving man an ideal toward which he might strive. His indictment of Iakobi’s Halt of the Convicts, whose powerful verisimilitude was otherwise celebrated, thus amounts to an artistic statement on the purpose of realism, whether verbal or visual: his call for a transformative, revelatory art corresponds to his own contemporaneous pursuit of a narrative realism “in a higher sense.”63PSS, 27:65. A decade later, in a meditation on that year’s Academy Exhibition, Dostoevsky would praise I.E. Repin’s Barge Haulers on the Volga for dramatizing the essence without idealizing or aggrandizing the subject.64PSS, 21:72-77. See Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002), 110–12. By this time, the Academy’s Annual Exhibition, as the country’s main venue for new Russian art, had become an indispensable event in St. Petersburg’s public life; there is every reason to imagine that Dostoevsky might have viewed—or at least read about—Shvarts’s image of the Palm Sunday Donkey Walk ritual upon his return to the capital in 1865, just as his emerging novel was taking a new, spiritual turn.65As Katia Dianina writes, “The annual exhibitions of Russian painting at the Academy of Fine Arts were among the most popular subjects for feuilletons in the second half of the nineteenth century. The 1863 exhibition, for instance, was marked by a veritable explosion of public discourse in the press.” See Dianina, “The Feuilleton: An Everyday Guide to Public Culture in the Age of the Great Reforms,” The Slavic and East European Journal 47, no. 2 (2003): 201.

Particularly at times of upheaval in the political or spiritual landscape of Russia—whether over imperial expansion, radical reform, or millenarian fears—the Orthodox icon has been assigned a central role in the formation, protection, and projection of a unified Russian identity; in this sense it has become a political, as much as a spiritual object. Correspondingly, the history of the Donkey Walk ritual reads like a map of such flash points in the development of a Russian national culture, from the autocratic medieval monarchy through Peter’s revolutionary Westernization and back to the nineteenth-century pan-Slavist movement. In the mid-sixteenth century, icons and their ritual expressions, including the Donkey Walk, played a decisive role in the process of defining the growing empire and establishing Moscow as the site of the New Jerusalem. By the early eighteenth century, Peter had abolished the procession as part of his radical reorientation of the state toward Europe. In the second half of the nineteenth century, a post-Petrine search for a Russian national identity led to innovations in the narrative and fine arts; new forms of visual expression emerged as artists reached to the Orthodox past in search of visible manifestations of the abstract ideal of Russianness, just as Slavophile writers “cobbled together a native Russian tradition through selective study of pre-Petrine history.”66Rosalind P. Blakesley and Susan Emily Reid, eds., Russian Art and the West: A Century of Dialogue in Painting, Architecture, and the Decorative Arts (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007), 62. It is in the context of this 1860s return to Orthodox nationalism, and away from Petrine Westernism, that the Donkey Walk makes its artistic comeback, spotlighted at the Academy Exhibition of 1865 (and, arguably, secreted in the final pages of Dostoevsky’s anti-Western redemption novel the following year). Given this political history, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the ritual has recently been resurrected in various cities across Russia. In the revitalized nationalism of the Putin era, the Kremlin has cannily embraced the Church and glorified the nation’s imperial past and traditional values in an attempt to define a new, post-Soviet national identity and reassert Russia on the world stage. The nationalist drift reached its apotheosis in the spring of 2014, when Putin annexed Crimea, an act he justified by invoking Vladimir the Great, whose tenth-century baptism on the peninsula marked the conversion of the medieval Slavic state to Orthodoxy. The peninsula was invaded and annexed in late February and March of 2014; one month later, on April 13, St. Petersburg held its first-ever Palm Sunday Donkey Walk. Since then, Orthodox believers in Petersburg have participated annually in a modernized version of the Donkey Walk: a procession around St. Isaac’s Cathedral, including several thousand worshippers holding icons and palm branches, all headed by a “donkey” (a role still performed by a costumed horse) pulling a cart full of young children (fig. 5). While Moscow might have seemed a more appropriate choice of venue—especially with Putin himself playing the role of tsar—reviving the ritual in Petersburg brings the added satisfaction of reversing the ukaz (decree) of the Antichrist-tsar and his Drunken Synod.

Fig. 5 The Donkey Procession, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg, April 2019 (photo: Anastasiia Volokhova with permission of Blagovest-Info.ru)

Hierotopy in the Haymarket

It is this icon—not the painting on a wooden panel, but the living icon, brought to life in the Donkey Walk ritual—that is suggested in Raskolnikov’s final Haymarket scene. As we have seen, the passage’s placement in the text between Sonia’s reading and Raskolnikov’s arrest recalls both the correct Gospel sequence and the liturgical observance of the Orthodox Palm Sunday ritual, between Lazarus Saturday and the Passion Week, bridging Christ’s miraculous ministry on earth and his resurrection. We have also heard the drunken bystander’s comment that Raskolnikov is “going to Jerusalem,” making the reference explicit. Beyond these details connecting the scene to its corresponding Gospel episode, there are several details in the text suggestive of the ritual: Raskolnikov’s act of penance in the Haymarket occurs as he journeys from the sacred space of Sonia’s apartment to the police station, just as the Donkey Walk—specifically the revised path set by Nikon, the same version of the procession commemorated by Shvarts—begins at a public place (Lobnoe Mesto) between the Cathedral and the Kremlin. The Haymarket arguably represents the most profane space in the city, a feature consistent with Lidov’s description of the Byzantine Tuesday rite, in which the miraculous performance of the Hodegetria icon transformed “the most profane place of a market square […] into the most sacred.”67Lidov, “Spatial Icons,” 351. Indeed, on a symbolic level, Dostoevsky endows the debased space of the Haymarket with spiritual potential: Raskolnikov reaches the crossroads (perekrestok) soon after Sonia has crossed them both and hung a cross around his neck. Another vital feature of Lidov’s hierotopy is the active involvement of the beholder, who “finds himself within the image [and] participates in creating the spatial imagery”; it is such communal participation that brings spatial icons to life in the city’s most public spaces.68Lidov, “Creating the Sacred Space,” 77–8. Accordingly, Raskolnikov performs his ritualistic bowing and kissing in a crowded marketplace, amidst the loud interjections of bystanders. As he bows down, he notices Sonia standing off to the side; in her green shawl, she recalls the green cloth-draped iconostasis on Lobnoe Mesto—a connection that also evokes her spiritual function in the text: to bear the Gospel and cross, and to embody the Mother of God icon. Raskolnikov’s bow to kiss the earth recalls the ceremonial actions of the tsar, who removes his crown to bow and kiss the Gospel. And even Lobnoe Mesto—the “place of the skull,” whose name is associated with the forehead—is conjured: the same tipsy passerby who mentions Jerusalem goes on to explain, in marked religious terms, that Raskolnikov is kissing the soil farewell: “on […] stolichnyi gorod Sankt-Peterburg i ego grunt lobyzaet” (405, my emphasis).

In the end, what are we to make of this subtextual spatial icon? Is Raskolnikov the tsar in this reenacted ritual, abasing himself to signal his submission to spiritual authority? The patriarch, the “living icon of Christ” who enters Jerusalem in preparation for spiritual resurrection, with Sonia bearing him there? Is he somehow both at once? And what of the donkey in this proposed Donkey Walk? First, readers should not seek a one-to-one analogy between the two events: like the rest of the novel’s Gospel design, the Donkey Walk is invoked symbolically, rather than literally. And second: there is no hidden donkey, no osёl cunningly encoded in Dostoevsky’s text.69 The past tense osel—or in this case osela, “she sank to the ground”—does nevertheless appear at two crucial moments: the murder of Alena Ivanovna, and Raskolnikov’s dream of the murdered horse (49, 63). There is, however, a horse; and while she is long dead by the time of Raskolnikov’s marketplace repentance, she is present in this scene on a spiritual level. As many scholars have pointed out, the novel is full of doubles—not only of characters, but of scenes: the murder is rehearsed, as is the confession; the Lazarus reading prefigures the epilogue.70See Edward Wasiolek, “On the Structure of Crime and Punishment,” PMLA 74, no. 1 (1959): 131–6; “Crime and Punishment,” in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment: A Casebook, ed. Richard Peace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 70. Similarly, Raskolnikov’s public penance on the Haymarket can be read as a repetition of his horse dream: where he once fell to his knees in his town’s public square and kissed the brutalized nag, he now falls to his knees in the Petersburg marketplace and kisses the earth he has defiled. The dream had prompted a brief renunciation of his plan—a renunciation he quickly abandoned after a detour through the Haymarket, where he overheard the information he needed to carry out the murder. The confession in part VI offers a sort of reversal of his Haymarket detour in part I: a public renunciation of the plan he has attempted to rationalize since the novel’s opening pages. The city’s geography highlights the thematic parallels between the two scenes: although Raskolnikov approaches his destination from different directions, in both cases he enters the Haymarket by way of the same street, Pereulok Grivtsovа, known in Dostoevsky’s time as Konnyi Pereulok, or “Horse Lane.” In short, Raskolnikov takes up the cross and follows the path of the horse to the public square, where he bows down and kisses the earth, metaphorically entering Jerusalem, on his way to accepting his sentence: suffering, repentance, and—ultimately—resurrection; in other words, in both form and function his path evokes the Donkey Walk.

Why would Dostoevsky refer to the Palm Sunday ritual, rather than the Gospel story itself? Perhaps because, in Dostoevsky’s “iconic consciousness,” the ceremony was powerful enough to transform the profane space of the Russian capital into a performative icon of Jerusalem. In his quest for spiritual absolution in the grimy soil of Peter’s city, Raskolnikov, too, is seeking access to the Holy Land. Indeed, as Gibian has detailed, Raskolnikov is abandoning the Socialists’ “false” notion of the New Jerusalem (a rationalist utopia), and seeking the true, Christian ideal of the New Jerusalem.71Gibian, “Traditional Symbolism,” 992. As Gibian explains, Dostoevsky’s interpretation of the Socialists’ New Jerusalem (a utopian, utilitarian paradise on earth) was starkly at odds with the Christian New Jerusalem of Revelation. Dostoevsky builds his critique of such 1860s radicalism into several works from this period, including Notes from Underground and Crime and Punishment, explicitly contrasting the two ideas (see Porfiry and Raskolnikov’s opposing references to the New Jerusalem, 201). Gibian notes the deep irony of the Haymarket scene, in which Raskolnikov “is taking farewell of his false ideal of the New Jerusalem. In another sense, he is now about to embark on a search for a new ideal, another New Jerusalem—and in this sense he will be a pilgrim, seeking personal regeneration which is to replace his earlier social-rationalistic ideal” (992). Given the icon’s intrinsic performativity—its potential to spiritually transform its space and transport its beholder—Raskolnikov’s reenactment of this medieval iconic rite should grant him access to the New Jerusalem. But of course, this icon does not come to life: the bystanders mock, the horse has been slain, the market is not transformed into a sacred space, and the sinner is not granted the spiritual transport he seeks. Instead, the hero will have to leave the city (physically, that is, not iconically) in order to continue the process initiated in the Haymarket.

A close comparison of this passage and the text’s subsequent “living icon” tableau, set on the bank of the Siberian river, reveals marked lexical and physical correspondences; it seems likely that Dostoevsky intended these two scenes—Raskolnikov’s unrealized Entry into Jerusalem, followed by the Mother of God with Christ icon he and Sonia enact in the novel’s final pages—to be interpreted together.72See Kasatkina for details of the Mother of God with Christ Child icons she discerns in the epilogue (“Ob odnom svoistve epilogov,” 18–36). See also Ksana Blank, Dostoevsky’s Dialectics and the Problem of Sin (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2010), 37, for a different iconic possibility depicted in this scene. The failed Haymarket icon opens with a mother and child, as well—as Raskolnikov walks from Sonia’s to the police station, he takes a sudden detour toward the Haymarket where he offers a coin to a beggar woman, who blesses him in return. It is there, in the middle of the square, that a sudden sensation took hold of him, gripping him (zakhvatilo ego), body and mind. Remembering Sonia’s instructions, he began to shake all over (zadrozhal) and threw himself into the possibility of feeling whole and new (rinulsia v vozmozhnost’ etogo tsel’nogo, novogo, polnogo oshchushcheniia). The feeling consumed everything (okhvatilo) like fire, softening him until tears poured out (khlynuli slezy) and he fell (upal) to the ground where he stood. He kneeled, bowed to the earth, and kissed the dirty earth with joy and happiness, then did it once again. He turned and saw Sonia in her green shawl, but the comments of the crowd held him back, and the words of confession froze (zamerli) within him. Sixteen pages later, in Siberia, Sonia approached Raskolnikov in her familiar green shawl and offered her hand; suddenly, something swept him up (podkhvatilo) and hurled him (brosilo) to her feet where he wept (plakal), embracing her knees. In shock, Sonia shook all over (zadrozhav), her face frozen (pomertvelo) in terror, then her eyes lit up with eternal happiness (schast’e) as she grasped his conversion. Tears (slezy) stood in both their eyes, and in their faces glowed “the dawn of a renewed future, of full resurrection into new life” (zaria obnovlennogo budushchego, polnogo voskreseniia v novuiu zhizn’). In the Haymarket, his desire for spiritual renewal makes him shake, weep, and fall to the ground, where he kisses the earth with happiness. In Siberia, he is thrown to Sonia’s feet, where he weeps and embraces her; it is she who shakes and radiates happiness. He is finally truly ready for the redemption he sought for so long, and their faces—pale and thin, with luminous eyes—now shine like sacred images. While both scenes begin with some force seizing and physically overwhelming Raskolnikov, the shift from active to passive constructions to describe his response (“he threw himself,” “he fell,” vs. “he was thrown”) indicates a change in agency: while he might have performed the Donkey Walk in an unconscious attempt to access the divine, the Siberian Mother of God icon will perform itself upon him when he is spiritually ready to apprehend it. He left the Haymarket untransformed, but the riverbank scene will exert a powerful, transformative effect on him, finally resuming the process initiated and arrested in Petersburg.

Dostoevsky’s novels are replete with such potential transformations, only some of which are successfully fulfilled (if not always convincingly represented).73See McReynolds, Redemption and the Merchant God, 27–30, on the ambiguous representations of Christian redemption in Dostoevsky’s post-Siberian novels. Why do some of his sinners attain salvation, while others fail?74Scholars have identified various obstacles to Dostoevskian resurrection, including “education, egoism, and high culture” (Joseph Frank, summarized in McReynolds, Redemption and the Merchant God, 28); the author’s own “heretical ambivalence” toward Crucifixion as the vehicle to individual redemption (McReynolds, Redemption and the Merchant God, 28); and characters’ non-linear development (Robin Feuer Miller, Dostoevsky and the Idiot: Author, Narrator, and Reader [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981], 51). Cf. Julie de Sherbinin, “Transcendence through Art: The Convicts’ Theatricals in Dostoevskij’s Zapiski iz mertvogo doma,” SEEJ 35, no. 3 (1991): 339–51, for the argument that some of these failed resurrection narratives may not be failures, after all. While some readers remain unconvinced by Raskolnikov’s ultimate redemption, Dostoevsky clearly intended to portray his hero’s salvation into a new life; but why does his spiritual transformation progress in Siberia, where it had faltered in the Haymarket? Many readers have attributed the failure of his Petersburg confession to his lack of remorse: his bow in the Haymarket reads as a ritualized act of repentance, devoid of true penitence.75In this sense, Raskolnikov’s is similar to other “unrepentant confessions” in Dostoevsky, from the Underground Man through Fyodor Karamazov. See Robert L. Belknap, “The Unrepentant Confession,” in Russianness: Studies on a Nation’s Identity: In Honor of Rufus Mathewson, 1918–1978, ed. Robert L. Belknap (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1990): 113–22. While it is undoubtedly true that Raskolnikov does not yet truly repent, either on the square (where his words are inhibited) or at the station (where he confesses without contrition), there is another element impeding Raskolnikov’s spiritual regeneration: his physical surroundings. As Lidov has argued, an icon’s “performance”—its power to spiritually revitalize beholder and environment alike—depends upon the active cooperation of image, viewer, and space. On both Haymarket and riverbank, each of the necessary participants—an icon or iconic ritual, a willing body in a defined material environment—is textually present. One primary distinction between the novel’s unfulfilled Donkey Walk and its final, fully embodied icon of Mother and Child, however, involves the space within which characters enact each icon: the profane crossroads of Peter’s Western capital versus the Siberian district (okrestnost’, literally the area around the cross), geographically remote from Europe and symbolically associated with the biblical age of Abraham (421). While all the elements of the medieval ritual would appear to be present in the Haymarket, then—from the symbolic donkey to the hero’s public abasement—the city’s stone walls and Western origins prove inimical to the spirit.76Perhaps the forsaken Donkey Walk of Crime and Punishment is thus akin to the failed resurrections scholars have identified in Dostoevsky’s other great Petersburg novel, The Idiot—despite the expectations raised by the braying donkey that heralds Myshkin’s entrances. (On the illusory Petersburg resurrections of The Idiot, see McReynolds, Redemption and the Merchant God, 139). Or perhaps, as Amy Adams has suggested, that braying donkey in the Swiss marketplace provides the missing donkey from the Petersburg Haymarket, bringing Crime and Punishment’s icon to delayed resolution. Such connections across the author’s works can be discerned, she argues, when we view them as an integrated body, rather than discrete texts (private correspondence) (Amy Adams, personal communication, December 6, 2018). Molnar, for instance, has argued that the iconic image of Christ that never fully manifests in The Idiot eventually attains full, triumphant expression in The Brothers Karamazov (Istvan Molnar, “‘One’s faith could be smashed by such a picture’: Interrelation of Word and Image [Icon] in Dostoevsky’s Fiction: Holbein’s ‘Christ in the Tomb’ in the Ideological and Compositional Structure of the Novel The Idiot,” Acta Litteraria Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 32 [1990], 245–58). In short, Raskolnikov’s incipient spiritual conversion is inhibited by Petersburg’s stubborn non-participation in the iconic act he is attempting to stage, suggesting the fundamental impossibility of iconic performativity within the space of this secular Western capital. Perhaps this should come as no surprise in a Russian city where the Window on the West has replaced the iconic Window to Heaven—as though to open this new window to Europe, Peter had first sealed the older one shut.

Ultimately, the reference to the Entry into Jerusalem—and specifically to the Palm Sunday ritual—serves two purposes: it elaborates the invisible Gospel scaffolding supporting Raskolnikov’s spiritual journey, and at the same time allows Dostoevsky to offer commentary on the political dimension of the novel. Peter abolished the Donkey Walk ritual in his violent Western turn, and the resulting schism—a hacked-out window to Europe replacing the iconic window to heaven, a Socialist New Jerusalem on earth in place of the eternal New Jerusalem of Revelation—is etched like a scar in the very soil of Petersburg. Bruce Foltz has read the Dostoevskian act of kissing the earth (in Crime and Punishment as well as The Devils and Dream of a Ridiculous Man) as the ultimate rejection of Western materialism—an act of veneration toward the iconic earth, inviting the possibility of spiritual redemption.77Foltz, “Nature Godly and Beautiful,” 113–55. This insight illuminates Raskolnikov’s act in the Haymarket, with its allusion to the “living icon” abolished by Peter himself, as an attempt to reconnect with the Orthodox past: to heal the schism preserved within himself, as well as the urban landscape, in order to return to the pre-Petrine soil and access the true Jerusalem. The city’s failure to respond to his iconic performance, however, suggests that it is not only the novel’s hero whose Western ideals delay any possibility of redemption, but the environment that facilitated Russia’s contamination in the first place.

Conclusion: Icons, Art, and the Possibility of Resurrection

As we have seen, visual and verbal artists of the late nineteenth century, in their quest for a new style rooted in medieval and folk art forms, shared a vision of a Russian society reborn and spiritually regenerated through art, which might serve as a “source of spiritual renewal even for Western Europe.”78Savva Mamontov, founder of the Abramtsevo artistic circle of the late nineteenth century, quoted in Eleonora Paston, “The Abramtsevo Circle: Founding Principles and Aesthetic Direction,” in Blakesley and Samu, From Realism to the Silver Age, 61. This declaration of Russian artists’ urgent spiritual mission reflects what Dostoevsky sought to do on a narrative level: teach his readers to see—or at least intuit—something that could not be spoken in words; a world transformed by art which, once perceived, would lead to the reader’s—and eventually the world’s—own spiritual regeneration. In Dostoevsky’s fiction, the divine is generally expressed in gesture or image, rather than words; the reader’s challenge is to discern and interpret the silent icons he has embedded in his texts.79Amy Singleton Adams, “Learning to Look. The Meaning of the Unseen Icon in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, IKON 9 (2016): 363–74. As she writes, “The actual ending of The Idiot challenges the reader to see the word icon that the writer perceives and presents” (371). In fact, her iconic analysis of the novel challenges its common misperception as a “failed masterpiece.” Although Dostoevsky wrote remarkably little about icons outside of his novels, it is clear that they stood at the center of his aesthetic, philosophical, and religious principles during this period.80According to Gatrall, “Dostoevsky’s few extra-literary pronouncements on the icon are devoted to matters of religious belief, not to aesthetics” (“The Icon in the Picture,” 7). A December 1868 letter to the poet A.N. Maikov—the same letter in which he articulated his famous doctrine of a “fantastic realism” that reaches beyond the surface of reality to grasp a hidden ideal—expresses admiration for the poem “At the Chapel,” in which a poet stands before an illuminated icon, gazing from darkness into a bright eternity. Dostoevsky takes issue with the poet’s hesitation to proclaim his faith (“You seem to apologize for the icon, to justify it”), but then struggles to express his own deep, almost inarticulable reverence for the icon; perhaps, in fact, he conceals his narrative icons precisely because the essential truths they convey cannot, or should not, be spoken.81PSS, 28/II:329, 333. Around the same time, just as he finished work on The Idiot, Dostoevsky was considering writing a novel in which an icon would play a more explicit role (though this never materialized): in a May, 1869, letter to Maikov, he described scenes from a planned work about the fall of Constantinople and Orthodoxy’s eventual renewal of the world. His plan features the emperor praying for the intercession of the Blachernae Hodegetria Icon of the Mother of God, famous for her miraculous protection of the city in 626 (PSS, 29/I:40). After this miracle-working Blachernae icon was transferred from Constantinople to Moscow in 1653 as a gift to Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, it was placed in Uspensky Cathedral, and participated every year in the city’s Palm Sunday Donkey Walk. In an iconic reading of The Idiot, which Dostoevsky was finishing around the same time as this important letter, Amy Adams identifies two Mother of God icons in the novel’s final pages, the recognition of which shifts the ending’s primary association from death to resurrection. She argues convincingly that Dostoevsky’s unseen verbal icons teach his readers “how to look”:82Adams, “Learning to Look,” 364–5. that is, how to read iconically by looking beneath the verbal surface of a text to perceive its essence, just as an icon’s beholder must look through the material image to meet the divine. Recent scholars—drawing on both ancient image theory and performance studies—have much to say about vision and its transformative power: the embodied vision of the beholder animates the icon which, in turn, liberates the beholder’s vision from its earthly, flesh-bound limitations, enabling a heavenly, transcendent, multidimensional perspective.83See Pentcheva, Sensual Icon, 1–6. See also Clemena Antonova, who has traced the line of twentieth-century Russian icon theory, from Florensky through Uspensky, in order to formulate an alternative explanation for inverse perspective, suggesting that it developed to represent the perspective of God, allowing the beholder to transcend human limitations and adopt this divine, unbound perspective. In Space, Time, and Presence in the Icon: Seeing the World with the Eyes of God (Farnham, England: Ashgate Pub. Ltd, 2010) 29–62, 103–52. Nicoletta Isar draws on the doctrines of Plotinus, Theodore, Nicephoros, Gregory, and other Hellenic and early Christian theorists of the Byzantine image in order to construct an alternative model of “iconic vision,” which draws the beholder into sacred space, allowing him to participate in and identify with the divine. In contrast to linear, post-Renaissance vision, which separates and isolates, iconic vision dissolves the separation between self and image, uniting beholder and prototype. In “The Vision and Its ‘Exceedingly Blessed Beholder,’” 56–72. Dostoevsky’s narrative art offers the same possibilities if one learns how to perceive the divine visual order lying just beneath the messy verbal surface of his fiction.

The icon acts as a link between earthly and heavenly—more than an inert, discrete object of veneration, it is a performer, actively facilitating such transformations of vision and space, spirit and beholder. For several decades, scholars of literary icons have surveyed the eruption of the sacred into literary spaces: iconic moments with the potential to transform literary spaces and characters, as well as readers. Following the performative turn in the arts, as our understanding of icons has expanded to encompass the hierotopic phenomena identified by Lidov—spatial images, whether architectural or ritual, that mediate between the earthly and the heavenly in the same way as the paradigmatic flat image—scholars must in turn learn to discern and analyze literary reenactments of such iconic spaces and rituals.84Lidov, “Icon as ‘Chora’: Spatial Aspects of Iconicity in Byzantium and Russia,” in L’icône dans la pensée et dans l’art, eds. Kristina Mitalaité et Anca Vasiliu (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 2017), 423–47. Raskolnikov’s confession at the Haymarket, with its hidden allusion to iconic ritual, offers an exemplary case for the hierotopic approach: the self-abasement of a repentant sinner in the crowded marketplace evokes an old Palm Sunday rite whose purpose was the transformation of the Russian capital into an icon of the Holy City, offering its participants access to the divine. An iconic reading of the scene demonstrates how the perception of such narrative spatial icons—textual expressions of the dynamic interaction between man, image, and space—can illuminate works of literary art. Lidov’s hierotopy enables us to perceive two linked icons in the final pages of Crime and Punishment, as in The Idiot: one unrealized iconic ritual that fails to transport either hero or reader from Petersburg to the New Jerusalem, and a second of the Bogoroditsa and Christ clasping hands, fully realized on the bank of a Siberian river. The juxtaposition of the two icons suggests that an icon’s textual “performance”—its transformation of space, its transportation of character or reader—depends, as it would in the physical world, upon the cooperation of image, beholder, and environment. Where the anti-iconic space of Petersburg proves unreceptive, resulting in a failed transformation, the final iconic image offers a triumphant response: renewal is possible, though the rational West is not yet spiritually prepared for such profound transformation. While the bulk of the novel takes place in Petersburg—with only a childhood dream and Siberian epilogue offering relief from the oppressive city—the final lines suggest that Raskolnikov’s Petersburg years will ultimately account for only a fraction of his lifespan: a brief, disastrous detour between provincial Orthodox upbringing and Siberian regeneration. The progression at novel’s end from failed iconic ritual in the Haymarket to triumphant Siberian icon implies that Russia’s own path to regeneration lies similarly in its Orthodox past; closing its window to the West will curtail its own disastrous Petrine period, reopening the window to heaven. The revelation of these icons affirms Dostoevsky’s first post-Siberian novel, often considered his “simplest,” as a sophisticated work of art whose objective, in part, is to teach his audience exactly how to approach his fiction: like an icon, the novel retrains our readerly vision, guiding us through complex verbal thickets before, at last, revealing a divine world beyond the text—and, in so doing, enabling the spiritual transformation of reader and Russia alike.


I am grateful to Judith Kornblatt—a great inspiration as teacher, scholar, and human alike—for always asking the right questions and for reminding me to look to the text for answers. I also wish to thank the editorial team of the Journal of Icon Studies, particularly Wendy Salmond and my two reviewers, for their thoughtful feedback and encouragement. Finally, I am grateful to the audience at the national ASEEES Convention in Boston (2018), whose insightful questions and comments shaped the development of this article: Amy Adams, Ben Jens, Riley Ossorgin, Nicholas Racheotes, Paul Valliere, Colleen Lucey, and Elena Lisovskaya.

About the Author

Kathleen Scollins is Associate Professor of Russian in the Department of German and Russian at the University of Vermont. Her book, Acts of Logos in Pushkin and Gogol: Petersburg Texts and Subtexts (2017), examines the phenomenon of verbal animation—words bringing matter to life—in the nineteenth-century Petersburg literary tradition.



AUTHOR: Kathleen Scollins
REVIEW: Peer Review (Double Blind)

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Kathleen Scollins, “A Haymarket Khozhdenie na osliati: Raskolnikov’s Donkey Walk and the Failures of Iconic Performativity,” Journal of Icon Studies 3, 2020

Donkey Walk, Alexei Lidov, spatial icon, performative, Crime and Punishment