Parsuna – Russian ceremonial portrait of the pre-Petrine era

Parsuna, Boyar Athanasius Ordin-Nashchokin
Boyar Athanasius Ordin-Nashchokin

Parsuna is a trend in Russian portraiture of the middle and second half of the 17th century. The name of the term comes from the Latin word persona (person or person). Persons (parsuns) in those days in Russia were called secular ceremonial portraits.

Parsuna is a scientific term introduced by the historian and art historian Ivan Snegirev in the middle of the 19th century. An outstanding scholar used this word to refer to an early portrait of the pre-Petrine era in the transitional period of Russian history.

Parsuna, Mikhail Skopin-Shuisky
Mikhail Skopin-Shuisky

Parsuna history

Parsuna appeared in Russian culture under the influence of Western art. In the countries of Europe, the Renaissance began in the 15th century. This led to the rapid development of painting, the emergence of new styles and genres. And in the Russian kingdom at that time, icon painting played a leading role in the visual arts.

The local Orthodox Church diligently protected the ancient icon-painting traditions and prevented the development of other types of painting. Only after the split in the 1650s-1660s did relaxation begin in this area. The masters of the Kremlin Armory were among the first to form new artistic ideals and create primitive secular portraits (parsuns).

The new genre quickly gained popularity, although many paintings only conditionally conveyed a portrait resemblance. Gradually, under the influence of invited foreign artists, Russian painters mastered the techniques of European painting and learned to use them in their works.

Parsuna, Patriarch Nikon
Patriarch Nikon

At the end of the 17th century, the young Russian Tsar Peter I, after a trip as part of the Great Embassy to European countries, began large-scale reforms in Russia. They affect almost all aspects of the life of the country, including the fine arts. Parsuns are finally replaced by academic painting, new styles and genres appear and develop rapidly.

Types and distinctive features of parsuns

  • Parsunas are usually classified according to the following parameters:
  • performance technique (tempera on board or oil on canvas); purpose (tombstone or lifetime);
  • depicted personalities (tsars, princes, church leaders, boyars, nobles, military leaders).
Prince Fyodor Romodanovsky
Prince Fyodor Romodanovsky

The most striking distinguishing features of the parsun include:

  • the canonicity of the artistic image;
  • static posture of the object;
  • conditional portrait resemblance;
  • simplicity of composition;
  • the dominance of planar forms;
  • the frequent presence of inscriptions and other attributes to identify the character.
Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich
Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich

Parsuns have become an important milestone on the path of transition from traditional icon-painting norms in Russian painting to the embodiment of the ideals of Western fine art.

Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich
Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich