The Russian Academy: Preliminary Notes

In the fall of 1995, Joseph Brodsky put forward a plan to found an Academy in Rome where Russian scholars and artists could resume a longstanding tradition of Russian study in Italy. He submitted the following proposal to Francesco Ruttelli, the mayor of Rome, who expressed his enthusiasm for the project shortly before Brodsky’s death on January 28, 1996. The search for an appropriate building was already underway. His proposal is reprinted here in full.

1. Preamble

For obvious reasons, everything of value in Russian art for the past two centuries has owed a great debt to, and shows the unmistakable influence of, the great Italian culture with which Russian painters, architects, musicians, and writers were during those two centuries in constant contact. The dependence of Russian culture on these contacts cannot be overstated. The great Osip Mandelstam spoke of Orthodox cathedrals “with their Italian and Russian souls”; we would have no Tchaikovsky operas or symphonies were it not for his sojourns in Italy; the development of the Russian school of painting is unthinkable without Alexander Ivanov’s years in Rome; and, as for literature, we would still be rehashing our folk tales were it not for Pushkin’s attempts to translate Dante or for Gogol’s residence on the via Sistina.

One could go on, citing the impact of Italian futurism on Russian visual arts and literature at the onset of this century, but one is loath to state the obvious, and preambles must be brief. So, in order to make an immensely long story short, let’s confine ourselves to the obvious truth that Italian culture is indeed the mother of Russian aesthetics and that for seventy of this century’s years this connection between the mother and her child was artificially severed. Much of what has transpired in Russia—in its mental climate specifically—is this unfortunate break’s direct result, and the idea of establishing a Russian Academy in Rome has to do with a desire to restore that child to its natural, healthy condition.

2. Guiding Principles

The Russian Academy in Rome should be modeled on its French and American sisters, with one distinction inevitable at this stage: it has to be privately funded, at least initially. The preference for private funding for such an institution has to do not only with the perilous financial circumstances of Russia’s nascent democracy but also with the desirability of such an institution’s independence from the vagaries of Russia’s political climate in the near future.

In the initial stage, the funding should be strictly Italian (municipal or corporate) in its origin, and so should be the administration of the Academy. Eventually, perhaps, Russian financing should be accepted, provided it is private and comes from enterprises doing business in or with Italy. The involvement of the Russian state during this initial period—of, let’s say, five years—should be nil.

The selection of candidates for scholarship and residency in such an institution should be conducted by an independent panel of artists and scholars whose credentials have been established both in…

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