One of only three sonnets Pushkin wrote in his lifetime, “Madona” (1830) is a monument to the union of a poet’s life and work. Due in large part to the circumstances of Pushkin’s death, reception of the sonnet has focused less on the poem itself and more on his wife’s famous epithet. Although Pushkin’s marriage is important from a creative standpoint, the extent to which Natal´ia Goncharova’s presence has saturated interpretations of his poems to her should be reexamined. The stoic quality attributed to Goncharova most notably in “Madona” (1830) became fertile ground for scholars and writers interested in Pushkin’s mythologizing of his wife. This concentration on Goncharova—thought to be the core of the sonnet—appears to have stifled greater interest in the poem beyond Pushkin’s ekphrasis of the painting that inspired the comparison. A deeper investigation into the rarity of the sonnet form in Pushkin’s oeuvre, as well as the rhetorical stance imbedded in his tone and word choice, shows a more complex side to “Madona.”
Whatever the details of their married life, the association Pushkin drew between the Madonna image and his bride-to-be does not exhaust or exclude other interpretations of the sonnet. Just by taking the poem’s title as our point of departure, it seems emphasis should first be placed not on Pushkin’s wife, but on the culturally-loaded associations the word “Madonna” had in the Romantic period. The purveyor of the Romantic fascination with Raphael’s Madonnas was Vasily Zhukovsky, whose essay “Rafaeleva Madonna” (Raphael’s Madonna) had itself arisen after a close reading of Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder’s Herzensergießungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders (Outpourings of an Art-loving Friar), written in 1797. Before Pushkin wrote “Madona” in 1830, he had already made poetic reference to Madonnas by Raphael with an eye to Zhukovsky’s presentation of the artist in his essay. In the poems “Kto znaet krai, gde nebo bleshchet…” (Who knows the land, where the sky shines…) and “Ee glaza” (Her Eyes), both from 1828, one finds a foregrounding of Raphael’s Madonnas and conventional praise for the rare talent of their creator in the vein of Zhukovsky, albeit with some irony. Compared to the poet’s rejection of “the paintings of old masters” (kartiny starinnykh masterov) in “Madona” two years later, the two poems from 1828 betray the traditional Romantic reception of Raphael, although “Kto znaet krai…” initiates a playful critique of the painter’s dedication to the Madonna image. The penultimate line of the sonnet, however, is an emphatic claim not only over Goncharova, but over the Madonna image itself: “tebia, moia Madona” (literally “you, my lady”; my emphasis)—an image connected to earlier poems, but also to certain literary and cultural trends of the nineteenth century.
Apart from a cursory reference in “Polkovodets” (1835), a poem that shares the reverent tone of “Madona” in its opening lines, Pushkin did not refer to the Madonna image again. Pushkin may have written about other incarnations of Mary, but the term “Madonna,” prior to the sonnet, frequently corresponded to a painting by Raphael. The image ceased to be just a painting once it had been associated with his wife—what had once been a ubiquitous symbol of culture and Raphael’s entrenched position in the Romantic view of the artist was transfigured by Pushkin’s pen into a human being. Like his brief experimentation with the sonnet, Pushkin retired the image once he had taken it to the limits of creative expression. Perhaps this general tendency towards constant experimentation and innovation is the source of Pushkin’s suggestion in “Kto znaet krai…” that Raphael choose other subjects to endow with his genius. A poet with Pushkin’s range provides an interesting contrast to an artist known for painting the same woman over and over again. The language and tone of “Madona” further reinforces the change in Pushkin’s attitude toward the image. Although he refers to an identifiable painting, in “Madona” Pushkin moves away from stylistic ekphrasis of Raphael and becomes concerned not with the genii (according to Zhukovsky’s use of the term) of the creator, but with the beautiful, miraculous, and unexpectedly unique aspects of the image itself. The sonnet is significant not because it compares Goncharova to the Madonna, but because in it Pushkin pries the image out of the hands of the famed Raphael. Before moving on to a discussion of the poems, it is useful to examine Zhukovsky’s letter from Dresden, which first brought the Romantic vision of Raphael to Russia.
On 29 June 1821, Zhukovsky visited the Dresden Gallery during a trip abroad. Powerfully affected by his encounter with the Sistine Madonna (c. 1513), he wrote an impassioned letter to the Grand Duchess Aleksandra Fedorovna about his experience. Arriving early so as to avoid the crowds, Zhukovsky reflected on Raphael’s moment of inspiration:
Сказывают, что Рафаэль, натянув полотно свое для этой картины, долго не знал, что на нем будет: вдохновение не приходило. Однажды он заснул с мыслию о Мадонне, и верно какой-нибудь ангел разбудил его. Он вскочил: она здесь! – закричал он, указав на полотно, и начертил первый рисунок. И в самом деле, это не картина, а видение: чем долее глядишь, тем живее уверяешься, что перед тобою что-то неестественное происходит (особливо, если смотришь так, что ни рамы, ни других картин не видишь). И это не обман воображения: оно не обольщено здесь ни живостию красок, ни блеском наружным. Здесь душа живописца, без всяких хитростей искусства, но с удивительною простотою и легкостию, передала холстине то чудо, которое во внутренности ее совершилось.
They say that having stretched the canvas for this painting, Raphael for some time did not know what it would be: inspiration did not come. One day he fell asleep thinking about the Madonna and truly some kind of angel woke him. He jumped up: she is here!—he cried out, having pointed at the canvas and drew the first sketch. And indeed it is not a painting, but a vision: the longer you look, the more vividly you become convinced, that before you something unworldly is happening (especially if you look in such a way that its frame and other paintings are not visible). And this is not a trick of the imagination: here is no seduction by the liveliness of the paint, or by the outward shine. Here without the cunning of art, but with astonishing simplicity and ease, the soul of the painter imparted to the canvas that miracle which took place in its core.
When the letter was published as an essay in 1824, contemporaries with a knowledge of German would have noticed the similarities between Zhukovsky’s rapturous praise of Raphael and Wackenroder’s idolization of the artist in his Outpourings. Zhukovsky’s understanding of Raphael’s work was strongly influenced by a legend that originated with the German Romantic, who sought to grasp the source of Raphael's artistic creativity and inspiration. According to Wackenroder the Virgin Mary appeared to a sleeping Raphael, who, completely transfixed by her pure beauty, painted her image in “inspired fashion.” Wackenroder’s source for this vision is a letter written in 1514 to Baldassare Castiglione, a close friend of Raphael’s whose portrait by the master hangs today in the Louvre. In the letter Raphael described his attempt to dream up a woman beautiful enough on which to model Galatea (and not the Madonna, as Wackenroder claimed) for his work The Triumph of Galatea. Some scholars have suggested Wackenroder deliberately misread the letter in order to Christianize Raphael’s vision; others maintain that the mistake was as an accidental substitution. Regardless of its accuracy, this legend was already widely known by the time Wackenroder’s book was translated into Russian in 1826.
Wackenroder’s praise for Raphael must not be underestimated in Zhukovsky’s adoption of particular ideas connected to the miraculous creative process of the artist. One scholar has noted that “Raphael represents for Wackenroder the highest level of true artistry, which combines technical skill and active striving with receptivity to ‘divine inspiration.’ Each other artist is measured and examined against the model of Raphael, whether this comparison is openly stated or tacitly implied.” Zhukovsky looked at the Sistine Madonna and saw a revelation of pure and unbridled talent and little else besides. Indeed, Zhukovsky’s focus on Raphael’s genius as opposed to the rich symbolism of the Madonna image in its own right was likewise an extension of Wackenroder’s essay on Raphael, which itself focused on Raphael’s creation more than the Madonna. It is clear that both Wackenroder and Zhukovsky considered the Sistine Madonna a pure reflection of Raphael’s gifts, equating the beauty of the Madonna with the genius of the painter. This is an interpretation that Pushkin will turn on its head in “Madona.”
In his letter, Zhukovsky borrowed Wackenroder’s legend of Raphael but also attempted to capture the typical Romantic view of the painting. In one of the most well-known segments of the essay, Zhukovsky wrote:
Я был один; вокруг меня все было тихо; сперва с некоторым усилием вошел в самого себя; потом ясно начал чувствовать, что душа распространяется; какое-то трогательное чувство величия в нее входило; неизобразимое было для нее изображено, и она была там, где только в лучшие минуты жизни быть может. Гений чистой красоты был с нею.
I was alone; all was quiet around me. First with some effort I was entering into myself. Then I began to feel clearly my soul spreading out; some kind of touching feeling of greatness entered it; this inexpressible feeling was expressed for it. And my soul was there, where it can be only in the best moments of life. The spirit of pure beauty was with it.
The connection between inspirational beauty and genii may be traced back to Zhukovsky’s German-inspired reading of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, where the beautiful depiction and the skill of the painter are fused harmoniously. As Zhukovsky struggles to identify the sensations associated with viewing Raphael’s work, however, the painting itself and its subject matter play supporting roles. His earlier remarks presented the Madonna as emanating (as a vision would), curiously not from out of the frame enclosing her, but from out of Raphael’s soul. Zhukovsky in this second passage turns his gaze inward (“I entered into myself”) and attempts to tap into the mysterious energies that Raphael once mustered to paint her. If perspective in painting directs itself out toward a central point—the viewer—the opposite is happening here: Zhukovsky’s soul spreads out from his person, as Raphael’s did when he presented to the world “that miracle that took place in [his soul’s] core.” For Zhukovsky, the beautiful, ethereal quality of the Madonna is quite literally Raphael. The painting is the vision (“eto ne kartina, a videnie”) and here the Madonna image is but a screen onto which the resurrection of Raphael’s genius is projected.
By including the phrase “genii chistoi krasoty,” Zhukovsky lends a personal touch to his experience of the painting. That memorable phrase, of course, appears in one of Pushkin’s most celebrated love poems, “K***” (“Ia pomniu chudnoe mgnoven´e…”) (I recall a wondrous moment…) (1825). In Pushkin’s poem, however, it is clearly the beautiful addressee who arouses inspiration (“Peredo mnoi iavilas´ ty”; my emphasis) and not inspiration itself that takes center stage. Zhukovsky had first used a variant of the phrase in “Lalla Ruk” (i.e., “genii chistyi [rather than chistoi] krasoty”), but used the more familiar wording in “Rafaeleva Madonna” as well as in a later poem, “Ia Muzu iunuiu, byvalo…” (1824), addressed to the Grand Duchess, the recipient of his letter from Dresden. Zhukovsky wrote “Lalla Ruk” in 1821 for a performance of his translation of Thomas Moore’s long poem Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance, in which the princess Lalla was played by none other than the Grand Duchess. The fourth stanza of “Lalla Ruk” reflects the same language of poetic inspiration that the poet witnessed later in the Dresden Gallery. The lines describe the brief visit of a heavenly spirit, referred to as the personification of youthful purity (neporochnost´ molodaia), but elsewhere in the poem as “genii chistyi krasoty”:
Все – и робкая стыдливость
Под сиянием венца,
И младенческая живость,
И величие лица,
И в чертах глубокость чувства
С безмятежной тишиной –
Все в ней было без искусства
Everything—the shy bashfulness
Beneath the shine of her crown,
And the childish liveliness,
And the greatness of her face,
And in her features a profundity of feeling
With a calm silence
Everything in her was artless,
The elusive, Muse-like spirit, a messenger of beauty’s essence, disappears soon after its pleasing qualities are visible to the poet. The features of the vision are reminiscent of the awe-inspiring angel in the Sistine Madonna, whose expression Zhukovsky specifically identifies with Raphael:
И Рафаэль прекрасно подписал свое имя на картине: внизу ее, с границы земли, один из двух ангелов устремил задумчивые глаза в высоту; важная, глубокая мысль царствует на младенческом лице – не таков ли был и Рафаэль в то время, когда он думал о своей Мадонне?
And Raphael beautifully signed his name on the painting: at the bottom, from the boundary of the earth, one of the two angels directs pensive eyes to the heights; an important, profound thought reigns on his childish face—was not Raphael also like him when he thought about his Madonna?
The thoughtful look on the angel’s face captures the fleeting moment of divine inspiration instilled in Raphael. This interpretation of the painting, saturated in the creative life of Raphael, transforms the symbolic power of angels and the Madonna into extensions of the painter.
The use of the phrase “genii chistoi krasoty” in poems (stressing the appearance of the Muse and the moment of inspiration) and in the letter to Aleksandra Fedorovna suggests that Zhukovsky understood Raphael and the fruits of his brush primarily in terms of the Romantic veneration of artistic inspiration. The notable exception is the continual association of “the spirit of pure beauty” with and around the figure of a specific possessor of female beauty—the Grand Duchess. But this too may be traced back to the legend of Raphael’s visitation by the Virgin before painting the Sistine Madonna, which places the Madonna in the role of Muse and thereby associates her with the creative process of the artist. Raphael undoubtedly dominates Zhukovsky’s understanding of the Madonna image; as a result, the image is absorbed into the artist’s inspiration. Pushkin’s poems “Ee glaza” and “Kto znaet krai…” may be linked to this understanding of Zhukovsky’s interpretation of an inspired Raphael. In “Ee glaza” and “Kto znaet krai…” Raphael’s paintings are still upheld as arbiters of genii, but they do not approach the celebrated perfection of the Madonna image (obrazets) in “Madona” and are treated with an irony absent in the idealistic appraisals of Zhukovsky and Wackenroder. Pushkin’s strategy in “Madona”—the liberation of the Madonna image from Raphael and also from a thematic convention of Romanticism—becomes clearer after a close reading of these poems.
Written around the same time as “Kto znaet krai…,” “Ee glaza” is addressed to Pushkin’s love interest at the time, A. A. Olenina. The poem succeeds in both responding to Viazemsky’s poem dedicated to A. O. Rosset, entitled “Chernye ochi,” and comparing the addressees. Since the connection to Viazemsky is not relevant to the subject of this paper, this brief analysis will focus only on the segments of the poem that relate to Zhukovsky’s understanding of Raphael. The poem in full follows:
Она мила – скажу меж нами –
Придворных витязей гроза,
И можно с южными звездами
Сравнить, особенно стихами,
Ее черкесские глаза.
Она владеет ими смело,
Они горят огня живей;
Но, сам признайся, то ли дело
Глаза Олениной моей!
Какой задумчивый в них гений,
И сколько детской простоты,
И сколько томных выражений,
И сколько неги и мечты!…
Потупит их с улыбкой Леля –
В них скромных граций торжество;
Поднимет – ангел Рафаэля
Так созерцает божество.
She is lovely—I’ll say between us—
The scourge of courtly knights,
And to southern stars one can
Compare, especially in verses,
Her Circassian eyes.
She commands them with daring,
They burn more vividly than fire;
But, you must confess, how much better
Are the eyes of my Olenina!
What pensive spirit is in them,
And what childish simplicity,
And what languorous expression,
And what delight and dream!…
When she lowers her eyes with the smile of Lel´—
In them is the triumph of the humble graces;
When she raises them – thus Raphael’s angel
Contemplates the divinity.
Rosset’s gaze is endowed with more sensual qualities—Pushkin associates her beauty with the southern stars and mentions the “fire” of her “Circassian eyes.” Olenina’s eyes, however, are innocent, intelligent, and youthfully playful. The line “Kakoi zadumchivyi v nikh genii” recalls Zhukovsky’s observation of the Sistine Madonna that “odin iz dvukh angelov ustremil zadumchivye glaza v vysotu” (my emphasis). The last three lines, “In them is the triumph of the humble Graces / When she raises them—thus Raphael’s angel / Contemplates the divinity,” are of particular interest, as specifically Olenina’s eyes are associated with poetic inspiration. The mention of the Graces, or Charites, in “Kto znaet krai…” is made in connection to Raphael, described as crowned by one of them (“Kharitoiu venchannyi”). We recall that Zhukovsky had linked the expression on the angel’s face with Raphael’s own at the moment of inspiration: “vazhnaia, glubokaia mysl´ tsarstvuet na mladencheskom litse—ne takov li byl i Rafael´ v to vremia, kogda on dumal o svoei Madonne?” Raphael’s inspiration is what adds particular weight to the “zadumchivye glaza” of the angel in Zhukovsky’s essay. By comparing the eyes of the addressee to the angel’s contemplative expression in the Sistine Madonna, Pushkin similarly ascribes inspirational beauty to Raphael and further reinforces the artist’s presence in the painting. However it should be noted that the angel’s gaze is no longer specifically associated with its creator, Raphael, as it was in Zhukovsky’s essay, but with Olenina. In the same year he wrote “Ee glaza,” a poem that begins to hold Raphael at a distance from his painterly subjects, Pushkin simultaneously continues and satirizes the Romantic veneration of Raphael in “Kto znaet krai…”
Raphael appears again in “Kto znaet krai…” as one of Italy’s great artists, but the respectful attitude Pushkin adopted in “Ee glaza” gradually drifts towards the familiar tone of an irreverent, yet joking, challenge. In “Kto znaet krai…,” Pushkin applauds the accomplishments of Western culture while at the same time holding the beauty of a real woman in greater esteem, a theme already explored in “Ee glaza” and one that will return in “Madona.” Although the poem was not finished, the draft and variants give some indication of Pushkin’s treatment of Raphael’s stature and the Madonnas hovering over his career.
The poem is addressed to Maria Aleksandrovna Musina-Pushkina, a society beauty of Pushkin’s time and recently returned from Italy. Two epigraphs give the poem context. The contrast between the poetic language of the German, the opening of the most celebrated poem from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, and the folksy “berry” excerpt, provide an amusing introduction. However, the juxtaposition of Goethe’s poem expressing the Romantic longing for southern climes and Musina-Pushkina’s hunger for berries native to her northern homeland does relate directly to the subject of the poem: the beauty of a Russian woman rivaling one of Raphael’s Madonnas.
In the poem, Italy is personified by its artists—the waves repeat the rhythm of Tasso’s octaves, Raphael’s masterpieces are invoked by the high-style verb zhivopisal, and the sculptor Canova is mentioned along with the visitor Byron for a contemporary touch (variants of the poem show that Perugino, Dante, and Petrarch were also considered). The sudden and unexplained entrance of Liudmila (a stand-in for Musina-Pushkina) ends a simple paean to Italy’s artistic elite and centers attention squarely on the Russian visitor. “Liudmila of northern beauty” receives an ecstatic welcome from “the sons of the Ausonia” and the reader soon finds her in a gallery, viewing the Medici Venus, Sebastiano’s La Fornarina (The Bakeress), and an unidentified Madonna, presumably by Raphael. The presence of the “people” (narod), which “seethes around her” in times of “carnival orgies,” is perhaps playing humorously on the meaning of the name Liudmila, or “Liudiam mila.” Liudmila’s northern beauty is verifiably appreciated by Italians, but she remains unrecognized by Italy’s great artists:
На рай полуденной природы,
На блеск небес, на ясны воды,
На чудеса немых искусств
В стесненье вдохновенных чувств
Людмила светлый взор возводит,
Дивясь и радуясь душой,
И ничего перед собой
Себя прекрасней не находит.
Стоит ли с важностью очей
Пред флорентийскою Кипридой,
Их две… и мрамор перед ней
Страдает, кажется, обидой.
Мечты возвышенной полна,
В молчаньи смотрит ли она
На образ нежный Форнарины,
Или Мадоны молодой,
Она задумчивой красой
Очаровательней картины… (PSS 3, 1: 97)
On the paradise of southern nature,
On the shine of the heavens, on the clear waters,
On the wonders of the mute arts
Moved by inspirational feelings
Liudmila raises her bright gaze,
Marveling and rejoicing in her soul,
And finds nothing before her
More beautiful than she.
If she stands with eyes full of import
Before the Florentine Venus,
There are two of them… and the marble before her
Suffers, it seems, from resentment.
Full of an elevated dream,
If she looks in silence
At the touching image of the Fornarina,
Or of the young Madonna,
She with her pensive beauty
Is more charming than the painting…
The theme of sculpting returns when Liudmila views the Medici Venus, a depiction of the goddess of love with a miniature Cupid carved onto the base. The marble of the statue and the art of sculpting itself recalls Canova in the poem’s introduction, who with his chisel “brought obedient marble to life” (poslushnyi mramor ozhivlial). The mere suggestion of a statue capable of experiencing emotion evokes the Pygmalion myth, underscoring the tension between art and life in the poem. Pushkin’s comparison of Liudmila to Venus and then to the “young Madonna” is a reiteration of the same triangular formula that appears in “K ***” (“Ty, bogomater´…”) (1826). It is assumed that the “young Madonna” invoked in this stanza is one of Raphael’s Florentine Madonnas, given that Raphael dominates the remainder of the poem.
The apostrophe of Raphael at the end of the poem has a likely source in Derzhavin’s “Izobrazhenie Felitsy” (Depiction of Felitsa), an ode to Catherine that he wrote in 1789. The first stanza is reminiscent of the rhetorical strategy in “Kto znaet krai…”
Рафaэль! живописец славный,
Творец искусством естества!
Рафаэль чудный, бесприкладный,
Умел ты кистию свободной
Непостижимость написать –
Умей моей богоподобной
Царевны образ начертать.
Raphael! Glorious painter,
Creator by the art of nature!
Miraculous, unequalled, Raphael,
Portrayer of divinity!
With a free brush you knew how to
Compose the incomprehensible—
May you sketch the image
Of my godlike Tsarina.
If Derzhavin begins by calling upon Raphael to paint Catherine, Pushkin devotes the conclusion of his poem to Raphael’s artistic gift. Liudmila disappears, replaced by the hope that the great master “Will convey to amazed descendents / Her heavenly features” (Predast potomkam izumlennym / Ee nebesnye cherty). Up to this point the words nebo and nebesa were used specifically with reference to Italy’s beauty, but now Liudmila’s features are “heavenly,” since she enjoys the company of Venus and the Madonna. The poet addresses Raphael directly and the nameless sculptor responsible for the Medici Venus, entreating:
Скажите мне: какой певец,
Горя восторгом умиленным,
Чья кисть, чей пламенный резец
Предаст потомкам изумленным
Ее небесные черты?
Где ты, ваятель безымянный
Богини вечной красоты?
И ты, Харитою венчанный,
Ты, вдохновенный Рафаэль?
Забудь еврейку молодую,
Постигни прелесть неземную,
Постигни радость в небесах,
Пиши Марию нам другую,
С другим младенцем на руках.
Tell me: what singer,
Burning with tender ecstasy,
Whose brush, whose flaming chisel
Will convey to amazed descendants
Her heavenly features?
Where are you, nameless sculptor
Of the goddess of eternal beauty?
And you, crowned by one of the Graces,
You, inspired Raphael?
Forget the young Jewess,
The cradle of the Child-god,
Grasp unearthly charm,
Grasp joy in the heavens,
Paint us another Mary,
With another child in her arms.
The comparatively serious register used earlier to describe “vdokhnovennyi” Raphael (whose name rhymes humorously with “kolybel´”) is replaced by imperatives and the demotion of the Madonna to “evreika molodaia” (young Jewess) in a tone reminiscent of Gavriiliada. Part of the lowering of the Madonna to “evreika molodaia” is related directly to Raphael’s association with the image. By attracting attention to other names for Mary (Musina-Pushkina’s namesake), Pushkin reduces the Madonna image to its less noble signifiers. Not only a devotional and cultural figure, the Madonna is also the biblical Mary, whose familiar role as an earthly mother corresponds to a real woman, Musina-Pushkina. In this way “Kto znaet krai…,” with its focus on depicting beauty in art and life, approaches the problem of Pushkin’s sonnet. More importantly, “Kto znaet krai…” challenges Raphael’s stature in Western art as the Romantics often presented it. Pushkin’s slightly mocking “And you, inspired Raphael?” (I ty, vdokhnovennyi Rafael´?) is a veiled criticism of Raphael’s frequent depiction of the Madonna image. Taking Pushkin’s poetic references to Raphael and Zhukovsky’s influence in disseminating Wackenroder’s romantic view of the painter in toto, this paper will move to “Madona” and towards a reinterpretation of the sonnet.
On 30 July 1830, Pushkin wrote to his fiancée, “The beautiful ladies ask to see your portrait, and they do not pardon my not having it. I console myself in not having it by spending hours on end in front of a blonde madonna who is as much like you as two drops of water, and which I would buy, if it did not cost 40,000 rubles.” By consulting newspaper announcements, G. M. Koka determined that Pushkin saw a copy of Raphael’s Bridgewater Madonna. The painting depicts the Madonna and Child alone; a niche behind them shows only the slight contour of an architectural detail. Light does not pour onto the figures from an outside source, but emanates from the Christ Child and the blonde Mother of God. The mother and son exchange glances; the child looks up, playing with a piece of translucent fabric draped around his mother’s shoulder, and Mary casts her eyes down in a semblance of humility. Scholars originally had trouble agreeing on a source for “Madona” because of a detail Pushkin gives in the sonnet of the position of the figures “under the palm of Zion” (pod pal´moiu Siona). Koka’s research established that in the copy Pushkin saw, the niche behind the figures was replaced by an open window through which a tree (presumably a palm) could be seen. Part of the attraction of this painting must have been the domestic quality of the atmosphere; the Madonna and Child are shown by themselves and, unlike the Sistine Madonna (who floats supernaturally on clouds and is surrounded on all sides by saints and angels), they are sitting comfortably indoors, gazing lovingly at one another. Judging by the distinct features of the Raphael style, Pushkin surely presumed that the copy was made from an original of one of the painter’s Madonnas. Despite the identification of a definite source in the Bridgewater Madonna, no specific reference to any one painting or painter appears in “Madona.” This suggests Pushkin was not interested in presenting an ekphrasis of Raphael or of any other painter; nor was he focused on Raphael’s inspiration like Zhukovsky and the Romantic school before him. Indeed, the saturation of the sonnet with religious images and sober, high-style vocabulary contrasts with the rapturous terms used to describe Raphael’s Madonna in Zhukovsky’s essay and in the Romantic tradition writ large (these outbursts were perhaps parodied in “Kto znaet krai…”). The religious dimension of “Madona” should not be read solely as a confession of spiritual devotion on the part of Pushkin, given what we know about the place of the icon in Russian Orthodox homes (“v prostom uglu moem” [in my simple corner]), but as a homage to simplicity, purity, and the eradication of superfluity and the locus of these virtues in a human being. Above all, the reader must remember what drove Pushkin to write the sonnet in the first place—not the skill of the artist or the beauty of the painting, but the physical resemblance of the Madonna to his future wife. Equating the painting with Goncharova actively repels the notion of a creator, unless the Creator is meant. Moreover, Pushkin asserts the beauty of the image itself; it does not need its usual accoutrements (angels, saints, a Renaissance master casting his shadow over it) to be inspirational.
Pushkin wrote “Madona” and two other sonnets, “Poetu” and “Sonet,” in the autumn of 1830 during a time of much experimentation; these are the only sonnets he ever wrote. Thematically, “Madona” is unique among them; its title refers to a specific woman and it is not metapoetic like the other two. Owing to its biographical source, “Madona” may be read in the tradition of love sonnets.
Не множеством картин старинных мастеров
Украсить я всегда желал свою обитель,
Чтоб суеверно им дивился посетитель,
Внимая важному сужденью знатоков.
В простом углу моем, средь медленных трудов,
Одной картины я желал быть вечно зритель,
Одной: чтоб на меня с холста, как с облаков,
Пречистая и наш божественный спаситель –
Она с величием, он с разумом в очах –
Взирали, кроткие, во славе и в лучах,
Одни, без ангелов, под пальмою Сиона.
Исполнились мои желания. Творец
Тебя мне ниспослал, тебя, моя Мадона,
Чистейшей прелести чистейший образец. (PSS 3.1: 224)
With no great quantity of paintings by the old masters
Have I always desired to adorn my dwelling,
So that a visitor would marvel at them,
Heeding the solemn judgment of experts.
In my simple corner, amidst slow-going work,
Of one painting I desired to be the eternal viewer
Of one: so that on me, from the canvas, as from the clouds,
The Most Pure Lady and our heavenly Saviour—
She with majesty, he with reason in his eyes—
Would look out, meek, in glory and in light,
Alone, without angels, under the palm of Zion.
My desires have been fulfilled. The Creator
Has sent you down to me, you, my Madonna,
The most pure image of most pure charm.
Like “Poetu,” “Madona” is written in iambic hexameter, but with a rhyme scheme of aBBa aBaB ccDeDe. “Madona” departs from both “Poetu” and “Sonet” in the area of rhyme if not in meter. Only in “Madona” does Pushkin choose to end his lines with rhymed nouns only. This detail is a nod to the grammatical, “pure” rhyme favored by eighteenth-century Russian poets. The high register of Pushkin’s lexicon in “Madona” complements this choice. In the first quatrain an opposition is posed between the rhymes made with nominative singular and those made with the genitive plural—the weighty “masterov” rhymes with the similarly formidable “znatokov.” The second quatrain and the first tercet are likewise playing on the singular-plural divide: “trudov—zritel´—oblakov—spasitel´” and “ochakh—luchakh—Siona,” respectively. The emphasis on nouns brings a level of tangibility to Pushkin’s poem and its bridging of the heavenly and earthly realms. The second tercet focuses exclusively on the Madonna, employing “moia” and “tebia” with all rhymes in the singular—an emphasis on the unadorned simplicity the poet desires in the painting (the fact that the Madonna and Child appear alone is emphasized by the word “odnoi,” occurring three times in the entire poem), but also representing his own desire for an uncluttered painting of the Virgin and Child. Pronouns are indeed an important feature of “Madona”; “ona” is subtly built into the rhyme Siona—Madona, echoing the first tercet, which begins with “ona.”
Considering the poetic restraint and conservatism Pushkin shows in “Madona,” it is typically ironic of him to flout one of the most important formal constraints of the sonnet: the structural and logical boundary between the octave and the sestet (the turn). The enjambement between the second quatrain and the first tercet, occurring at the lines “Prechistaia i nash bozhestvennyi spasitel´ / Ona s velichiem, on s razumom v ochakh,” is unusual. Like most practitioners of the sonnet form, Pushkin begins with a familiar formula, posing a problem, its antithesis, and finally its resolution. In “Madona” this predictable movement towards the resolution is uncharacteristically complicated by Pushkin’s formal technique. Posing the problem, the first quatrain makes clear what the poet does not want, negatively introducing the paintings of old masters. Pushkin specifically writes “ne mnozhestvom kartin” (with no great quantity of paintings), which contrasts directly with the emphasis on “odnoi” in the second quatrain. The sincere appreciation of art is hindered by the quantity and the price of paintings in the hands of vain hoarders of beautiful things. In this context the word “sueverno” means not “superstitiously,” but has the connotation of vanity, recalling the famous passage in Ecclesiastes 1:2, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” The impossible expense of the “madone blonde” bears some resemblance to this rebuke of experts and the grand painting that first inspired the sonnet.
The simplicity introduced in the second quatrain directly challenges the previous notion of collecting paintings for the express purpose of impressing visitors. The first line, “V prostom uglu moem, sred´ medlennykh trudov” (In my simple corner, amidst slow-going work), shows the humility of the poet’s home. The adjective “prostoi” (simple) contrasts directly with the verb “ukrasit´” (to adorn) in the first stanza. The notion of serious work is a departure from the momentary “judgment of experts” and most importantly, the traditional place for icons (“krasnyi ugol”) depicting the Mother of God, is implied in Pushkin’s choice of words for his dwelling. Pushkin’s free use of variations on the word “desire” throughout the poem (“zhelal” appears twice in the first and second quatrain, “zhelaniia” in the final tercet) is later sharply contrasted with the chaste qualities of the Madonna (“Prechistaia” appears in the second quatrain; “chisteishii” twice in the final tercet). The attempt here is to unite the world of the poet with the protective realm of the pure Madonna, capable of washing away all impurities.
At the end of the second quatrain, the poet imagines that “from the canvas” as if “from the clouds,” “The Most Pure Lady and our heavenly Savior […] [Would] look out, meek, in glory and in light.” Pushkin could have begun the description of the painting in the first tercet, possibly eliminating the need to enjamb the two stanzas together. Instead he chose to extend the description from the second quatrain to the first tercet in order to meld together the poet’s earthly dwelling with the spiritual world of the painting. As though penetrating the canvas (in iconography the symbolic boundary between two worlds), the heavenly figures are said to look out “na menia s kholsta” (at me from the canvas). The final line of the first tercet, the quatrain and tercet effectively combined, is a reflection of both worlds brought together as Mary and Christ rest beneath an earthly palm, themselves a reflection of the divine and thus not surrounded by angels. Pushkin’s emphatic insistence that the Virgin and Child appear “bez angelov” (without angels) seems directed at Raphael’s Sistine Madonna and its thoughtful angel, shown to be the arbiter of its creator’s vision and inspiration.
The breakdown of this boundary between the poet’s world and the realm of the Mother and Child is achieved formally before the semantic resolution in the second tercet, when the poet’s “desires have been fulfilled.” Pushkin calls attention to the phrase, “Tvorets / Tebia mne nisposlal, tebia, moia Madona,” beginning the sentence in the first line and in another example of enjambement, establishing a continuity between the creator and his gift. This may be another jab at Raphael if viewed as a comparison of the master to the Creator and supreme artisan—God—thereby implying a preference for God’s human creation in the form of “moia Madona” as opposed to “Rafaeleva Madonna.” Unlike Raphael’s Madonna, often depicted as detached from humanity, Pushkin breathes life into the Madonna image. Pushkin’s gift is a real woman, in all her purity and perfection (“Chisteishei prelesti chisteishii obrazets”), not a painting mediated through another’s genius.
It has been suggested that Pushkin’s brief experimentation with the sonnet form was a test of his own artistic abilities. Indeed, in all three sonnets there is an assertion of his mastery, apparent to the reader either by skill or theme. A sense of innovation and the stubborn striving towards absolute perfection permeates all three sonnets. “Poetu” demands that the poet not compromise his art before the mob, declaring “Ty tsar´, zhivi odin” (You are king, live alone). In “Sonet,” Pushkin glorifies the masters of the form, but his name-dropping serves only to undercut their greatness with the superiority of his own sonnet. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the qualities of exceptionality, proud solitude, talent, and artistic superiority in “Poetu” and “Sonet” reside also in “Madona,” which I have viewed as an implicit challenge to Raphael and an adjustment to Romantic cliché. As in “Poetu,” the poet is found isolated in his humble corner, scoffing at masterpieces and their self-important judges. “With one painting” the poet’s wish is fulfilled, but besides the Virgin Mary there are actually two Madonnas, two prototypes, in “Madona”—one is Goncharova, the other is Raphael’s. As the discussion of Zhukovsky has shown, the word “Madonna” during Pushkin’s time was strongly associated with Raphael, but Pushkin is an eager borrower of imagery and not a dedicated imitator of style. Pushkin’s Madonna is an agent, directing her “pure beauty” out towards the poet (“chtob na menia s kholsta … vzirali”; my emphasis). In Zhukovsky’s model the artist’s soul is the source of any and all beauty depicted; female beauty is just an occasion to glorify the artist talented enough to will it into being. Divine inspiration plays second fiddle to the Madonna in Pushkin’s sonnet. The poet sits “sred´ medlennykh trudov,” presumably composing verse, asking for one painting to rid him of worldly cares, not to transport him to a higher plane of creativity. Given the biographical context of the poem, the Madonna is not a Muse mediating between the everyday and the extraordinary, but a symbol of the ties of holy matrimony. Although Pushkin’s impending marriage to the youthful and beautiful Goncharova is clearly the driving force behind the composition of “Madona,” we should not discount the spirit of competition, ingenuity, and mastery that all three sonnets exemplify in tone and content. More than the other two sonnets, Pushkin’s “Madona” lives in the world—art collides with life. Pushkin’s “Madona” was created as much out of a desire to possess Goncharova as it was to rework the conventions of art into a self-sufficient world.
[*] I would like to thank the anonymous readers for their helpful suggestions. I am also grateful to Professor Michael Wachtel at Princeton University for his comments on several versions of this article.
 In Russian at this time, the word “Madonna” did not have a standard spelling. Pushkin’s sonnet is entitled “Madona,” and I retain that spelling throughout this paper when discussing that particular work.
 The mythology surrounding the Madonna epithet has resulted in various interpretations of Goncharova’s relationship to Pushkin’s creative self. Tsvetaeva discussed Pushkin’s wife in “Dve Goncharovy,” a section in her essay “Natal´ia Goncharova” (1929) that criticizes Goncharova’s speechlessness and supposed innocence in the eyes of adoring contemporaries. Cf. Marina Tsvetaeva, Izbrannaia proza v dvukh tomakh 1917–1937, vol. 1, ed. Aleksandr Sumerkin (New York: Russica Publishers, 1979). Stephanie Sandler comments on Tsvetaeva’s comparison of Goncharova to a blank canvas offered to Pushkin’s creative desire: “The woman’s silence merits Tsvetaeva’s implicit criticism, as well as the reiteration that the wordless beauty is a blank space, a nobody.” Stephanie Sandler, “Embodied Words: Gender in Cvetaeva’s Reading of Pushkin,” Slavic and East European Journal 34: 2 (1990): 139–57, esp. 147. David Bethea writes specifically about the sonnet, but in the context of Pushkin’s personal mythology projects the Madonna-like Goncharova onto the background of the Pygmalion myth. His reading presents Goncharova as an extension of Pushkin’s artistic prowess, securing her role as both Muse and material and leaving little room for a discussion of the function of the Madonna image in the poem. Cf. David Bethea, Realizing Metaphors: Alexander Pushkin and the Life of the Poet (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 18–33.
 Although both Ludwig Tieck and Wackenroder co-authored the work, I will refer only to Wackenroder’s reaction to Raphael’s painting. Kiukhelbeker’s reaction after viewing the Sistine Madonna was likewise influenced by the work of Ludwig Tieck and Wackenroder and surely also known to Pushkin. Kiukhelbeker’s reflections were included in his Puteshestvie, a significant portion of which was published in 1824–25 in various journals. “Letter XXIV,” in which he described viewing Raphael’s painting, was published in 1824 in the journal Mnemozina. Cf. V. K. Kiukhel´beker, Puteshestvie. Dnevnik. Stat´i, Seriia “Literaturnye pamiatniki,” ed. N. V. Koroleva and V. D. Rak (Leningrad: Nauka, 1979).
Gavriiliada (1821), “K***” (“Ty, bogomater´, net somnen´ia…”) (1826), and “Zhil na svete rytsar´ bednyi…” (1829) are some examples.
 V. A. Zhukovskii, “Rafaeleva Madonna,” in V. A. Zhukovskii – kritik,comp. Iu. M. Prozorova, Biblioteka Russkoi kritiki(Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1985), 155. All translations in this article are mine unless otherwise noted.
 Irene Pearson, “Raphael as Seen by Russian Writers from Zhukovsky to Turgenev,” Slavonic and East European Review 59: 3 (July 1981): 350. A translator and scholar of Wackenroder’s writings has identified some common tendencies in the Romantic description of artistic creation: “The kernel of the creative act is defined as ‘divine inspiration’ […] It can be and is described, therefore, with a variety of adjective-noun combinations such as ‘divine omnipotence,’ ‘the direct assistance of God,’ ‘the divine spark,’ ‘a heavenly genius,’ or noun-noun combinations such as ‘the grace of heaven,’ ‘the genius of art,’ and so forth. These terms are the point of departure for an understanding of Wackenroder’s view of artistic creativity, which is incorporated into and embodied most perfectly and harmoniously in the figure of the ‘divine’ Raphael.” See Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, Confessions and Fantasies, trans. Mary Hurst Schubert (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1971), 47–48. The descriptions with which Wackenroder struggled to name the elusive qualities of inspiration he associated with Raphael can be compared to Zhukovsky’s famous formulation “genii chistoi krasoty.”
 Brad Prager, Aesthetic Vision and German Romanticism: Writing Images (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2003), 49.
 Ibid., 47.
 Wackenroder, Confessions and Fantasies, 48–49.
 Pearson, “Raphael as Seen by Russian Writers,” 350.
 Schubert, in Wackenroder, Confessions and Fantasies, 53.
 Ibid., 49.
 Zhukovskii, “Rafaeleva Madonna,” 155–56. Following this passage Zhukovsky included the penultimate stanza and the final four lines of his poem “Lalla Ruk,” which describes the appearance of the “pure spirit of beauty” (genii chistyi krasoty) in the earthly realm.
 J. Thomas Shaw believes Pushkin departs from Zhukovsky’s chiefly spiritual focus by attaching the description to a real woman: “Puškin’s poetic usage returns the image of a human referent, and removes the explicit reference to ‘purity.’” Cf. J. Thomas Shaw, “Theme and Imagery in Puškin’s ‘Ja pomnju čudnoe mgnoven´e,’” Slavic and East European Journal 14: 2 (1970): 142–43 n. 7.
 V. A. Zhukovskii, “Lalla Ruk,” in Sobranie sochinenii v 4 tomakh (Moscow-Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1959), 1: 359–60.
 Zhukovskii, “Rafaeleva Madonna,” 156.
 Shaw, “Theme and Imagery in Puškin’s ‘Ja pomnju čudnoemgnoven´e,’” 142 n. 7. Shaw considers Zhukovsky’s use of the phrase a typical example of “Madonna as Muse” and connects it to the power of beauty to inspire.
 A. S. Pushkin, “Ee glaza,” in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 16 tomakh, vol. 3, bk. 1 (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademiia nauk SSSR, 1948), 108. Further references to this edition of Pushkin’s works will be abbreviated PSS followed by volume and page numbers.
 Marcus Levitt writes the following about the “Maidens’ Song” in Eugene Onegin: “In Russian folk culture women and female sexuality are often associated with berries, and recently published uncensored folkloric texts make these associations explicit.” The emphasis on Musina-Pushkina giving birth in the last line of the poem may be related to the berry symbolism of the epigraph. Cf. Marcus Levitt, “The Dance of Love in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (The ‘Maidens’ Song’),” in Collected Essays in Honor of the Bicentennial of Alexander Pushkin’s Birth, ed. Juras T. Ryfa (Lewiston, ME: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2000), 81.
 Although the objects of art mentioned in this passage are confined to the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence, there is reason to believe Pushkin may be referring to Raphael’s La Fornarina and not Sebastiano’s. Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Lady, commonly known as La Fornarina, became famous as it was thought to be a depiction of Raphael’s mistress. There is some consensus that Margherita Luti, the daughter of a baker, was the model for La Fornarina and possibly other Madonnas. Cf. Jill Berk Jiminez, ed., Dictionary of Artists’ Models (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001), 332–34. It is possible that Pushkin’s phrase “tender image of the Fornarina” better explains Raphael’s nude than it does Sebastiano’s fully-clothed model. Coincidentally, like Raphael, Lord Byron also had a mistress in Venice by the name of “la fornarina.” For more on their stormy relationship, see Thomas Moore, The Life of Lord Byron, with His Letters and Journals (London: John Murray, 1854), 383–85.
 The poet V. V. Kapnist parodied this ode with his “Otvet Rafaelia pevtsu Felitsy,” which ends with Raphael’s smug response to Derzhavin: “Kogda zh ty v sposobakh uveren / Te chuda zhivo napisat´ / To kist´ i kraski pred toboiu: / Pishi volshebnoiu rukoiu, / Chto stol´ krasno umel skazat´” (When you are so sure in your abilities / To paint so vividly these wonders / Then the brush and paints are before you: / Paint with your magical hand, / What you were able to say so beautifully). V. V. Kapnist, Sobranie sochinenii v dvukh tomakh (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademiia nauk SSSR, 1960), 1: 109.
 G. R. Derzhavin, Sochineniia (St. Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 2002), 105.
 The lines “Goria vostorgom umilennym / Ch´ia kist´, chei plamennyi rezets / Predast potomkam izumlennym / Ee nebesnye cherty?” are strikingly similar to the first four lines of “Nedokonchennaia kartina” (The Unfinished Painting), written in 1819, but published in 1828, the same year Pushkin was working on “Kto znaet krai…” The first four lines read: “Ch´ia mysl´ vostorgom ugadala, / Postigla tainu krasoty? / Ch´ia kist´, o nebo, oznachala / Sii nebesnye cherty?” (Whose mind divined with ecstasy, / Grasped the mystery of beauty? / Whose brush, o sky, represented / These heavenly features?). G. M. Koka claims that “The Unfinished Painting” describes Raphael’s final, unfinished work The Transfiguration. However, the absence of exact details corresponding to the painting in the poem and the lack of evidence that Pushkin saw an engraving of the painting weaken Koka’s argument. Regardless, the strikingly similar language at the precise moment Raphael is invoked in “Kto znaet krai…” suggests that Pushkin was likely thinking of the same painter in both poems. Cf. G. M. Koka, “Stikhotvorenie Pushkina ‘Nedokonchennaia kartina,’” in Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii (Leningrad: Nauka, 1983), 5–20.
 Alexander Pushkin, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, trans. J. Thomas Shaw (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967), 423. In the French original: “Les belles dames me demandent à voir votre portrait, et ne me pardonnent pas de ne pas l’avoir. Je m’en console en passant des heures entières devant une madone blonde qui vous ressemble comme deux gouttes d'eau, et que j'aurais achetée, si elle ne coûtait pas 40 000 roubles.”
 G. M. Koka, Pushkin ob iskusstve (Moscow: Izd-vo Akademii khudozhestv, 1962), 130–32.
 For more on this, see G. M. Koka, “Pushkin pered madonnoi Rafaelia,” Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii (Leningrad: Nauka, 1967), 38–43.
 For more on the religious genealogy of the Madonna image as it relates to Pushkin’s sonnet, see Ksana Blank, Dostoevsky’s Dialectics and the Problem of Sin (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2010), 86–87.
 Michael Wachtel, The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 28–29.
 The word “igraiushchii” (playful) appears instead of “bozhestvennyi” (heavenly) in the eighth lint in two places: once in Pushkin’s handwriting in an albumn in Bartenev’s possession and elsewhere in lists from an album belonging to Malinovsky. The variant brings the sonnet even closer to the Bridgewater Madonna, since “playful” more accurately describes the Christ Child in the painting. See Koka, “Pushkin pered madonnoi Rafaelia,” 41 n. 9.
 For an excellent discussion of Pushkin’s use of negative comparisons, see William E. Harkins, “The Rejected Image: Puškin’s Use of Antenantiosis,” in Puškin Today, ed. David M. Bethea (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 86–98.
 This sensitivity to the sentimental, as opposed to the monetary (or even cultural), value of a painting found in the first stanza of “Madona” is present in marginal comments Pushkin made for Viazemsky in his article, “O zhizni i sochineniiakh V. A. Ozerova” (On the Life and Works of V. A. Ozerov). Pushkin writes “Ochen´ khorosho” next to the following italicized section of Viazemsky’s text: “До какого же совершенства должны были достигнуть древние трагики, чтобы внушить и нам, отдаленным от них веками, а еще более совершенною противоположностию понятий и чувств, то уважение, которое имеем к их творениям! и если позволено здесь уподобление, то нельзя ли сравнить греческую трагедию, в отношении к нам, с прекрасным портретом Рафаэлевой кисти, который мы ценим по одному искусству живописи, но которым прежний его обладатель дорожил еще более по верному и живому изображению человека, близкого его сердцу?” (What perfection must the ancient tragedians have attained in order to impress even upon us, so far removed from them by centuries and furthermore in complete opposition to their conceptions and feelings, that reverence that we have for their creations! And if a comparison is allowed at this point, then is it not permitted to compare Greek tragedy, in relation to us, to a beautiful portrait by Raphael’s brush, which we value only for the art of painting, but which its first owner treasured still more for its faithful and vivid depiction of a person close to his heart?; my emphasis). A. S. Pushkin, “Zametki na poliakh stat´i P. A. Viazemskogo ‘O zhizni i sochineniiakh V. A. Ozerova,’” in PSS 12: 224–25.
 Eccles. 1: 2. It appears in the Russian Bible as “Суета сует, сказал Екклесиаст, суета сует, – всё суета!”
 Michael Wachtel, “Pushkin’s Sonnets,” in Word, Music, History: A Festschrift for Caryl Emerson, ed. Lazar Fleishman, Gabriella Safran, and Michael Wachtel (Stanford, CA: Stanford Slavic Studies, 2005), 174.