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Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1876-1942) was a popular Russian graphic artist and stage designer. He created a special “Bilibin” style in book illustration; a style which is firmly rooted in the stylized forms of Russian folk and medieval art, such as the lubok (cheap popular print), embroidery, woodcuts, and illuminated manuscripts. Bilibin’s use of the precise line associates him with the graphic work of Art Nouveau. Bilibin was best-known for his illustrations to fairy-tales and bylinas (old Russian epic poems), in which he managed to recreate the magical and colorful world of Russian folklore, and for his illustrations to the works of Pushkin and Lermontov. Bilibin also did a good deal of work for the theater. He designed sets and costumes for the operas The Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, Prince Igor, and Boris Godunov, which were staged in the leading theaters of Petersburg, Moscow, Paris and Prague.
Today Bilibin’s works can be found in the Russian Museum (Leningrad), the Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow), and in private collections in the USSR and abroad.
The Death of Koschei the Deathless or Marya Morevna (Russian: Марья Моревна) is a Russian fairy tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki and included by Andrew Lang in The Red Fairy Book. The character Koschei is an evil immortal man who menaces young women with his magic.
Ivan Tsarevitch had three sisters, the first was Princess Marya, the second was Princess Olga, the third was Princess Anna. After his parents die and his sisters marry three wizards, he leaves his home in search of his sisters. He meets Marya Morevna, the beautiful warrior princess, and marries her. After a while she announces she is going to go to war and tells Ivan not to open the door of the dungeon in the castle they live in while she will be away. Overcome by the desire to know what the dungeon holds, he opens the door soon after her departure and finds Koschei, chained and emaciated.
Koschei asks Ivan to bring him some water; Ivan does so. After Koschei drinks twelve buckets of water, his magic powers return to him, he tears his chains and disappears. Soon after Ivan finds out that Koschei took Marya Morevna away, and chases him. When he gets him for the first time, Koschei tells Ivan to let him go, but Ivan doesn’t give in, and Koschei kills him, puts his remains into a barrel and throws it into the sea. Ivan is revived by his sisters’ husbands, powerful wizards, who can transform into birds of prey. They tell him Koschei has a magic horse and Ivan should go to Baba Yaga to get one too, or else he won’t be able to defeat Koschei. After Ivan stands Yaga’s tests and gets the horse, he fights with Koschei, kills him and burns his body. Marya Morevna returns to Ivan, and they celebrate his victory with his sisters and their husbands.
Presenting the illustrations from the First Edition of Maria Morevna Russian Fairy tales. Published by St Peterburg State Securities Procurement, 1903. With nine color plates by Ivan Bilibin.