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Commedia dell'arte:

Alexandre Benois (1870-1960) was the artistic moving force behind the World of Art movement. It originated in a circle of like-minded friends who dubbed themselves the "Nevsky Pickwickians", and they devoted themselves to rescuing those artistic traditions that had been neglected or denigrated by the Wanderers. Rather than trying to create a purely Russian art, they opened themselves to the best of contemporary European painting, and they promoted the pictorial heritage of the Russian middle ages and 18th century. The culmination of the World of Art group's activities, was the publication of the luxurious journal of the same name which was published between 1898-1904. This journal was the leading organ for the communication of modern ideas on art as a form of mystical experience. Its pages were open to the leading symbolist writers, and its splendid color illustrations reproduced the work of contemporary Russian painters as well as leading practitioners of Art Nouveau from Western Europe. Benois was one of the journal's leading critics (for a sample of his critical writing, see John Bowlt, "Russian Art of the Avant Garde" pp. 3-6), and one of his particular interests was the tradition of the Italian A commedia dell'arte, which he promoted both in his artistic work--as in this gouache of 1905--and in his criticism. This interest would culminate in his designs for the Ballets Russes production of Petrushka in 191. We will now examine the next major movement that influenced the development of Russian theater, the Avant-Garde.

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