Antokolski, Mark

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ANTOKOLSKI, MARK (Mordecai ; 1843–1902), Russian sculptor. Antokolski was born in Vilna to poor parents. As a child he studied in a ḥeder. He later served as an apprentice to a haberdasher, and then to a wood-carver, and through this medium his artistic talent was discovered. Antokolski was accepted in 1862 at the Academy of Art in St. Petersburg. Two years later, he won the Great Silver Medal for his wood bas-relief, The Jewish Tailor. In 1865 he executed the ivory bas-relief The Miser, in 1867, The Kiss of Judas Iscariot, and in 1869, The Talmudic Debate. In 1869 he completed the bas-relief Inquisition, on which he worked for six years. When he returned to Russia after a study-trip to Berlin, he ceased treating Jewish subjects and began choosing themes from Russian history. His statue Ivan the Terrible (1871) brought him his first great publicity. It was purchased for the Hermitage by Czar Alexander and resulted in Antokolski's election to the council of the Academy. Due to a disease of the lungs he moved to Rome in 1872. Antokolski sculpted Peter the Great, a large marble statue, which was placed in Peterhof. He executed three bronze statues, Jaroslav the Wise, Dmitri Donskoi, and Ivan the Third, and in 1874, Jesus in Chains. In 1875 Antokolski returned to St. Petersburg and did sculptures of the royal family, L.N. Tolstoi, and I. Turgeniev. Noteworthy among his sculptures in this period are the ivory statue Mephisto, the tombstone of Princess Obolenskaya (1875), The Death of Socrates, and Jesus, the Crucified (1876). International fame came at the Paris World Exhibition in 1878.

Antokolski's noteworthy sculptures between 1881 and 1891 include Yermak and Nestor. Most of his works were exhibited in the Tretyakow Museum in Moscow and the Russian Museum in Leningrad.

Even in his early works, he departed from the artistic methods of the official academic school generally accepted in the early 19th century. This school viewed classical sculpture and that of the Christian church as a model. Antokolski became associated with the Russian school of artists, the "Peredvizhniki" (the "transmitters"), which saw as its prime object not artistic expression as such, but rather the social ideal, humanity, and an exaggerated realism. Indeed, Antokolski liked to have sculptures embody a social and humane ideal. As long as this school prevailed in Russia (until the 1890s) Antokolski enjoyed much popularity. Later, however, he had many admirers both in Russia and in Western Europe who saw in him a great artist in whose statues the principle was not outward plastics, but rather the lines of the soul which they embodied.

Antokolski became famous during the antisemitic wave in Russia, prior to the pogroms of the 1880s. At that time, the Russian nationalist press opened an attack on him, describing him as a "Jew" who had no right to portray the heroes of Russian history and Jesus and John the Baptist because it was not possible for him to comprehend them and the spirit of Christianity. His fame was attributed to the influence of influential Jewish bankers (mainly Baron Horace Guenzberg). Turgeniev and the art critic Stasov defended Antokolski; but the artist was severely affected by the antisemitic attacks, and, full of bitterness, he left Russia permanently for Paris. There, in the last years of his life, he lived alone and created almost nothing, with the exception of a large marble statue, Spinoza. Antokolski observed Jewish traditions and was interested in spreading art among the Jews. He supported young Jewish artists and envisaged a Jewish artistic school. In Teḥiyyat ha-Ru'aḥ ("Renewal of the Spirit"), Aḥad Ha-Am accused Antokolski of choosing to depict the monk Nestor, instead of Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, as a figure aloof from the world, though the Gaon and the artists were natives of the same town. Despite this, however, Aḥad Ha-Am recognized the particular Jewish character of Antokolski's artistic work, in which the statue is not a body but the dress for the spirit and idea embodied in it.

Antokolski wrote many essays on artistic problems and an autobiography, which was published in the Russian monthly, Vestnik Yevropy (1887; full manuscript in the Leningrad Public Library). His correspondence, edited by his colleague Stasov, has been published.


M. Grunwald, Mark Antokolski (Ger., 1926); Wininger, Biog, 1 (1925), 134–5.

[Karl Schwarz /

Abba Ahimeir]

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Antokolski, Mark

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