Petersburg as symbolic window to Europe, hewed by Peter the Great, was made famous by Alexander Pushkin in The Bronze Horseman. The physical location of the monument on a cliff in Senate Square gave the horseman a panoramic view of Petersburg, one that may be compared to panoptic vision or imperial control. Click to see it on the map. As we see in Benois's illustration of Pushkin's narrative poem, the Horseman has left his pedestal, and in an apocalyptic gallop through the city, pursues the little man Evgeny who dared to curse him. In Bely's Petersburg, he does the same, thunderously galloping to Dudkin's garret where he "flowed in metals into his veins."
Symbolists often used the window as metaphor of the symbol. Andrey Bely wrote that "the symbol is a window to eternity;" that "music is a window through which flow charmed streams of Eternity and magic." In Petersburg, the young terrorist Dudkin tells Nikolay that he has come to the conviction that "the window is not a window; the window is an aperture to unbounded space." Writing about symbolist poetry, Constantine Balmont distinguished realism from symbolism based on the way each represents a street crowd: a realist would describe it close up and in relation to the everyday; a symbolist would do so from a distance — a window from above that engaged the viewer's imagination. The first image below is a satirical representation of the 1905 revolution from above, the second, a close–up from below.
The window in Christian art is usually the site of divine light. Early Renaissance painting often symbolized the Annunciation as divine rays falling on the Virgin through a window. Zinaida Gippius's poem "Annuncation" ("Blagaia vest'," 1904), written in the first person, figures the Virgin sitting at the window and weaving as she awaits God's love to enter her.
In her novel Twilight of the Spirit, the hero tells his beloved that she is "the window" to his love for God, that she channels his triangulated love of God, just as the archangel mediated the Virgin's immaculate conception.
Gippius's best known poem is the very early "Song" (1893), written in House Muruzi when she lived on the fifth floor and from where she could see the Cathedral of the Transfiguration on Preobrazhensky Square. It is a poem about the transcendence of the everyday into a spiritual realm. Describing Blok's first visit, she wrote in her memoir (My Lunar Friend) that he sat in her room "on the other side of the fireplace, right across from the tall windows. Behind the windows facing Cathedral Square, there was a green pre–spring light in the sky that wouldn't fade."
Окно мое высоко над землею,
И небо кажется пустым и бледным,
Увы, в печали безумной я умираю,
И это желание не знаю откуда,
О, пусть будет то, чего не бывает,
Но плачу без слез о неверном обете,
My window is high above the earth,
Windows as apertures to the outside world from interior space are common in Gippius's poetry. This early poem opens with a window located high above the ground framing the poet's gaze at the pale and empty sky. From skyscape the gaze turns inward: the anguished persona's desire for the unknown is addressed to the sky, as is her yearning for a promised answer — a miracle bringing about that which doesn't exist in this world. The window is both the opening to the outside world and symbol of the desire to reach beyond it into the spiritual realm, but the sky remains pale and empty.
In mundane terms, windows that divide the world between interior and exterior space, or represent the view from above, usually situate the spectator as separated from the outside world.
Traditionally women have been represented at the window more often than men. In painting, such images typically suggest longing for the world outside. But what can we say about portraits against the background of a window as frame? The poet and art critic Konstantin Sunnerberg in Mstislav Dobuzhinsky's Man with Eyeglasses (1902) faces us, not the world outside, standing in stark contrast to the industrial urban cityscape from which the window separates him. It is as if it protects him from urban modernity. The portrait of the poet Philippe Soupault (1922) by Robert Delaunay against the Eiffel tower and Paris through the Window (1913) by Marc Chagall create a similar effect.
Modernity's mobile views through windows were perhaps first associated with the tram, in which the window framed various familiar and unfamiliar cityscapes for the passenger. Nikolay Zabolotsky's poem "Evening Bar" (1926) describes instead the movement along Nevsky Prospect as seen through а bar window:
И жирные автомобили,
And fat automobiles,
Urban window shopping and commodity display staged the show–window as object of spectatorship and desire, often for inaccessible consumer products. Among the images of shop windows on Nevsky Prospect at the beginning of the twentieth century, we see a woman looking into a lingerie shop.
Looking into private windows usually reflects curiosity and voyeuristic desire. Remembering her life in Petersburg, Nina Berberova writes that she
grew fond of looking into other people's windows, especially in the evening, without wanting to share their lives in any way, but only desiring to see and learn about it and later make sense of it. […] Here is a family drinking tea in the evening. Here is a girl who looks like she is studying a Clementi sonatina. Here is a man trying to pull off a woman's long tight dress, here a dog sleeps, having raised one ear and lowering the other, and a kitten in a collar who had found room between its hind legs. (Italics Are Mine)
In Gippius's novella Time, it is the windows that look at the heroine: the Princess imagines "that the empty windows above were looking at her from above, as if they were the empty eye sockets of a skull." The image also suggests the relationship between eyes and soul, expressed in the saying "eyes are windows to the soul." The French poet Theophile Gautier wrote: "Eyes so transparent, /That through them one sees the soul." (The Merezhkovskys would rent an apartment in Paris on Theophile Gautier Avenue.)
If we convert soul into mind, the image could be represented by René Magritte's well–known surrealist "False Mirror" (1928). Although very different aesthetically and conceptually, it may bring us back to Gippius's famous poem "Song" (see above) and its references to window and sky. The title of the painting suggests many questions, among them whether the eye, with its black pupil in the center and blue iris with clouds floating in it, is looking both inward and outward, like a window into interior space as well as the world outside.