All right, so this is a couple of hundred years early, but I love this map because the layout of the town has barely changed: then as now, significant features include churches, more churches, Nariqala, and even more churches. Also, check out the creepy sun (that is something you get less of these days).
Nikanor Chernetsov ambled around the Caucasus with his brother Grigory doing landscape painting and being archetypal Penniless Artists. They did quite a lot of nice ones of Tbilisi.
This is by Lermontov, who wrote A Hero of Our Time in 1839 and is thus responsible for all of the psychologically messed up Russian antiheroes for the next century. Raskolnikov: all his fault.
This is an illustration from a French encyclopedia, and seems to be fudging rather as to whether those are churches with really high steeples or mosques, but manages to avoid adding too many towering mountains.
Gagarin was a friend and admirer of Lermontov, and he followed him to the Caucasus when Lermontov was exiled there. He stuck around after Lermontov died in a duel, which was what all the cool kids did back then, and drew a lot.
Another Gagarin. After fighting in the Caucasian wars (there were quite a lot of these), he settled in Tbilisi where he went around building theatres and restoring frescoes in the old churches, which obviously makes him A Good Thing.
This is from “An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire”, which is a very jolly proto-guidebook from 1855 which notes that Georgia is known for its excellent melons and pomegranates, and also that Tiflis is full of churches and sulphureous springs, which goes to show that some things don’t change.
This is from an 1856 German encyclopedia and makes Tbilisi look much flatter and tidier and more like a medieval walled town than I think it ever did, but you have to admire the optimism.
Aivazovsky was a Russian of Armenian descent, and was one of those landscape painters that just don’t stop, ever, and left something like 9,000 works, but this was his famous one of Tbilisi. It has good camels.
Lagorio was another Russian painter influenced by Aivazovsky, but I love this one of his; somehow he miraculously manages to resist exaggerating the landscape.
This is annoyingly difficult to source, but I do like the baths here.
William Simpson was a Scottish war artist (like a war correspondent/photographer, but with a better beard) who got about pretty much everywhere in and around the British Empire. Here he is in slightly more peaceable mode, marking “the opening of the railway to Samarkand” in 1888, although you would have had to take a boat first to get on it. This one wins the award for most impressive scenery exaggeration for dramatic effect, but you can’t deny it looks good.
This is from an 1890 book called Russian pictures. I have no idea what all those camels are doing standing in the river, but I like it.
Today is Georgian Orthodox Christmas (and a day off, result), and to celebrate here are some of my favourite paintings and prints of Tbilisi in the 1800s.
In the nineteenth century,Tbilisi (Tiflis or Teflis if you’re being fancy) was simultaneously somewhere you could be exiled if you were causing trouble in the St Petersburg literary scene (*cough* Lermontov, Pushkin et al) and destination in its own right where you could take the waters and go into rhapsodies over Georgian women, wine and scenery. When this influx of reluctant and enthusiastic visitors weren’t bathing, fighting duels, inventing the Russian novel or comparing the size of their beards, they sketched and painted like mad. There appears to have been a general tendency to exaggerate the scenery, since of course everyone knew that the Caucasus was a land of towering peaks and dramatic cliffs and Tbilisi was damned well going to have both, from every angle.
Still, I love how recognisable the old town is – plonk a TV tower on top of Mtatsminda, and you’d get a very similar view today. Click on any of the photos above to start the slideshow.