Beneath the Covers: The Art of the Imperial Russian Book presents a visual survey of publications that received official and elite sponsorship during the reigns of Peter the Great (r. 1696–1725) to Nicholas II (r. 1894-1917). Often printed for special occasions, these titles mirror the major cultural events and movements in tsarist Russia.
The majority of the books presented here date to the middle of the nineteenth century when the development of printing and illustration technologies — primarily chromolithography — allowed for oversized, illustrated volumes and large print runs. They were commissioned by the upper echelons of Russian society and lay the foundation for the Silver Age of Russian book arts (1890–1917). The exhibition continues through the transition to the artistic styles of the Mir Iskusstva, or World of Art, movement in the late 1890s and concludes with the development of the avant-garde, futurism, and constructivism movements in the early-twentieth century.
The categories for this exhibition emerge from the common themes featured in the selections, which are drawn mainly from art libraries in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding region. Subjects covered include the secularization of Russian society, travel and exploration of Russia and its empire, architecture, antiquities, royalty, and the military. They are not intended to be comprehensive, but to serve as jumping-off points for inspiration, research, and collaboration.