January 01, 2016

A Bear's Feast

Menu for a dinner held January 14, 1912, at the restaurant “Medved”. Designed by I. Ia. Bilibin. Tip. R. R. Golike
and A. I. Vil’borg. Sankt-Peterburg, 1912.
© The State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg.

On January 14, 1912, the St. Petersburg restaurant Medved’ (The Bear) hosted a private banquet for a delegation of British Parliamentarians and Anglican priests. In a city where most of the fine restaurants served French food and listed their dishes in French, The Bear stood out for its traditional Russian fare, and notably, the menus were written in Russian. The banquet menu reproduced here was designed by Ivan Bilibin, an artist perhaps most famous for his stylized illustrations of Russian fairy tales.

Bilibin’s design is a sumptuous mix of Russian folk style and the heavy black outlining characteristic of Art Nouveau, a blend of folk ornamentation and abstraction. The menu also displays some of Bilibin’s signature gestures, such as sirins – the mythical half-female, half-avian creatures who portend paradisiacal harmony and joy. Bilibin’s organization of the menu into frames recalls the folk-art form of the lubok, in which descriptive text appears below a central image.

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