Petersburgers Protest Destruction of Mephistopheles Bas-Relief
August 30, 2015
Novaya Gazeta reports that a popular assembly to protest the destruction of a bas-relief featuring an image of Mephistopheles took place today, August 30, on Lakhtinskaya Street.
“This is not a rally; we are not using amplifiers and posters. People have just come out to show how they feel about vandalism,” said Alexander Kobrinsky, a deputy in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly.
About five hundred people attended the rally. They attached a temporary banner with a photo of the bas-relief to the facade of the building from which it had been knocked down.
The people who attended the assembly sang Mikhail Novitsky’s song, “This is our city, this is our city, / We will stand up for it! / This is our city, this is our city, / We will defend it from wild vandals!”
They also played a recording of Feodor Chaliapin’s rendition of the aria “Sérénade de Méphistophélès,” from Gounoud’s opera Faust, on their cell phones.
The Mephistopheles bas-relief on Lakhtinskaya was demolished on August 26. A petition has been posted on Change.org demanding that those involved in the sculpture’s destruction be brought to justice. It has gathered nearly 2,300 signatures of the necessary five thousand. [As of this writing, 4,887 people had signed the petition — TRR.]
Mephistopheles Facade Facing Orthodox Church Taken Down In St. Petersburg
August 27, 2015
The Moscow Times
A 100-year-old bas-relief depicting the mythical demon Mephistopheles has been removed from the facade of a historical building in St. Petersburg overlooking the nearby construction site of a new Orthodox church, local inhabitants said.
Mephistopheles is a mythical demon that appears as the devil in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust. The bas-relief of the character had been a feature of one of St. Petersburg’s minor landmarks, a building on Lakhtinksaya Street known as the House with Mephistopheles.
Local news outlets and social media users reported that the relief was removed from the building without explanation on Wednesday. According to one Facebook user, historian Dmitry Bratkin, the house was designed by 19th and early 20th century architect Alexander Lishnevsky.
“Naturally, the monument was under protection,” Bratkin said. “Or had been. Fifteen minutes ago, Mephistopheles was knocked off the facade.”
One resident of the building, Kirill Alexeyev, told independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta that “workers showed up at 10 in the morning, did not introduce themselves, and did not say who had sent them.”
Instead, the workers asked the building’s residents to move their cars away from the building to avoid being damaged by falling plaster, and then proceeded with the removal of Mephistopheles, Alexeyev said.
“I said: What have you done, this is after all a monument protected by the state,” he said, Novaya Gazeta reported. “They responded: Not to worry, it is old and dilapidated, and it will be restored in plaster.”
The promise of recreating a version of the bas-relief in plaster indicated that the demolition had been a “planned action,” supposedly approved by the authorities, instead of a grassroot stunt by activists displeased by the sight of a mythical demon, Alexeyev suggested.
However, a spokesperson for the city’s architectural monument preservation department, known by its Russian acronym KGIOP, denied any knowledge of the incident, Novaya Gazeta reported.
The removal of the historical bas-relief has also prompted protests by some local lawmakers. St. Petersburg municipal legislator Boris Vishnevsky has sent a complaint to KGIOP, while his fellow lawmaker Alexander Kobrinsky said he would ask police to open a criminal investigation on charges of destruction of cultural heritage sites, St. Perersburg’s Fontanka news agency reported.
Some commentators also claimed that the removal of sculpture might be connected to the construction of an Orthodox church that would face the House with Mephistopheles.
“A couple of days ago, a cross was placed on the roof of the church that is under construction across [from the building],” Bratkin wrote on his Facebook page. “Yesterday, some sprightly people showed up and took photographs of the facade with the Mephistopheles, and today at 3 in the afternoon, a worker hung down from the roof and — whack, whack, whack.”
Natalya Levina, another local woman, said her neighbors had spotted “people from the church” looking around and inquiring about the “demon,” the Metro news agency reported.
Historical preservation activists have asked police and the construction firm that is building the church about who had authorized removing the Mephistopheles image, Levina was quoted as saying. Both organizations denied having any knowledge of who authorized its removal, she said, according to the report.
Lishnevsky, the architect, died during World War II after being evacuated to a hospital in Yaroslavl — a historical city 250 kilometers to the northeast of Moscow. Much of his work survived the devastation of the war and the secular policies of the Soviet Union.
The Mephistopheles bas-relief was created in 1910-1911, Fontanka reported.
All photos by and courtesy of David Frenkel. First article translated by The Russian Reader