Serf Intelligentsia

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Serf Intelligentsia


scientists, architects, artists, actors, composers, and people of other creative professions who were serfs. Usually they received an education or the opportunity to practice an art through the assistance of their masters. Most serf-owning landlords were motivated by self-interest.

The serf intelligentsia appeared in Russia in the second half of the 18th century. Most of its members were either former house serfs or descendants of house serfs, although individuals of serf background had made contributions to Russian culture in the 17th and early 18th centuries, notably the architects la. G. Bukhvostov, P. Potapov, D. Miakishev, and V. I. Belozerov. In the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th the serf intelligentsia made an important contribution to the development of various aspects of culture. Among serf architects were A. N. Voronikhin, academician and professor of architecture I. S. Semenov (a serf belonging to A. A. Arakcheev who was granted his freedom in the 1840’s), and I. I. Sviiazev, a teacher at the Mining Institute and the chief architect in the construction of the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow (1840’s). Prominent serf painters included F. S. Rokotov, M. Shibanov, E. D. Kamezhenkov (who became an academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts after his emancipation), I. P. Argunov (died a serf), N. I. Argunov, V. A. Tropinin (academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts), O. A. Kiprenskii, G. V. Soroka (emancipated as a result of the reforms of 1861), T. G. Shevchenko, and P. M. Shmel’kov.

Important representatives of Russian musical culture in the 18th and early 19th centuries who were serfs include the composer M. A. Matinskii, the composer and violinist I. E. Khan-doshkin, S. A. Degtiarev, who was a composer and the director of the Sheremetevs’ choir, the composer A. L. Gurilev, and the choirmaster G. Ia. Lomakin. In literature, besides T. G. Shevchenko, there were I. S. Sibiriakov, I. I. Varakin, S. N. Oleini-chuk, F. N. Slepushkin, and E. I. Alipanov. The serf intelligentsia played an especially important role in the development of Russian theater in the 18th and 19th centuries. The most important actors of the serf theater were P. I. Kovaleva (stage name Zhemchugova), T. V. Shlykova (stage name Granatova), S. F. Mochalov (father of the great tragedian), and M. S. Shchepkin, who was granted his freedom after 17 years on the stage. From the late 18th century to the beginning of the 19th there were more than 170 serf theaters, including the Sheremetevs’ in Moscow, S. S. Kamenskii’s in Orel, and P. I. Esipov’s in Kazan.


Sakulin, P. N. “Krepostnaia intelligentsiia.” In Velikaia reforma, vol. 3. Moscow, 1911.
Poznanskii, V. V. Talanty ν nevole. Moscow, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.