Meme-ry Wars and Ivan IV

An exhibition called “The First Tsar. Moscow. Grozny” opened at the Zaryadye Park in Moscow and will run through October 31, 2021. This is the first of ongoing exhibits slated for the museum-like attraction which is referred to as the “Podklet” (Подклет) ‘project’ [1].

Site of the Podklet project, the “Old English Court”

Podklet refers to the stone basement which is present at the museum site and where the rotating exhibits will be housed. Notably the Zaryadye Park location is on the site of the so-called Old English Court where Ivan IV granted a residence to English merchant-diplomats which “became the first official representation of a foreign power in Moscow.” [2]

According to Elena Voitsekhovskaya, head of the scientific and educational projects department of Zaryadye Park: “the Podklet project will become a kind of a catalog of personal informal studies of various historical phenomena, their factology and trace in the mass consciousness. And the premises of the white-stone basement are an intellectual attraction, a cabinet of rarities placed in a multimedia field.”  [2]

Zaryadye Park was the first new park in Moscow in 50 years. It opened in 2017 in a ceremony inaugurated by Vladimir Putin [3]. Coinciding with a national security mandate to protect the Russian historical memory, the announcement of the exhibition at Zaryadye also appears amidst a flurry of other semi-official rehabilitations and popularizations of Ivan IV which seem to have been pushed by ideologists close to Putin’s inner circle [4].

In additional news, there was the recently-announced re-release of Sergei Eisenstein’s WW2-era “Ivan the Terrible” films supported by “the Federal State Unitary EnterpriseCinema ConcernMosfilm” (Мосфильм) [5].  Eisenstein’s films were in their own time notable for being propaganda works commissioned by Joseph Stalin.

In addition to a “multimedia component supplemented by fragments of Sergei Eisenstein’s film epic Ivan the Terrible (1944-1945) and the multi-part film Grozny (2020)“, the main attractions of the Ivan IV Podklet exhibit seem to be displays of Soviet professor Mikhail Gerasimov’s 1960’s-era reconstruction of Ivan’s bust, as well as contemporary artist Denis Shiryaev’s neural network-generated likeness of the tsar. Shiryaev’s image was trained on Gerasimov’s model as well as a database of 70,000 other faces [2].

Mikhail Gerasimov’s reconstruction of Ivan IV

In May 2021, Shiryaev had released a similar neural network-generated image of Grozny donned with the Monomakh Cap, an image which he specifically cautioned was derived from a “method [that] is not historically accurate” and “is just a generation of a possible face close to the bust.” [6]

Denis Shiryaev’s neural network-generated image of Ivan Grozny (denissexy / Telegram)

(I couldn’t find an image of Shiryaev’s work from the Podklet exhibit yet, so there may be a difference.)

While the Podklet project may ostensibly demonstrate a science-focused take on the past – especially in regards to the forensically-reconstructed or computationally-generated visage of Ivan IV; it should be noted that there is no good historical likeness of him to measure against.

The most contemporary image of him which exists is an icon from the late 16th century or early 17th century and housed at the Copenhagen museum, but even this is likely posthumous.

Late 16th or early 17th century icon of Ivan IV (National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen)

The only way we can really know for sure what Ivan IV looked like is the inevitable future cloning project by a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

Ivan the Terrible Husband

Given the ongoing history of allegations of information warfare and Russophobia around Ivan IV by contemporary Russian ideologists – especially in a context critical of the English –  it will be interesting to see if the location of the Podklet at the Old English Court plays into these strategic narratives [7].



[1] Lyudmila Egorova, «В Зарядье открылась выставка с бюстом Ивана Грозного» (“An exhibition with a bust of Ivan the Terrible opened in Zaryadye“),  Russian Planet, September 17 2021,

[2] Inna Lutovinova, «Выставка, посвященная Ивану Грозному, открылась в парке “Зарядье”» (“Exhibition dedicated to Ivan the Terrible opened in Zaryadye Park“),, September 18 2021,

[3] (No author listed), “Zaryadye Park Opens in Moscow”,, September 9 2017,

[4] Dina Khapaeva, «Сажающее Средневековье» (“Sowing the Middle Ages”) , Novaya Gazeta, August 2  2021,

[5] (No author listed), «Шедевр Сергея Эйзенштейна «Иван Грозный» в повторном кинопрокате с 7 октября!» (“Sergei Eisenstein’s masterpiece “Ivan the Terrible” in re-release from October 7!“), Art Moskovia, September 12 2021,
https:// shedevr-sergeya-ejzenshtejna-ivan-groznyj-v-povtornom-kinoprokate-s-7-oktyabrya.html

[6] Danila Titorenko, «Нейросети создали фотопортрет Ивана Грозного» (“Neural networks created a photo portrait of Ivan the Terrible“),, May 5 2021,

[7] Michael Hotchkiss, “Princess Diana Conspiracy Theories: Russian Disinformation and Active Measures?“, August 24 2021,,