Discover the painting “Sirin and Alkonost – Birds of Sorrow and Joy” from Vasnetsov

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“Sirin and Alkonost” «Сирин и Алконост» by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (Виктор Михайлович Васнецов) is a large oil on canvas of 133 X 250 cm painted in 1896. It is not the artist’s most popular painting, but its symbolism is amazing. “Sirin and Alkonost” is now stored in the State Tretyakov Gallery.

Viktor Vasnetsov painted “Sirin and Alkonost – Birds of Sorrow and Joy”, before the revolutionary upheavals that were soon to happen in the Russian Empire and seemed to foresee the changes that would take place in his homeland. Sirin and Alkonost are two inseparable symbols, a pair of opposites. Grief and joy, misfortune and happiness, black and white… In this painting, Alkonost can be seen as symbolizing the victory of good over evil and, Sirin as the anxiety due to changes.

Sirin and Alkonost are similar mythical bird-maidens, like twins, but at the same time, they are completely different. Sirin is the dark messenger of sadness, who is longing for a lost paradise, and Alkonost is the bright messenger of joy and pleasure. According to Slavic beliefs,  the Sirin bird flies into the apple orchard, being sad and crying. And in the afternoon, the Alkonost bird flies to the same orchard,  rejoicing and laughing, feeling the joy of a bountiful harvest. Alkonost brushes the live dew from its wings endowing the fruits with magical, healing properties.

The branches with bird-maidens sitting on them are on different sides of a tree trunk. Sirin, who is the personification of fading and sadness, is on the left, “bad” side, according to Slavic legends, but it is a side that is closely united with the heart. Alkonost, who embodies bliss, dreams, joy is on the right “good” side.

Short description of the painting

In the forefront of the paintings are two bird-maidens Sirin and Alkonost seated on branches which are from the same tree and at the same level, but on opposite sides of the trunk.

The background of the painting shows a morning orange sky contrasting with the two bird-maidens and tree.



Perched on the left of the tree, the first of the fantastic birds, Sirin is depicted with a human face, neck and shoulders while the rest of her body resembles a bird. Her face is pale and her eyes are filled with tears. She has dark plumage and hair. Her wings are closed in a protective manner, as if hiding from the coming dawn. She is adorned with a beautiful golden crown decorated with animals, golden earrings and a triple necklace.


We can see that Alkonost represents joy and happiness because she has a light colored plumage, with only the top of her wings being brown. As her “opposite twin” she has a bird body and wings with human face and shoulder. Her face is happy and it looks like she is singing. She is wearing a golden crown, earrings and two necklaces Her wings are opened, but like her “opposite twin” she has powerful claws.

In the painting,  Sirin, aspiring to the past, and Alkonost, open to the future, are merged into a single and indivisible whole. They, like unforgettable companions, accompany people throughout their existence, moderating great joy and alleviating heavy grief. Thus, according to the master, a great harmony of life is formed.

I hope you enjoyed this article, you can also check out other paintings by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov.

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