Countess Varvara Sheremetev was one of the richest women in Russia in the 1760s. She had a Kalmyk serf named Annushka, whom she educated.

Ivan Argunov, Portrait of Kalmyk girl, 1767, The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Wiki Commons.

Ivan Argunov, Portrait of Kalmyk girl, 1767, The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Wiki Commons.

This portrait of Annushka is by a fellow serf, Ivan Argunov, who belonged to Sheremetev’s father. Very little is known about Annushka besides her name and location, and that Argunov painted her in 1767. She holds in her hands a picture of her owner/benefactress Sheremetev.

This is a striking portrait for several reasons. Firstly, lower class people were typically represented as generic stereotypes. So to have an individualized portrait is unique indeed. Kalmyks were a group from western Mongolia, which accounts for Annuska’s dark and Asiatic appearance. Representations of servants, especially of other cultures, were also typically in a subservient state, not sitting for a formal portrait with a lovely dress, hat and jewelry. Clearly the relationship between the Countess and Annushka was special.

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