Richard Stites, 1931 - 2010
Creating nests of cultural life required more than money. Only about 2 to 3 percent of nobles could afford to build and maintain the two hundred or so staff required, say, for a large house, church, planned garden, and other amenities; and to hire foreign conductors, musicians, ballet masters, and set designers. The middling and poorer Maecenases of art had little alternative but to deploy their serfs on the front lines of creativity and performance. But even the grandees drew on their serf population for rank-and-file performers. The belief, just starting to erode in other parts of Europe, that artists were hardly better than artisans or servants remained intact in Russia; playing a violin or dancing on stage seemed only a step away from craft skills or household and farm chores. Owners of large estates could draw from armies of field hands, drivers, under-stewards, and various technical workers. For more modest landlords, household serfs made up the recruitment pool: cooks, scullery maids, butlers, and valets. Serf artists of all kinds could be differentiated and segregated from field serfs and domestics in treatment, apparel, and even housing. Just as often, they shared the status of stable boys, millers, blacksmiths, and domestics, even alternating in these roles on a regular basis. An ex-serf recalled in his memoirs how owners inhibited initiative and pride of work by shuttling serfs from farm to house, turning cooks to coachmen, lackeys to clerks or shepherds. [p. 30]
The New York Times obituary for Richard Stites, longtime professor at Georgetown University, is here.