Kornilov Bilibin plate #5 “The Red Horseman”

Kornilov Bilibin plate #5 - "The Red Horseman" after Illustration for the book "Vasilisa the Beautiful"

The Red Rider. Allegory of Sun.
Illustration for the book “Vasilisa the Beautiful”, 1900 a Russian fairy tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev.

Vasilisa was a merchant’s daughter. She was 8 when her mother fell ill. On her deathbed, she gave Vasilisa a tiny wooden doll with instructions to give it a little bit of food and water, and in return the doll would help her.
Eventually the father remarried a woman with two daughters. Her stepmother was very cruel to her, but with the help of the doll, Vasilisa was able to perform all the tasks imposed on her. When young men came wooing, the stepmother rejected them all because it was not proper for the younger to marry before the older, and none of suitors wished to marry Vasilisa’s stepsisters.
After the merchant had to embark on a long journey, his wife sold the house and moved the family to a gloomy hut by the dark forest. One day they ran out of fire to light candles, so they they sent Vasilisa to fetch the light from Baba Yaga, an old witch, who lived inside the forest. While she was walking thru the woods, a mysterious man rode by her in the hours before dawn, all dressed in white, riding a white horse; then a similar rider in red. Finally she came upon a little cabin that stood on chicken legs and was surrounded by a fence made of human bones. A black rider, like the white and red before him, rode past her, and the night fell, and the eye sockets of the skulls lit up in the dark.
Baba Yaga told Vasillissa that she must earn the fire by performing certain tasks. If she fails, she will die. For the first task, Vasilisa was to clean the house and yard, cook supper, and pick out black grains and wild peas a quarter measure of wheat. Baba Yaga left, and Vasilissa cooked, while her little doll did everything else. At dawn, the white rider passed; at noon, the red. As the black rider rode past, Baba Yaga returned and couldn’t complain about anything. She bade three pairs of disembodied hands seize the grain to grind it, and set Vasilisa the same tasks for the next day, with the addition of cleaning poppy seeds that had been mixed with dirt. Again, the doll did it all except for cooking the meal. Baba Yaga set the three pairs of hands to press the oil the poppy seeds.
Vasilisa asked about the horsemen’s identities and was told that the white one was Day, the red one was the Sun, and the black one was the Night.
Baba Yaga inquired into the cause of Vasilissa’s success. On hearing the answer “by my mother’s blessing”, Baba Yaga sent Vasilisa home with a luminously-eyed skull, to provide light for her in-laws. This light would burn Vasilissa’s stepmother and stepsisters to ashes…
Later, Vasilisa the Beautiful became a dress maker’s assistant in Russia’s capital city. She got so skilled at her work that the czar himself noticed her skill. He later married Vasilisa. The END 🙂