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“The Master and Margarita” by M. Bulgakov

© The thesis, book design, binding and illustrations

by Diana Bychkova


Supervisor: Vasil Chebanic

Teacher: Vitaly Mitchenko

Year of completion: 2002, reworked in 2011. 


The theme of the thesis:

“Characters of "The Master and Margarita" and their graphic embodiment”.

Illustrations were chosen on the competition and exhibited at the Ukrainian Union of Artists, Kiev, 2002. 

The thesis is written on the basis of research on Mikhail Bulgakov’s literary works and my work on the illustrations and book design of the novel “The Master and Margarita”.

During the work, I thoroughly researched the archive materials in the Bulgakov Museum in Kiev and in the Lenin Library in Moscow.

All existent critical essays written by researchers of Bulgakov’s works were studied, the film adaption of the novel and theatrical performances were viewed, the illustrations of different periods were collected.

Until today the manuscripts and memories of Bulgakov have always been classified and until now have remained inaccessible for researchers, the works of a literary critic Lidij Yanovskaj were my most reliable source – she has an opportunity to study the writer’s life and works and she researched the manuscripts only in a short period of time, a few years before the death of the writer’s wife, the friendship with whom brought Yanovskaj to the creation of important books filled of little-known facts and discoveries. Then the author’s manuscripts, being passed to the archive of the Lenin Library, were classified and closed. When working on my thesis, I managed to get a few photocopies of handwritten notebooks that I used in my illustrations as visual material, combining the manuscripts with my drawings.

I became so keen on the beautiful author’s handwriting, on studying and coping his lines and phrases, that in a certain moment I noted that my own handwriting was being modified. The manuscripts, possessing incredible power, have opened the way to the author’s creative thought, and some time later, while creating  my illustrations, I had an evident feeling that the author’s shadow stayed behind my back and observed my work.

I also visited the places described in the novel, collecting photographic material and other documentary information about old Moscow and the author's contemporaries, who were the prototypes of Bulgakov’s characters.

All that reflected in the graphic embodiment of the novel. And, of course, the book design obtained a documentary-artistic aspect.


Book project.

10 double-page illustrations before chapters created in a technique of collage: the combination of photos – still life, created and performed in a darkroom, with my ink drawings and with the author’s manuscripts.  Plus 230 little ink drawings are spread throughout the book.

The bookbinding is made from natural black leather with relief print. The manuscripts were reproduced in the cut edge.


Ex Libris on wood


The short comment to the illustrations

Following the author’s idea of placing a “novel in a novel”, I created two parallel constructions in the illustrations that, intertwining with each other, create the whole idea of the book.

The main “leading” construction is composed of a sequence of still lives. The composition, based on the intuitive combination of the objects, their position and lighting, is not designed to represent literally the story’s theme, but its symbolical meaning.

For example:

The still life for the chapter “Never talk to strangers”: the small pale vase in the forefront represents the young poet Ivan Bezdomny, the lemon represents Berlioz’s cut head, and the transparent man is made from glass.


Chapter “Pontius Pilate”: the ancient book, the burned out candle, the transparent clock symbolize eternity, timelessness.

The still life for the chapter “The incident at Griboyedov”: the burning manuscripts in the cup represent the fire at the writers’ club.


Chapter “Ivan is split in two”: the absurd situation at the hospital is placed on the plate: mixed salad, onion, the cellophane reflections, and two lemons as the symbol of the poet’s individuality splitting in two.


Chapter “Praise be to the Rooster!”: the bread caught in the cobweb symbolizes the theater in the shade of Voland’s black magic; the clay apple symbolizes the  director’s aching head; the brightly lit light bulb symbolizes the cockerel that saves the director from the vampires by crowing.

Chapter “News from Yalta”


Chapter “The day without peace”


There are 10 two-page illustrations in total. The first thing that will catch the reader’s eye when discovering the illustrations will be the still life, which is supposed by ink drawings to create a certain emotion in the reader. Thanks to that, all objects around the still lives will be viewed with a specified attitude. To separate the two plot lines in the illustrations, the characters around Pontius Pilate are presented as silhouettes.







Besides, the still lives, found inside the whole book construction, are designed to add a rhythmic organization. They appear at the right moments adding a certain rhythm, yet the 230 small drawings among them won’t interrupt the reader’s reading (they are dispersed in the text). Their role is to create and support the atmosphere through the representation of details of everyday life, architecture, streets, landscapes, etc. Figuratively – it is like the ticking of a clock’s pendulum: it can be heard for as long as you listen to it, but if you are distracted, you forget about it; in the moment of a pause in your thoughts or in a talk, the clock’s ticking imprints again in your consciousness. But the clocks have not stopped and nothing has interrupted the rhythm and time, irrespective of us having heard the pendulum’s ticking or not, it continues its journey.











 “The manuscripts do not burn”… This phrase has become a pithy saying and carries in itself such a powerful philosophical meaning that it has grown in a separate theme, and this is why the printed fragment of still life with burning manuscripts is placed on the cover.