Victor Vasnetsov’s painting is a free interpretation of the ancient legend from the times of Kievan Rus of The Journeys of Ilya Muromets. The artist depicts the hero in a moment of reflection, before a stone inscribed with the following words: “If you go straight ahead, there will be no life; there is no way forward for he who travels past, walks past or flies past.”
Victor Vasnetsov interprets the legend as a real event, depicting the knight in ethnographically and historically authentic armour and in a natural landscape setting. The artist employs literary devices to contrast the forces of lightness and darkness — the lucid figure of the knight on the white horse, the ominous black raven on the stone, the skull and bones scattered across the steppe. The interpretation of the landscape as the endless Russian plain and the loneliness of the thickset rider on the horse lend an epic ring to the picture.