Svyatoslav I (c. 942-972), the son of Igor of Kiev and Olga, is recorded in the Russian Primary Chronicle [Povest' Vremyan'nykh Let'] as a born warrior, a brave and valiant soldier. In contrast to his mother Olga, who converted to Orthodox Christianity at the court of Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Svyatoslav remained a pagan, in order to maintain the respect and allegiance of his warriors.
Svyatoslav’s decade-long reign saw the expansion of Kievan Rus' into the Volga River valley, the Pontic steppe, and the Balkans, with the capital moving from Kiev to Pereyaslavets at the mouth of the Danube River. Although ultimately unsuccessful in his goal of conquering Tsar’grad (Slavonic for Constantinople), Svyatoslav had by the end of his life expanded Kievan Rus’ into the largest state in Europe. Due to his military triumphs, he was celebrated by Russian and Ukrainian patriots and artists, who were first drawn to his legend at the time of the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774), which paralleled Svyatoslav's advance towards Constantinople.
Svyatoslav was completed by Lanceray in 1886, one of the last works of the artist before his death. The composition was included in an exhibition of works by Lanceray and Ober that same year, although it was completed too late to be included in the exhibition catalogue (L.A. Dementieva, Album of Models by the Sculptor Eugene Lanceray, Moscow, 2011, p. 266). Svyatoslav proved immediately popular, and it has been included in numerous exhibitions over the course of the last century. It has been suggested that bronze casts of Svyatoslav were presented to military leaders or regiments of particular merit.
A similar bronze model forms part of the State Historical Museum in Moscow. For this and the original wax model, see L.A. Dementieva, op. cit., Moscow, 2011, pp. 266-287, no. 130. Comparable models were sold at Sotheby's, London, 12 June 2008, lot 686, and Sotheby's, New York, 22 April 2009, lot 406.