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In this article I explore how book illustrations played a crucial role in the emergence of Alexander Pushkin's Mednyi vsadnik (The Bronze Horseman, 1833) at the heart of Stalin-era literary culture and public education. A contested part of the Soviet canon in the 1920s, The Bronze Horseman made a remarkable come-back in the 1930s thanks to the Stalinist campaigns to exalt Pushkin in fanatical jubilee celebrations of 1937 and 1949, reclaim Russian classical literature and rehabilitate heroes from the national past such as Peter the Great. This article looks at how six illustrated versions of the poem by five different artists reflected, and were manipulated to reflect, Stalin-era cultural messaging. I discuss how editors and publishers strategically re-positioned the modernist Bronze Horseman illustrations by World of Art leader Alexander Benois, recasting them as children's literature. I go on to examine the complicated relationship between three new socialist realist illustrated versions of The Bronze Horseman in 1949, by Igor' Ershov, Mikhail Grigor'ev and Mikhail Rodionov, and competing values placed on Siege of Leningrad commemoration, the ban on Leningrad exceptionalism and the 1949 Pushkin jubilee itself. Finally, I comment on the pivotal role played by the Stalinist era in the inception of The Bronze Horseman as illustrated literature for mass consumption and a core part of the public school curriculum.