The Illustrated Mobster: Tattoos of the Russian Mafia

Ransom Riggs

You may not know or care much about the Russian mob right now, but as Oscar night approaches, I can guarantee you'll be hearing more about them. That's largely because of Viggo Mortensen's stunning, Best Actor-nominated performance as Nikolai in Eastern Promises, in which he plays the henchman of a Russian mobster who favors him over his own son. It's harrowing, bloody and surprising, and features some very affecting scenes of Viggo receiving the intricate tattoos that bind him to the Russian mob for life. The tattoos reveal his background, beliefs and criminal history, becoming a coded language all their own, which only a special few can read.

Even if we can't understand what they mean, though, we can appreciate their strange beauty. I find these pictures are gritty, but affecting.

(Thanks to EnglishRussia for the link.)

If anyone has any theories as to their meanings, please chime in! I've heard that tattoos of Lenin or Stalin are supposed to be protective, in some talismanic way, and representations of dangerous animals attest to the dangerousness of their owner.