Dominant as architecture is in Russia until the
1760s, we should not let it overshadow the more modest, but
important development of painting. Peter the Great sent several
young artists to Western Europe for training. West European
painters in turn came to Russia, and the aesthetic principles
of western art and techniques such as oil painting were adopted
in Russia as quickly as other western borrowings. One genre
dominated painting throughout the eighteenth century and beyond:
By the start of the eighteenth century, portrait
painting, within the aesthetic framework of Old Russian art,
had risen to significant status and quality. A style of painting
developed that was somewhere between iconography and portraiture,
known in Russian as "parsuna" (a derivation of the
Latin persona). Parsuna is a type of portrait art combining
stylistic qualities and techniques of traditional Russian icon
painting and the Western European secular portrait. A parsuna,
like an icon, was usually painted on a wooden panel. Unlike
an icon, it was a representation of an ordinary and living human
being. The figure was drawn in a rigid manner, with linear perspective,
so as to fix and commemorate the features of the person depicted.
Ivan Vishniakov (1699-1761) Vishniakovs
"Wife of Mikhail Yakovlev" (after 1756) has features
of the parsuna, such as a lack of perspective, a lack of interest
in facial expression, and a concern with surface decoration.
Perspective, a development of renaissance painting, is, by its
very nature less likely to be of primary importance in close-up
portraiture than in other forms of painting.
Ivan Argunov (1721-1802), had been a serf
in the wealthy Sheremetiev family, but benefited from that familys
interest in art. Argunovs "Portrait of a Peasant
Woman in Russian Costume" (1784) shows the beginning of
Russias interest in peasant life and folk costumes.
Losenko (1731-73) benefited from the opening of the Imperial
Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg in 1757. He studied at
the Academy 1758-1760, then studied and worked in Paris and
Rome. Losenko was one of the first Russian professors at the
Academy. Whereas his predecessors had been mostly portrait-painters,
Losenko attempted historical subjects. His "Vladimir and
Rogneda" (1770), is the first painting on a theme of Russian
history. Losenko based his canvas on Mikhail Lomonosovs
"Russian History," rather than drawing from the Bible
or Greek and Roman history, as in the Western European school.
Depicted is Prince Vladimir of Novgorod, who had proposed marriage
to Rogneda, princess of Polotsk. Being refused, Vladimir waged
war on Polotsk, killing the princesss father and brothers
and forcefully made her his wife. In keeping with classicisms
critique of despotism, Losenko shows the moment of repentance
when Vladimir begs forgiveness for his deeds. Resonating with
the principles of classicism are local Russian features. The
faces of the warriors are typically Russian and the maiden is
wearing a Russian dress. But the mosaic floor, antique vase
in the corner, and pilasters on the walls are purely classical.
The costumes resemble theatrical ones, as do some of the expressions
on the faces.
Through this work, Losenko moved away from abstract
idealization of figures towards capturing human passions in
painting. Nonetheless, Losenko had no followers in historical
painting among his contemporaries. Portrait painting continued
to dominate Russian art and it would be another two generations
until painters appeared who were equal to the challenges of
representing Russian history in painting.
||Fedor Rokotov (1735-1808) had worked
with the first professor of painting at the Petersburg
Academy. He specialized in the so-called "chamber
portrait," or intimate portrait, which at the time
was a new genre in Russian art. He created an entire gallery
of refined images of women, portraying their nobility
as well as mysteriousness, concealing a complex inner
world. One example is the "Portrait of Countess Elizaveta
Vasilevna Santi" (1785). His pictures suggest
a subdued lighting and focus the viewers attention
on the subtlety of the subjects features. His intimate
portraits, often of an unusual oval shape, portray the
ideal of Woman in the era of Enlightenment: free and unfettered
by the fuss of day-to-day life.
Levitskii (1735-1822), was a Ukrainian, the son of a priest.
He came to St. Petersburg in 1756 and became an associate of
the Academy in 1769. According to W. Bruce Lincoln: "Portraits
became secular icons through which eighteenth-century aristocrats
could perceive the worldly realm in which they hoped to live,
just as earlier icons had offered their ancestors brief glimpses
into the world of the spirit and the kingdom of God" (78).
Levitskii invented the character of St. Petersburg society.
In his portraits, he created the image of an aristocracy to
be emulated. In distinction to his predecessors, he also succeeded
in finding a proper type of portrait and style of interpretation
for each class and kind of person.
For example, "The Architect Kokorinov"
(1769-70) was painted for the reorganized Academy of Fine Arts
in 1770. This was a ceremonial portrait in its conception. For
inauguration of the academy Kokorinov had ordered a new suit
of lilac satin and a white fur-trimmed coat, which gave Levitskii
the opportunity to show his mastery of textiles. Despite the
genre of ceremonial portrait, Levitskii portrayed his model
freely and naturally. In contrast to the faces drawn by Vishniakov,
for example, Kokorinov is shown expressively, with dignity and
independence mixed with a shade of fatigue. His plan for the
Academy of Fine Arts is spread out on a bureau to his side.
The Empress Catherine commissioned Levitskii to
paint her favorite pupils at the Smolny Institute for Noble
Maidens. Once completed, Levitskiis "Smolianki"
suite decorated the Great Palace at Peterhof, until it was acquired
by the Russian Museum. Perhaps the best known painting from
this series is "Princess Khovanskaia and Mlle. Khrushcheva"
(1773), acting their roles in a play given before the Empress.
Again, his mastery of textures can be seen in the contrast between
the mans coat, a bit too large for Khrushcheva, and the
lighter, sheer fabric worn by the young princess. He captures
how the girls show off and mimic their elders, but also captures
traces of adolescent awkwardness.
Borovikovskii (1757-1825) came from a family of icon-painters
in Ukraine. Its not insignificant that dominant painters
such as Borovikovskii as well as Levitskii were Ukrainian. In
the Ukrainian lands, post-renaissance art was already known
because of links to Poland. When Prince Potemkin arranged Catherine
the Greats triumphal journey through the Crimea in 1787,
he hired Borovikovskii to decorate a temporary palace. Catherine
was so pleased with his work that she brought him back to St.
Petersburg. At first he did state portraits of the imperial
family, which were rather unremarkable. Where Borovikovskii
stands out, however, is in his portraits of women and girls.
Often in informal dress, in relaxed and natural poses against
a park-like background, they demonstrate, in accordance with
the principles of sentimentalism, the relation of human personality
to nature. Sentimentalism, an important development of the late
eighteenth century, was characterized by unity with nature as
a counterbalance to convention. This is illustrated in Borovikovskiis
"Ekaterina Nikolaevna Arsenieva" (second half of the
1790s). The subject is depicted as a shepherd girl, with a straw
hat, a simple dress, and an apple, on the green backdrop of