Ivanov (1806-58). It could be argued that Alexander Ivanov,
son of the history painter Andrei Ivanov, was the most significant
Russian artist of the second quarter of the nineteenth century,
although he spent most of his life in Italy. His philosophical
insight, Romantic-Realist style, and innovative studies characterize
the directions of Russian art in the nineteenth century.
Uniquely gifted and trained to
fulfill his potential, Ivanov lived in the city of his birth,
St. Petersburg, until his departure for Italy. He studied initially
with his father, a professor at the St. Petersburg's Academy of
Arts, and became an official student at the Academy in 1817. In
1830 the artist moved to Rome with support from the Society for
the Encouragement of Artists. While he devoted much of his time
to copying the works of the Italian masters, he also created his
own compositions. He focused on Old and New Testament subjects
since they offered the psychological complexity that fired his
imagination and tested his facility as a realist.
"The Appearance of Christ to
Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection" was conceived by the artist
as a test of his abilities to execute an even more ambitious multi-figure
composition. The depiction of complex emotion in the kneeling
figure of the Magdalene particularly captured the attention of
Ivanov was obsessed with the
artist's power to express nuances of emotion. While twentieth-century
artists and critics perhaps place less emphasis on the expression
of emotion, any evaluation of Ivanov's oeuvre must take that aspect
of his work into account. The artist's peers were so impressed
by "The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection"
that they awarded him the title of Academician.
After 1833, when Briullov's "Last
Day of Pompeii" created such a sensation, Ivanov began to consider
doing a similarly large work. A deeply religious man, Ivanov was
taken with the subject of the first appearance of Jesus to the
people announced by John the Baptist. Ivanov chose the episode
because he felt it embraced the religious, historical, and philosophical
ideas with which he was most concerned: the spiritual and moral
transformation of mankind.
Appearance of Christ to the People" (1836-1855) combines a number
of separate events in the Gospel: the preaching of John and his
baptism of the people in the foreground and the coming of Christ
in the distance.
Ivanov intended for his painting
to surpass in spiritual profundity and natural truth all previous
religious painting in the West. So he undertook the most extensive
studies, and consulted every artist whose opinion he respected.
The result, of course, was that this work took indefinitely long
and that he changed his composition again and again.
When the painting was finally
exhibited in St. Petersburg in 1858, after 20 years of painful
effort, it failed to rouse the enthusiasm that had greeted Briullov's
work. Ultimately, the work can be called a noble failure. His
figures are serious and full of varied feeling. The emotions of
the listeners range from doubt and skepticism to sudden, overwhelmed
conviction. But there's an unresolved tension between the pursuit
of idealism and a commitment to realism, too much of a contrast
between the naturalistic background and the classical, contrived
groups in the foreground. By the middle of the 19th
century the conflicting claims of naturalism and idealism could
no longer be reconciled; when the former took precedence it necessarily
destroyed the latter. One indication of
Ivanov's less than total success
is the figure of Jesus, who seems almost insignificant. The artist
was true to naturalistic linear perspective, which worked against
the depiction of a spiritual experience.
Despite the fact that it was
never completed, the epic nature of the canvas inspired many Russian
painters of the later nineteenth century.