Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Appearance of Christ to the People

Title: The Appearance of Christ to the People

Artist: Aleksandr Ivanov

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 540 x 750 cm

Date: 1857

Location: The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

John came baptizing in the desert region, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the whole Judean countryside and even people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. As recorded in Mark 1:7-8, his message was “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

In the foreground of the picture there is a number of male figures, some already undressed, waiting to be baptized in the Jordan River. John the Baptist, in his garb of animal skin under a long mantle, a crosier in his left hand, has turned and raised his arms dramatically towards the lone figure of Christ. He appears on a rocky rise in the middle ground, behind him a broad plain and distant mountains.

Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (July 28, 1806 – July 15, 1858) was a Russian painter who adhered to the waning tradition of Neoclassicism but found little sympathy with his contemporaries. He spent most of his life in Rome where he was influenced by the Nazarenes, a group of early 19th century Romantic painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art. The name Nazarene came from a term of derision used against them for their affectation of a biblical manner of clothing and hair style.

It took 20 years to complete The Appearance of Christ before the People (1837-57). Critical judgement about Ivanov improved in the following generation. Some of the numerous sketches he had prepared for The Appearance, most of them in oil, have been recognized as masterpieces in their own right.

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