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The Image of Christ

 

Glazunov’s paintings depicting Jesus Christ the Savior never fail to strike the viewer with the depth of feeling they convey. It is no wonder that the artist was badgered by Soviet critics who labeled him a church painter and a mystical orthodox believer who was “not contributing to the building of Communism.” Glazunov’s Christ, with his blue eyes and brown hair, is inscrutable and awe-inspiring, and is portrayed as the Savior and Consoler of the world. The image of Christ is unquestionably the image of Russian Orthodoxy, which gave birth to the concept of Holy Russia. For Glazunov, Christ and the New Testament are the Holy Apostolic Orthodoxy. Not surprisingly, Glazunov’s latest book, which roused so much public opinion, was entitled “Russia Crucified.” Following the crucifixion came the resurrection – this is an unfathomable miracle of history.
Glazunov’s images of Christ must be seen to be understood. But a discussion of Glazunov’s work brings the words of another great artist, V. M. Vasnetsov, to mind: “All my art is a candle lit before an icon.” It might be said that each of Glazunov’s paintings is an expression of his understanding of an orthodox people.
The painting “Banishment from Paradise,” one of the most unexpected in its composition and depth, possesses a spiritual profundity that is evident in all of Glazunov’s works. The figures of Adam and Eve, banished from Paradise and doomed to pain and suffering in a world of sin, are tragic and mercilessly alone. Knowing the artist’s heroic allegiance to Russia, which is today in the throes of terrible discord, one understands why he portrayed the Russian birch as the tree of paradise, wreathed in the coils of the snake-tempter – Satan -- whose skin is woven of five-pointed, bloody stars. Stretching out before Adam and Eve is a celestial haze with heavy clouds, like puffs of smoke. Satan is bowing as if inviting the banished ones to enter his world and live according to his laws of Evil against Good. Satan’s image is fear-inspiring, and the overall effect is one of impending doom. Behind Satan is the figure of Judas, the betrayer, with a black nimbus around his head. The light from the nimbus seems to penetrate the towering, featureless buildings of a modern city, above which a crucified Christ is suspended. Despite the darkness and gloom reflecting modern life, the painting is filled with great hope in the victory of Good, and with solace: above the entire nightmarish world, as if breaking through the cosmic darkness, we see the miracle of Christ’s resurrection.
Ilya Glazunov is the only artist to have illustrated the complete works of the great Russian writer F. M. Dostoyevsky. The novel “The Brothers Karamazov” is one of Dostoyevsky’s greatest works. It stands to reason that many critics consider this novel, which interprets not only the fate of Russia, but of the world, to be the testament of the great writer and thinker. Especially difficult to understand is “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” related by the atheist Ivan Karamazov to his brother Alyosha, the bearer of the idea of Orthodoxy according to Dostoyevsky. According to this legend, Christ, appearing before the Grand Inquisitor, reputed to be a violent persecutor of heretics, was ordered locked up in a dungeon. On the canvas is captured a dramatic moment from the impassioned dialogue. “Why did you come to interfere with us?” the Inquisitor asked Christ. “We don’t need you; we only need your name.” It is this critical moment in the conversation that Glazunov, with his penetrating insight into the great writer’s philosophy, has portrayed in the painting “The Grand Inquisitor.”
In the painting “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” the artist has captured the image of the Savior at the private moment when he has stepped away from his disciples into the garden and kneeling, prays: “Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Christ prayed three times, and so great were his sorrow and suffering, and so earnest his prayer, that drops of blood fell like sweat to the ground.
Over the centuries artists of various countries and generations have painted the image of Christ the Savior. Glazunov’s rendering of Christ’s image differs from all those that came before: the artist believes that the famous Turin Shroud and Byzantine and Russian icons provide evidence of Christ’s physical appearance, and his interpretation is based on them. The painting “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” can leave no viewer indifferent, and is a testimony to the artist’s deeply personal feelings. Against a fathomless night sky clustered with stars one sees the sorrowful visage of the Savior, setting out on the path of Golgotha. Those who wish his death are already near. They are led by one of his disciples, who with a traitor’s kiss dooms his Teacher to torture and death.
Even though portraying a known event from the New Testament, Ilya Glazunov manages to startle the viewer with the intensity of the composition and his unique interpretation of the subject. Once, when asked by an American journalist what he feared most in life, Glazunov replied, “betrayal.” “The Kiss of Judas” is portrayed as a great cosmic tragedy of evil. Through the oppressive and sinister darkness, we see the moving and gentle visage of the Savior of the World and the treacherous kiss of Judas.
When the painting “Hymn to Heroes” was shown in 1984, it stunned viewers and provoked vehement attacks by Soviet critics. The painting is filled with deep philosophical significance and even for Glazunov is unusual in its composition: this is truly a hymn to heroes and must be understood and experienced in the same way as the heroic music of Beethoven or Wagner.
Ilya Glazunov perceives life as an incessant struggle of Good against Evil. In today’s disturbing, apocalyptic times, the confirmation of the ideals of our Christian civilization is a great achievement. To love Russia and express the self-awareness of the Russian people is no less an achievement. However, a militant atheism also abounds, powerless before the shining image of Christ. Many claim that the third millennium will usher in the reign of lawlessness, the reign of the Antichrist. The church fathers have said that the Antichrist, the son of the devil, will resemble the son of God. In his courageous representation of Good and Evil, the contrasting images of Christ and the Antichrist, Glazunov has achieved something never before attempted in fine art.

God Preserve Russia! 1999
Christ the Warrior. 1994
Banishment from Paradise. 1994
The Raising of Lazarus. 1987
The Return of the Prodigal Son. 1977
Golgotha. Portion of the Triptych “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.” Illustration for F. Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov.” 1983
Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. 1992
Fratricide. (Cain and Abel). 1963
The Kiss of Judas. 1985
Hymn to the Heroes. 1984
Christ and the Antichrist. 1999. Canvas, Oils. 114 x 141

 
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