Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov and Russian Hermits

hermiy nrsterrev
Hermit by Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov (1862-1942)

Oil on canvas
142,8 х 125
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

“In his first major picture, Nesterov embarks on a search for Russian religious ideal. The artist portrays the union between a soul absorbed in spiritual contemplation and secret nature, untouched by civilization. The hermit’s face, with its pure, almost child-like expression, makes him look like Russian saints. The traveller’s measured progress is directed towards the viewer, creating the impression of a meeting on the road. The dark clothes offset the soft light that the old man’s face seems to emanate. Quiet peacefulness descends on the entire landscape. When working on the picture, Nesterov became perfectly aware “that this northern, unprepossessing nature helps one get in better touch with both the meaning of Russian life and the Russian soul”. After the image of hermit, Nesterov produces a series of “humble, meek, seclusion and ardently-burning-in-the-soul prayer seeking” images, the images of Holy Russia, which are kept in the people’s heart of hearts.”
The Vision of the Young Bartholemew by Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942)

Oil on canvas
211 x 160 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

“In 1885, Nesterov married Maria Martynovskaya, and a year later his beloved wife died in child birth. This tragedy made Nesterov rethink his life, his art, and experience a spiritual transformation. “My love for Maria and the loss of her turned me into an artist and put the sense, emotion, and soul I was missing before into my art; in other words, everything that people valued and value in my paintings”.
The first significant piece created by Nesterov after Maria’s death was The Hermit, painted in 1888 – 1889. It depicted an elderly monk, cautiously walking along the lakeside. He is surrounded by the late northern autumn. The lake is calm and clear; the first snow lies upon the ground, and on the withered yellowish grass, only a bright-red cluster of rowan-berries challenges the upcoming winter.
Upon seeing The Hermit, critics acknowledged Nesterov as one of the best artists of his time. The painting was bought by the art patron Pavel Tretyakov, the owner of the Tretyakov Gallery. With the money he earned, Nesterov went to Europe, visited Italy and was deeply inspired by the inner spiritual forces of Renaissance art. After his return, Nesterov started to work on his most famous picture, Vision of the Young Bartholomew.
The plot of the painting is based on a Christian legend about a young boy who had problems reading. One day his father sends him to search for some runaway horses, and on his way the youth meets an ascetic. Bartholomew greets him, asks for his blessing and receives one. After that encounter, not only did Bartholomew learn how to read, but he also became a poet. He went down in history known as St. Sergius of Radonezh.
In the picture one can see Bartholomew looking at the monk with hope on his face. The monk’s head is surrounded by a transparent halo. The characters stand against an early autumn landscape with hills and brightly colored trees in the distance. It almost seems the viewer can feel the touch of the cool fresh air and hear the solemn silence which surrounds the boy and the saint.
This work became a sensation, and was also bought by Tretyakov immediately after being exhibited. Nesterov said about his painting, “If ‘The Young Bartholomew’ is to say anything to people thirty, fifty years after my death, then this picture will be alive, and therefore, I will be alive”. His hopes came true: the painting still makes people think about God’s miracles and the closeness of supernatural, apart from merely exhibiting Nesterov’s talent.”

“The painting opens a series of works devoted to the acts of St. Sergius of Radonezh (circa 1321–1391), the founder and abbot of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius monastery, aka Bartholomew, his laic name. Sergius is one of the most venerated Russian saints, whose image as a youth became for the artist a symbol of hope for the revival of Russian spirituality. Nesterov uses an episode of St. Sergius hagiography. Unlike his brothers, Bartholomew found it difficult to learn his ABC’s. One day, when looking for his herd that had gone astray, the youth found himself in woods where he met a monk praying under an oak. On learning that the boy was failing at his ABC’s, he used the sacrament of communion to help Bartholomew achieve the blessing of knowledge. The folding icon that the old man holds in his hand and that resembles a cathedral, a church in the distance are the symbols of the saint’s future deeds. The youth’s fragile figure matches the thin young trees, brittle bladed of grass, the young pine tree that shoots up by his feet. The dark figure of the old man, by contrast, looks mysterious as it appears from behind the ancient oak. His face is hidden, a luminous halo around his head. It seems as if it was the contemplation of broody autumn landscape that brought this vision to the artist’s mind.”
For Nesterov: http://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/collection/_show/author/_id/106 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Nesterov

For a collection of Nesterov’s work: http://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/collection/_show/author/_id/106, http://www.abcgallery.com/N/nesterov/nesterov.html and http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/mikhail-nesterov


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