Aleksandr Andreevich Ivanov

Ivanov, Aleksandr Andreevich


Born July 16 (28), 1806, in St. Petersburg; died there July 3 (15), 1858. Russian painter.

Ivanov was a nonmatriculated student at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts from 1817 to 1828. He studied there under his father, A.I. Ivanov, and also in the class of A.E. Egorov. In 1830 he received a grant to study in Italy from the Society for the Promotion of Artists. That same year he traveled in Austria and Germany. Ivanov lived in Rome from 1831 to 1858; he visited Venice, Naples, and the cities of central and northern Italy. In 1857 he went to London to meet A.I. Herzen.

Ivanov’s work of his early, or St. Petersburg, period has all the characteristics of classicist painting, including balanced composition, clear arrangement of figures and objects in space, flowing contours, and use of local color. Ivanov sought to achieve emotional expressiveness in his treatment of traditional mythological themes and of subjects from the Old Testament and New Testament. Among his paintings dealing with these themes are Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of the Chief Baker and the Chief Butler Who Share His Imprisonment (1827), Bellerophon Preparing to Slay the Chimera (1829), and The Appearance of Christ Before Mary Magdalene (1835), which are all in the Russian Museum in Leningrad, as well as Priam Pleading With Achilles for Hector’s Body (1824), which is in the Tret’iakov Gallery. The painting Apollo, Hyacinthus, and Cyprus (1831–34, Tret’iakov Gallery), which was one of Ivanov’s first works executed in Rome, marked the conclusion of the early period of his artistic career. This painting is notable for its exceptional harmonious-ness and poetic exaltation of characters from classical mythology.

Like other representatives of the progressive Russian intelligentsia of the 1830’s and 1840’s, Ivanov sought the resolution of deep-seated social antagonisms and the elimination of injustice and oppression. While he was in Italy, he developed long friendships (from late 1830 to the early 1840’s) with N.V. Gogol, N.M. Rozhalin, who was a member of the Liubomudry (a Moscow philosophers’ club), and the artist F. Overbeck, who was the head of the German Nazarenes. These three men greatly influenced Ivanov’s world view. Gogol to a great extent instilled in Ivanov his ideas concerning the educational aims of art. Rozhalin and Overbeck introduced Ivanov to the ideas of F.W. von Schelling (which Ivanov subsequently adopted). Ivanov began to believe in the prophetic role of the artist and in the possibility of transforming and morally perfecting mankind through art. In his work he sought to understand the problems of man’s existence and to present important philosophical and moral issues.

Ivanov devoted many years to the execution of the huge painting The Appearance of Christ Before the People (1837–57, Tret’iakov Gallery), which essentially became his life’s work. This subject from the Gospels was treated by Ivanov as an actual historical event signifying a spiritual revolution within oppressed humanity and the beginning of man’s liberation and moral regeneration. The complicated composition, consisting of many figures, is subordinated to the ideological intention of the artist. The composition unites people of various classes and character, who respond to the event in various ways. Each character is endowed with profound ideological and psychological meaning.

The concept of the painting (and its execution) as a monumental programmatic work, posing problems of universal historical significance, is characteristic of late romantic art. The art of this period used the devices and norms of classicist art, enriching them, however, with a sense of spatial depth and dynamic form. The composition of The Appearance of Christ Before the People is symmetrical, balanced, and closed. The figure field is in the foreground of the picture and resembles a bas-relief. Ivanov’s realist achievements, such as his profound understanding of human character and mastery of spatial representation (attained in his landscape studies), contrast with the conventions of academic painting that he employed and, thus, invest the painting with contradictory elements.

These elements of contradiction and Ivanov’s loss of faith in the possibility of changing mankind through the religious and moral teachings of art led to his abandonment of the project; the painting was never finished. To a great extent this change in Ivanov’s world outlook was a result of the revolutionary events of 1848, which he witnessed in Italy.

Ivanov’s smaller works include more than 300 studies for The Appearance of Christ Before the People (Tret’iakov Gallery, Russian Museum, and other collections). Ivanov painted studies of heads and figures from works of classical art and also from live models. Gradually, as a result of a complicated synthesis of these two primary sources, he expressed his ideal conception of the figures and sought to endow each character with certain human qualities and conditions.

In his landscape studies, which were conceived with great philosophical insight, Ivanov sought to portray nature’s diversity and to apprehend the laws of its development, as well as its basic elements—water, earth, vegetation, and sky. Examples of his landscapes are The Appian Way at Sunset (1845) and On the Shore of the Bay of Naples (late 1840’s-early 1850’s)—both are in the Tret’iakov Gallery. Through his application of elements of plein air painting, Ivanov was highly successful in his representation of space. At the same time, he maintained the strength, intensity, and sonority of colors, and he was also able to unite form and space naturally.

In the history of Russian art, the painting The Appearance of Christ Before the People is an excellent example of a work of art that thoroughly explores human nature. The painting is also valued for its various formal components.

During the last ten years of his life, Ivanov worked on the series Biblical Sketches (watercolor; Tret’iakov Gallery, Russian Museum). He intended to use this series as a mural in a particular building. Using the research of D.F. Strauss and creatively adapting the artistic motifs of the ancient Orient, ancient Greece, and Byzantium, Ivanov treated ancient legends as the history of the spiritual and moral development of mankind. He achieved extraordinarily profound interpretations and philosophical generalization of these legends. In the Biblical Sketches, Ivanov organically combined the historical with the everyday and the fantastic and legendary with the ordinary. The images of Christ and his disciples were radically reinterpreted. Ivanov treated many of the miracles of the Gospels as the results of mythological conceptions. Abandoning traditional and conventional compositional devices, Ivanov structured his compositions to conform to the event being depicted. He introduced areas of color whose contours emphasized the planarity of the surface. Ivanov achieved expressive linear rhythm and discovered new textural possibilities in graphic art. Preserving some of the traditions of the monumental art of classicism, the Biblical Sketches laid the foundations of the realist method. As a result of these accomplishments, which are addressed simultaneously to the past and the future of art, Ivanov is considered to be one of the most significant painters of the 19th century. His work was received with hostility by the official circles in tsarist Russia. However, it was highly valued by N.V. Gogol, A.I. Herzen, N.G. Chernyshevskii, I.N. Kramskoi, and I.E. Repin.


Aleksandr Andreevich Ivanov: Ego zhizn’ i perepiska, 1806–1858. St. Petersburg, 1880.
Kramskoi, I.N. “Ob Ivanove.” In Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi. St. Petersburg, 1888.
Zummer, V. “Sistema bibleiskikh kompozitsii A.A. Ivanova.” Iskusstvo, 1914, nos. 7–12.
Mashkovtsev, N. “Tvorcheskii put’ Aleksandra Ivanova.” Apollon, 1916, nos. 6–7.
Alpatov, M.V. A. A. Ivanov: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1956.
Dmitrieva, N. “Bibleiskie eskizy Aleksandra Ivanova.” Iskusstvo, 1956, no. 5.
A. A. Ivanov: Katalog vystavki. Moscow, 1956.
Bernshtein, B. “K voprosu o formirovanii esteticheskikh vzgliadov Aleksandra Ivanova.” Iskusstvo, 1957, no. 2.
Rakova, M.M. A. Ivanov (1806–1858). Moscow, 1960.


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