The Power of Rome for Russian Artists

The Power of Rome for Russian Artists

"O nly in Rome can the vanity of mediocrity burn out and the ambition of talent take wings. Artists must hasten there" wrote an anonymous author in a publication in the Artistic Gazette.

Indeed for many years Rome was rightly considered the major educational centre of Europe – her ‘Academy’. Men of genius and talent, professionals and dilettantes from the world over lived and worked in this unique natural and cultural setting. Here artists of different schools and movements could meet and associate. Russian artists were slower to tap into this process than others but proved themselves to be no less talented and original. The roll call of Russian architects, sculptors, painters and engravers living in Rome between 1830 and 1850 numbers 75. The first half of the 19th century saw two significant periods in Russian artistic life in Rome: The first emerged in the 1820s and 1830s during the reign of Karl Briullov, the second in the 1840s and 1850s occurred under the defining influence of Alexander Ivanov.

The brothers Alexander and Karl Briullov, fellows of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists, arrived in Rome at the end of 1822. They frequented the Caffè Greco – a meeting place for artists of different countries and nationalities – where they argued about art, the Old Masters and new forms of representation. At times, it was also the place where ideas for new works crystallised: ‘Soon after arriving in Rome’ recalled Karl Briullov ‘I was sitting in Caffè Greco with some German artists who were saying that the art of finishing paintings as the Dutch masters did was lost. Disagreeing with this view, I said that artists ceased to finish their work thus because they found such a level of finish to be uncalled for and as proof of my words I painted ‘Italian Morning’. This painting was to play a vital role in establishing the so-called ‘Italian genre’ in Russian art. Briullov’s Italian ‘firstborn’ was widely praised by his fellow foreign artists in Rome and was exhibited to great acclaim in St Petersburg: at the Academy exhibition (1825) and the Society for the Encouragement of Artists (1827). The painting was acquired by Emperor Nicholas I and for many years hung in the apartments of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. It was thanks to a lithograph by Vladimir Pogonkin that Italian Morning became widely known and was much reproduced. Students of the Moscow School of Painting and Sculpture made copies from the lithograph, two of which were exhibited at the School in 1859.

After the death of the Emperor, his widow Alexandra Feodorovna moved into the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. Her private apartments in the Winter Palace were left empty which meant that the Briullov was more easily accessible for direct copying. Between 1855 and 1860 (the year of the Empress’s death) multiple engravings were produced.

A copy of Italian Morning by Spiridon Gollandsky executed in 1856 is now in the collection of the State Russian Museum and another by Briullov’s student Alexander Koritsky was in the collection of the industrialist and patron of the arts Vasily Kokorev. The work offered by Sotheby’s bears the red Imperial Hermitage wax seal on the stretcher, indicating that it was painted in the Empress’s private apartments.

A sequence of events led to the original painting ending up in the Kunsthalle in Kiel. Briullov returned to Russia in 1836 and remained there until 1850, when due to his ailing health he had to leave damp St Petersburg for halcyon Italy. The Tittoni album relates to this latter period of his career.

Anton Ivanov hailed from a serf family in Vladimir Province. His freedom was bought by the Chernetsov brothers who took him with them on their trip abroad in 1846. In Italy he perfected his skills, producing not only sketches but also landscapes and scenes of city life. Legend has it that Ivanov liked to go about in a light blue jacket, earning the nickname 'Goluboi' (Blue), one that stuck as it served to differentiate him from another Russian artist also living in Rome – Alexander Ivanov. In 1848, during the revolutionary events in Western Europe, Nicholas I issued a decree ordering all Russian nationals abroad to return to the motherland. The Chernetsovs returned to St Petersburg but Ivanov refused, remaining in Rome where he was to die at the age of 45 on the 6th December 1863. He is buried at the Testaccio cemetery.

It was the fate of several Russian artists to find their eternal rest in the Eternal City. Those who converted to Catholicism (such as Orest Kiprensky) were buried in the cathedrals and basilicas or Rome. The Lutherans and Orthodox found their last home in the Testaccio cemetery, located on the outskirts of the city. The monument to Briullov at Testaccio was designed by the Russian architect Mikhail Shchurupov.

Russian Art

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