Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Mission Advancement at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Orthodox Christianity is known for its religious art: striking, other-worldly icons of saints and scenes from the Bible. Yet, throughout history, Orthodox Christians have also produced beautiful works of art in a variety of media and styles, sometimes fusing their religious tradition with more mundane themes.
Here are four great examples of this long-standing trend. In this inaugural post in a series that will continue, I’ve chosen to feature works by three different artists — one Greek, one Russian, and one Serbian — all of whom had a romantic tendency to paint touching scenes from peasant life or national folklore. As a result, some of their paintings evoke Orthodox themes and piety.
Which is your favorite in this group? And what works of art would you like to see featured next?
1. “Holy Friday (La vestale chretienne)” (1885) by Theodore Jacques Ralli. Oil on canvas. Privately held.
Some things never change! This young girl is absolutely exhausted after a long Vigil on Holy Friday. Notice the flowers strewn on the ground.
The artist, Theodore Jacques Ralli (1852 – 1909), was a Greek born in Constantinople, who spent most of his working life in Paris and traveling the Ottoman Empire. He lived for many years amongst the Greek community in Cairo, Egypt. Very few of his paintings are in museums. Most are in the hands of private collectors, and, until recently, his work garnered very little attention. In the last several years, however, Ralli’s paintings have begun to fetch record-breaking sums at art auctions.
2. “Holy Friday, Greece” (1893) by Theodore Jacques Ralli. Oil on canvas. Privately held.
Again, some things never change! Taken together, these first two paintings show us parish life before and after the long Vigil and Lamentations for Great and Holy Friday. This beautiful piece, and the first painting featured above, sold for more than $600,000 USD each at a recent auction at Southeby’s, London.
3. “Sick Husband” (1881) by Vassily Maximovich Maximov. Oil on canvas. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
A touching and intimate portrait of a wife praying for her husband’s recovering. As one Facebook fan put it when we posted this on the OCN Facebook page, “I almost feel like a trespasser by looking. Her bare foot sticking out from under her hem…”
The artist, Vassily Maximovich Maximov (1844–1911), was a Russian painter and a prominent member of the “Peredvizhniki” group, an influential association of realist painters who made it their mission to bring the accomplished artistic trends of Moscow and St. Petersburg to the less-refined provinces.
In the final decades of Maximov’s life, realist painting fell out of style. Yet he refused to alter his artistic convictions, kept painting scenes of peasant life, and died in penury.
4. “Kosovo Maiden” (1919) by Uroš Predić. Oil on Canvas.
This extremely famous painting is based on an equally famous Serbian epic poem, in which a young beauty searches the battlefield for her betrothed husband and helps wounded Serbian warriors with water, wine, and bread after the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire.
Tragically, she discovers from this solider that her betrothed has been slain. So much of the Serbian national story is distilled in this one canvas.
The artist, Uroš Predić (1857 -1953), is one of Serbia’s most famous. In addition to portraiture, he also painted several icons.
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