Three Orthodox Christian Artists

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Three Orthodox Christian Artists

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.

This week and next, we’re going to feature an extended report on some Orthodox artists, past and present.

In this first installment, we’ll look to the past at 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.

1. Theodore Jacques Ralli (1852 – 1909)

Theodore Jacques Ralli 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.

The painting you’re looking at now, “Holy Friday, Greece,” depicts the popular tradition of decorating the epitaphio, Christ’s tomb, with flowers. The original oil painting sold for more than $600,000 US dollars during a recent auction at Southeby’s, London.

A couple years after completing this work, Ralli painted “Holy Friday (La vestale chretienne),” a touching portrait of a young girl who has fallen asleep, perhaps after a long day at church. One of her shoes has fallen off. Flowers from the decorated epitaphio, and even a candle, lie haphazardly on the floor.  These little details are characteristic of Ralli’s intimate portraits of church life.

2. Vassily Maximovich Maximov (1844–1911

Next up is Vassily Maximovich Maximov, 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.

This painting, “Sick Husband,” is on display in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. It is a touching and intimate portrait of a wife praying for her husband’s recovery. 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…”

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.

3. Uroš Predić (1857 -1953)

Next up for today: Uroš Predić, one of Serbia’s most celebrated artists. In addition to portraiture, he also painted several icons.
This extremely famous painting, “Kosovo Maiden,” 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.

We hope you enjoyed this special edition of “This Week in Orthodoxy.” Visit us at myocn.net and like us on Facebook , where we regularly share beautiful paintings and photographs of Orthodox life around the world.

Until next time, let’s go forth in peace.

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Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

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Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Development at OCN. He holds…
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