Friday, December 30, 2011

Russian Faces

Vladimir Borovikovsky (1757-1825) painted about 500 portraits of Russian aristocrats at the end of the 18th century and the start of the 19th. This was the generation Tolstoy wrote about in War and Peace. Maybe the vividness of that story (packed away in memory like personal experience) partly accounts for the weird vividness of Borovikovsky's long-forgotten individual sitters.

Borovikovsky painted an uncountable number of religious pictures as well. They seem to have been uniformly terrible – stiff and cold, when compared to the portraits – though his Jesus (above) has a touch of the same unsettling intimacy as the nubile princesses who provided the painter with his bread and butter. You can tell at a glance that Borovikovsky's Jesus spoke excellent French, like all good upper-class Russians of the period.