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Mikhail Nesterov – Religious Symbolism in Russian Art

Holy Russia, 1901-06
Holy Russia, 1901-06

Mikhail NesterovMikhail Nesterov was a prominent Russian artist who is considered to be one of the most foremost figures of the Russian symbolism genre.

Like many other famous Russian artists, Nesterov was born in the 19th century, on the 31st of May in the city of Ufa. In 1874, his parents sent him to Moscow to study at a technical college. There his skills as an artist caught the eye of K. Trutovsky, an artist of some renown at the time. Nesterov, at the recommendation of Trutovsky, was sent to the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and later in 1881, the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

From 1890 on to about 1910, Nesterov lived in Kiev and St. Petersburg where his talents led him to paint frescoes on local churches including the Cathedral of St. Vladimir. Prior to his work as a church painter, Nesterov had yet to find a suitable style of art that interested him. But his work as a painter convinced him to begin using Christian themes in his art. This interest in religious themes would eventually define Nesterov’s style as an artist.

But religion alone did not inspire him, the death of his wife Olga, whom he had married a year earlier in 1885, had given Nesterov a reason to add emotion into his works. From then on the artist spent the remainder of his life in Moscow, occasionally taking trips to Italy or France or with the Peredvizhniki, a renowned society of artists that he was a member of.

The October Revolution had brought great setbacks to his work. Being a devout Christian, Nesterov did not support the October Revolution. Because of the newly-established communist government, which was largely atheistic, Nesterov was not able to continue painting works containing Christian themes in fear of the consequences that would follow. During this time until his death on October 18, 1942, Nesterov made few works, with most of them being portraits of various individuals.

But among such artists as Repin, Vasnetsov and Vereschagin, one cannot deny that Nesterov’s art, where his visualization of folklore and poetry through traditional Russian/Christian imagery has a special place among the Russian art world, undoubtedly making him one of the best examples the Russian symbolist idea had to offer.

Works by Nesterov

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