Alexander Ivanov

Born: 1806, St Petersburg
Died: 1858, St Petersburg

Painter, draughtsman. Born to Andrei Ivanov and Ekaterina Demmert in St Petersburg (1806). Studied under his father and Alexei Yegorov at the Imperial Academy of Arts (1817–27). Awarded a major silver medal (1822), minor gold medal (1824), major gold medal (1827) and the title of fourteenth-class artist (1828). Painted a picture entitled The Welfare of Russia for the coronation of Tsar Nicholas I (1826). Awarded a fellowship to Italy by the Society for the Encouragement of Artists (1827), forcing him to cancel his plans to marry the daughter of Gulpen, music teacher at the Imperial Academy of Arts (1829). Travelled through Germany and Austria to Italy, visiting the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Lichtenstein collection in Vienna and the Galleria degli Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti in Florence, copying the head of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna in Dresden and the Venus de’ Medici in Florence (1830). Arrived in Rome (1831), where he copied Michelangelo’s Adam in the Sistine Chapel (1831–32). Fell in love with Vittoria Caldoni (1831), who later married his friend Grigory Lapchenko (1839). Met the writer Nikolai Rozhalin (1832). Conceived the idea of painting a picture depicting the appearance of a saviour come to liberate an oppressed people (1832). Requested the money for a trip to Palestine, but was turned down by the Society for the Encouragement of Artists (1833). Suffered from a bout of fever (1833). Travelled across north Italy, visiting Bologna, Ferrara, Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, Bergamo, Milan and Parma (1834). Painted Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene (1834–35) and drew nudes at the Académie de France in Rome (1835–36). Academician (1836). Lived in Rome with an Italian woman called Teresa (1836–44). Started work on Christ’s Appearance to the People (1836), painting four hundred plein-air studies of figures, heads, groups and landscape motifs (1836–57). Travelled across central and north Italy, visiting Florence, Orvieto, Assisi and Livorno (1837). Met the writer Nikolai Gogol (1838). Visited in his studio by the future Tsar Alexander II (1838) and Tsar Nicholas I (1845). Travelled across north and central Italy (1838–39), including Venice (1839), Milan (1839) and Subiaco (1840). Painted portraits of Nikolai Gogol (1841). Worked on the October Festivals in Rome series of watercolours (1842). Forced to go to Florence for eye treatment (1842) and temporarily abandon work on Christ’s Appearance to the People (1842–44). Met the writer Fyodor Chizhov (1842) and the poet Nikolai Yazykov (1843). Painted an icon of The Resurrection for the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow (1845). Read a copy of the Bible translated from the Hebrew and made drawings on biblical themes (1845). Visited Palermo (1846) and worked in Naples and Pompeii (1846). Wrote Thoughts When Reading the Bible (1846). Travelled across Italy, visiting Florence, Livorno, Genoa and Milan (1847). Met Alexander Herzen (1847) and fell in love with Countess Maria Apraxina (1847), who was given in marriage to Prince Sergei Meschersky (before 1850). Lived in Rome during the revolution and proclamation of a republic (1848), followed by a siege and defeat by a French army (1849). Read the French translation of David Friedrich Strauss’s book The Life of Jesus (1851) and painted several hundred Biblical Studies for a new project called the “Universal Temple of the Saviour” – an enormous palace decorated with hundreds of frescoes illustrating the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (1851–57). Met the physiologist Ivan Sechenov in Rome (1856). Travelled to Vienna and Interlaken for eye treatment at the personal expense of Tsar Nicholas I (1857). Visited London, where he met Alexander Herzen (1857). Exhibited Christ’s Appearance to the People at his studio in Rome (1858) and returned to St Petersburg with the painting, which was exhibited at the Winter Palace and Imperial Academy of Arts, where it received a poor and critical reception (1858). Died six weeks later of cholera while living at the home of collector Mikhail Ivanov (No. 8, 3rd Line of Vasilyevsky Island), who inherited his paintings, leading to rumours of his unnatural death (1858). Buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery (1858) and reburied at the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery (1936). Honoured by posthumous retrospectives in Moscow (1897, 1898, 1926, 1956, 1981–82, 2006) and Leningrad (1956).

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