Kramskoy – “Christ in the Desert”

Even in his youth, Ivan Kramskoy was greatly influenced by the personality and work of Alexander Ivanov, his ascetic path in art. Shocked by the painting “The Appearance of Christ to the People”, Kramskoy defined the highest task of art for himself: “A real artist has a tremendous work to do … to put a mirror in front of people, from which their hearts would sound the alarm.”

In his central work “Christ in the Desert”, continuing the humanistic tradition of Alexander Ivanov, the artist interpreted the religious subject in a moral and philosophical sense. The painting “Christ in the Desert” became the center of the II traveling exhibition of 1873, causing a lot of responses in the press, incessant disputes, bewildered questions. First of all, I was struck by the very image of Christ, so far from the church tradition and the tradition of classical European art. The author’s interpretation of the personality of Christ in the picture turned out to be acutely modern.

The central figure of Ivan Kramskoy’s painting “Christ in the Desert” is Jesus Christ, sitting among the stone ruins. A thoughtful look speaks of difficult thoughts that torment and disturb him. He sits barefoot, with his fingers crossed. His whole figure, all his gestures speak of the great inner concentration of the son of God. The dark hair of Christ almost merges with his dark garment – a purple robe and a black traveling cloak.

The composition of the picture, built with impeccable logic, is like a mathematical formula. The monumental figure of Christ looms against the background of the predawn sky. The horizon line divides the canvas into two equal parts – the world of the valley, the earthly firmament, the rocky “desert” immersed in shadow, dead and cold, and the mountain world, illuminated by the rays of the pre-dawn sun, the world of light and hope, a symbol of future transformation. Exactly on the border of these two worlds in the geometric center of the picture there are Christ’s hands closed in a lock. The closed hands form a circle. It is as if heavy thoughts, lumpy thoughts, like stones depicted behind his back, move along him, finding no way out. The lock of the hands and the face of Christ, located on the same axis of the circle, are the visual and semantic centers of the picture. This circle is the zone of greatest “tension”, the epicenter of the accomplished drama of thought and feeling, the accomplished victory of the human spirit, will, reason over chaos, evil, and vice. Christ of Kramskoy is a symbol of the universal significance of this victory and a reminder of its enormous cost. In the corners of the picture’s frame, ordered, apparently, according to the artist’s own drawing, there are real woven ropes – an attribute of the future torments of Christ.

Interestingly, the artist worked with the scale in the picture. The landscape surrounding the figure of Christ resembles the relief of a mountainous area, and Jesus himself looks like a huge giant, rising to heaven. The sky plays very nicely with colors: from above it is slightly blue, closer to the surface it is pink, almost purple. The artist depicted the deepening twilight, the coming night.

The masterful use of painting techniques by Kramskoy makes the painting “Christ in the Desert” not only very expressive in appearance, but also filled with a deep spiritual meaning, which each viewer perceives in his own way.

Year of painting: 1872.

Dimensions of the painting: 210 x 180 cm.

Material: canvas.

Writing technique: oil.

Genre: religious painting.

Style: realism.

Gallery: State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

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