Art and Faith

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Isaak Levitan. Eternal Peace. 1894

00 Isaak Levitan. Eternal Peace. 1894

Eternal Peace

Isaak Levitan

1894

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Isaak Levitan (1860-1900) is one of the greats of the Russian art world, and, along with Ivan Shishkin (his older contemporary), is one of the masters of nature painting. They both were members of the Peredvizhniki (“Wanderers”), the most influential art movement to ever arise in Russia, for it definitively established a national Russian school of fine art. Levitan didn’t paint urban scenes; he was in love with the poetry of the Russian countryside. He was the creator of a new genre known as the “landscape of mood”, which focused on the spiritual aspects of the natural world and how it affected the soul. It’s interesting to note that his last works, painted whilst he was suffering from a terminal illness, are full of light and optimism. There many works by Levitan with “Orthodox” themes, as the work above illustrates. This shows the sway of the Orthodox civilisation that he lived and worked in. The Orthodox faith’s ethos filled Russia; this affected all within its ambit, even those who were outside the Church (even non-Christians such as Levitan!). Eternal Peace is a lovely painting of a lonely skete on the Volga (or one of the great Siberian rivers such as the Ob or Yenisei). It is my favourite amongst the works of Levitan, and one can understand why, can’t you? It is full of an instinctual understanding of the otherworldliness of the monastic life and its withdrawal from the bustle of the world.

This is why I don’t presume to judge those who are outside the Church. Levitan painted a masterpiece that has a place in the heart of any Orthodox Christian, yet, he wasn’t Orthodox; he wasn’t even a Christian! Of course, I don’t believe in syncretism or in indifferent ecumenism, but I understand that those outside the visible Church are in God’s hands, and that isn’t a bad thing. Our pressing task is to love our neighbour, NOT to convert him! If God wishes to lead someone to the Church, He’ll do so in His own way, and I don’t believe that He blesses the “seeker-friendly” notions of Evangelical Protestantism that some spiritually immature Orthodox advocate. Levitan’s life also shows that those who say that Tsarist society refused advancement to Jews are wrong, completely and absolutely. When he was 19, his father died, and generous patrons saw to it that he could complete his art education. These patrons were ordinary Orthodox Russians! As I stated in my piece on General Dovator, many peoples (of Lutheran, Roman, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist faiths as well as Orthodox) contributed to Russia’s legacy, and the general Orthodox tenor of its civilisation affected all of them. What proof need I proffer? Look at the above painting, and let it speak to you! No other evidence need be offered.

BMD

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