Art and Faith

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Meet the Artist: Mikhail Petrovich Botkin

Filed under: 19th century,biography,fine art,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

Mikhail Petrovich Botkin (1839-1914) was not only a painter, he was one of the most aggressive and grasping art collectors in fin de siècle St Petersburg. His greed was legendary. Nevertheless, after his death, his collection of medieval miniature enamels were found to be mostly forgeries, to the great glee of society. Nabokov named one of his characters Botkin, because he was greedy, but easily fooled by conmen.

BOTKIN Mikhail Petrovich

Born: 1839

Died: 1914

Mikhail Petrovich Botkin came from a famous family in Russia. One of his brothers was the famous author V. P. Botkin. Another brother was Sergei Petrovich Botkin (1832-1889), a brilliant physician. He introduced triage, pathological anatomy, and post mortem diagnostics into Russian medical practise. S. P. Botkin was also a court physician to Tsars Aleksandr Nikolaevich (1855-1881) and Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (1881-1894). He was also the father of Yevgeny Sergeyevich Botkin, the court physician to Tsar St Nikolai Aleksandrovich, who was murdered along with the tsar in 1918 in Yekaterinburg.

The ardent nature of M. P. Botkin did not allow him to occupy himself with mundane pursuits. He entered the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg in 1856, but, he left without finishing his studies there. He went to Italy, using his own means, and from there also visited Germany, France, and Spain, studying the techniques of the artists in these countries. It is no surprise that M. P. Botkin is known as an artist of the academic school with a strong leaning to “Italian” archetypes, which is characterised by strictness of technique, idealisation in composition, elevation of figure, and refinement of colour. In 1863, he returned to Russia, where he was occupied for some time with intensive work in painting, in particular, portraiture, and he also perfected his skills in another direction by learning etching.

Mr Botkin also worked in business, taking part in commodities trading and financial activity. He was a director of several firms, including the Russian Steam Navigation and Trade Society, the first Russian insurance society, and a St Petersburg commercial bank. The means earned from such activity allowed him to be very energetic in supporting public initiatives connected with the encouragement and development of young artists. Mr Botkin was an avid art collector and connoisseur, and paintings from his collection were carried by the young artist Aleksandr Benois to many exhibitions in Russia and all over Europe.

Finally, in 1880, Mr Botkin prepared and published an exhaustive monograph on the Russian artist Aleksandr Ivanov entitled Aleksandr Andreyevich Ivanov: His Life and Correspondence [1806-1858]. He obtained the source materials for this work through a bequest in the will of A. A. Ivanov, and the majority of the sketches and studies of Ivanov were passed on to the Rumyantsev Museum after the book was completed.

My Russkie – kakoi vostorg! (in Russian)

Mikhail Botkin. An Old Ritualist. 1877

Filed under: 19th century,Christian,fine art,human study,religious,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

An Old Ritualist (Mikhail Botkin, 1877)

Old Ritualists are often mistakenly called Old Believers in the West. Although their external ritus is often Orthodox, they are outside of the Church, for they have rejected it. Many of the Old Ritualists, especially the Bezpopovtsy (Priestless), wandered far from ordinary Orthodoxy and are truly nothing but Protestants. They are known for their strict and unbending ways, and in this, they resemble evangelical Protestants. They are a very unforgiving lot, in the main. Many Old Ritualists have rejoined the Church, and their ritual is protected and respected. On the other hand, they must, in turn, respect the ways of mainstream Orthodox.

This painting conveys the pinched and cramped nature of these sectarians well. Rules, rules, rules… That is why I am so adamant about pulling recent converts out of their obsession with the Fathers and the canons. If they do not take a care, they become constipated and long-faced “Old Ritualists”. Hmm… let me give you my favourite saying from the Fathers, from St John of the Ladder, to be precise. “If you see a young monk (convert) advancing by his own efforts, pull him down, for his own good”. Let those who have ears, hear!

Mikhail Botkin. The Women Keeping Watch Near Golgotha. 1867

The Women Keeping Watch Near Golgotha (Mikhail Botkin, 1867)

This is a good metaphor for the Christian life. We are to keep a faithful watch; we are to keep vigil no matter what the circumstances. That is what the Lent is all about. We wait expectantly for the coming of the Resurrection, but, we know that the path to such leads through Golgotha. Lent is not memorising long lists of forbidden foods, rather, it is the cleansing of our hearts to receive the Risen Lord.

Mikhail Botkin. The Sorrows of the Mother of God. no date (1860s-1870s?)

Filed under: 19th century,Christian,fine art,Orthodox,religious,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

The Sorrows of the Mother of God (Mikhail Botkin, no date (1860s-1870s))

There are some who attack such art as being too “Western”. I disagree. Just because something is done by the Latins (and their Protestant cousins) does not make it wrong! For example, they believe that the Eucharist is the Very Body and Blood of Christ, precisely as we do. I think that those making a fuss concerning “Western accretions” should attend to their own faults, and not go about looking for things to attack.

In any case, I find the above painting a fitting meditation for the time of the Lent. It has much to teach us.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at