Mikhail Nesterov, in addition to his professional passion for painting, was also engaged in philosophy and religion. Church murals were an important part of his work before the arrival of Soviet power.
Nesterov devoted one of the cycles of his paintings to the life and work of Sergius of Radonezh. Many Russian philosophers considered the monastery founded by Sergius Trinity-Sergius as the foundation, the beginning of Russian spirituality.
One of the best works of this cycle is “Vision to the youth Bartholomew.” The artist painted the figure of Bartholomew from life, but a girl posed for him, in which Nesterov immediately recognized the features he needed so much. The landscape depicted in the picture was also painted by the artist from nature, in the village of Abramtsevo. Nesterov strove for maximum realism of the image, and he did it very well.
The plot of the picture is based on a legend. Young Bartholomew never managed to master the literacy. And then one day, when he was looking for the escaped foals, the holy elder appeared to him in a field under an oak tree. The boy was not taken aback and turned to the mysterious monk with a request to help in teaching. He, having made a proper prayer, with words of instruction and blessing, took out a monstrance and handed the shepherd a piece of prosphora, after which the youth’s efforts were rewarded: he managed to comprehend the “literary literacy” and read the Holy Scriptures. Over time, Bartholomew took tonsure and became known under the name of Sergius of Radonezh.
In the picture, a typical landscape of Central Russian nature – hills, thin-stemmed trees, tall grasses – is “drawn” with a loving gentle brush. In this landscape, the shepherd boy resembles a young birch tree, and the mysterious monastic figure is the dark trunk of an old tree from which he stands. In his hands the elder holds a reliquary, which in shape is very similar to a temple – the future brainchild of Sergius of Radonezh.
The boy seems a little pale when he meets an angel – with an incomprehensible, higher being. But in his gaze there is more respectful attention than fear and surprise. He obediently folded his hands, diligently repeating the prayer after his unexpected mentor. A quiet, pastoral autumn landscape painted with love, an unpretentious wooden church nearby – it is easy to believe that this is a land in which saints, although rare, but appear to children, and in every hut there are images like the faces of loved ones.
Behind the shepherdess in a white shirt is a thin young white-trunked birch – an old man, dressed in a black robe, bowed his head, standing under a stocky century-old oak tree with bark darkened from time to time and withered foliage. Old and young, and behind them are two trees. A symbol of continuity, the gift of knowledge to someone who is still young and inexperienced, but full of life juices and ready to reach for the light …
The background depicts the usual countryside, vegetable gardens, and the figure of Sergius of Radonezh is as close as possible to the tree so that the viewer’s attention is not distracted from the boy, in whose eyes a miracle is taking place. This artist emphasized the pose and expression on Bartholomew’s face.
Year of painting: 1890.
Dimensions of the painting: 211 x 160 cm.
Writing technique: oil.
Genre: religious painting.
Gallery: State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.