Magazine article Russian Life

A Soup for Seminarians

Magazine article Russian Life

A Soup for Seminarians

Article excerpt

VASILY PEROV WAS an important member of the Peredvizhniki group of Russian artists, known in English as The Wanderers or The Itinerants for the traveling exhibitions they organized throughout the countryside. In 1863 the group broke away from the Russian Academy of Arts in order to focus on paintings that had more relevance to the people. They wanted to democratize art by moving it out of the realm of elite museums, and their realistic portraits focus on the common man, on dramatic events in Russian history, and on the Russian landscape.

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Like Dostoyevsky, the Wanderers, and Perov in particular, frequently portrayed poverty and human suffering, subjects that were anathema to high art. The dark palette of his iconic LastJourney (1865) underscores the desperation of a ragged family transporting a coffin to its final resting place.

Another favorite subject tor Perov was the clergy. Here, however, he often indulged in mockery as he showed the banality and sometimes venality of their lives. A local priest staggers, drunk, in Perov's Easter Procession in a Village (1861); in A Meal in a Monastely (1876) the clergymen are corpulent and ruddy from too much food and drink, oblivious to the destitute pilgrims begging for alms.

Today it is a little hard to imagine how radical Perov's realism seemed in his day, as he defied the conventions of academic art. One lesser-known work of his--no doubt because it remained unfinished--is Receiving the Wanderer, from 1874. The wanderer's dress identifies him as a seminarian.

Today the word "seminarian" denotes someone who aspires to the life of the spirit, but in mid-nineteenth-century Russia, many seminarians were involved in revolutionary activities. A lot of the youth who studied at seminaries had no inclination to serve the Church; for them it was merely a matter of expediency, a way to get a good general education, so they bristled at the many restrictions they encountered. …

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