Nesterov's image of holiness

Today I went to see the Nesterovs at the Tretyakov. 

They are signs of a coherent vision - of a Russia that is holy because it has grafted a Christian spirituality that has humility at its heart onto the spirit of place. The inherently muted tones of the landscape and its simplicity merges with the demands of the heart for coherence and a given openness to place, and to others.

Three elderly monks sit on a tree stump at lake and forest's edge greeting a fox as he emerges, without fear, from the trees. In their vision paradise is restored and one of the monk's looks at the viewer invitingly asking them to join this reality - to let grace in, grace that configures the world, waiting on our discovery.

But it is a vision whose ideal was undermined by the real divergence between it and the actual contours of religious life in Russia and by darker forces. 

Nesterov survived by retreating into portraiture - the vividness of the person., shaped individual and whole, must stand for the image of holiness now that more explicit renderings had been made dangerous. His art losing its immediate luminosity yet gained a depth of personhood, a more complex humanity.


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