Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#9 - JRL 7059
The Guardian (UK)
February 12, 2003
New Tsar is born as artist gives facelift to regal past
Putin and Kremlin chiefs trade places on canvas with old elite
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow

A masterpiece portraying the height of monarchical power in Russia has been given a modern facelift, with today's Kremlin leaders taking the places of their tsarist predecessors.

The original painting, entitled The Ceremonial Meeting of the State Council and set on May 7 1901, features the entire court of the last tsar, Nicholas II, who was deposed in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

Spanning some nine metres by four metres (about 400sq ft) the massive canvas took Ilya Repin and two apprentices two years to finish.

Now, on the 100th anniversary of its completion, Moscow painter Sergei Kalinin hopes to take a little less time with a modern remake. Based on a series of 40 sketches of potential subjects, he hopes to finish in the autumn.

Kalinin points out that 2003 is also the 300th anniversary of the State Council itself, the first official Russian government body established by Peter the Great.

"I decided to fix in time all the people who influence life in our country today," said Kalinin.

The artist has yet to decide upon the 89 figures who will fill the vast frame and wants to invite nominations from the Russian public.

However, two key figures are so assured of a prime position that they have already been painted in.

The Russian magazine Expert this week exposed the images of the Russian defence minister, Sergei Ivanov, and President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Ivanov, considered to be the president's closest Kremlin confidant, is depicted wearing the customary crimson-and-gold regalia of the tsarist court and seen whispering to an aide.

But it is the representation of Mr Putin which proves more revealing.

Although the artist accepts that the president will "most likely" adopt the place originally occupied by Nicholas II, Kalinin's initial draft dresses Mr Putin in clothes worn by Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the tsarist court's senior prosecutor.

The head of the Holy Synod of Russia's orthodox church, Pobedonostsev was one of the tsarist regime's most reactionary figures, a fierce opponent of democracy and a keen supporter of censorship.

Critics who consider Mr Putin's regime authoritarian and illiberal will delight in seeing the president take the tsar's throne, only to be dressed in the plain garb of the monarch's chief prude and censor.

Yet Kalinin insists he is not trying to satirise the Putin administration with such a blunt comparison to the final feckless throes of tsarism.

"I am not trying to make an analogy," he said. "I don't want to say that today is similar to those times.

"I have only taken the composition and the idea of a parade portrait. This is a historical painting, fixing a historical moment."

Called The Federal Assembly, Kalinin's "regal portrait" will also attract criticism from Russians who claim that President Putin - whose preferred image is of a rugged man of the people - is more part of the country's rich and detached elite than its elected scourge.

Back to the Top    Next Article