Petrov-Vodkin renders the time-honored subject of the Madonna venerating the Christ child in an unusual fashion. The Virgin Mary’s elongated fingers and nose, red head covering, and dominant blue tones follow conventions of icon painting. The more naturalistic rendering of the children’s heads filling the background, however, evidently derives from Italian Renaissance examples, a testament to Petrov-Vodkin’s appropriation of various styles and epochs in his art.
Religious imagery often figured in Russian paintings of the early 20th century, as artists sought connections between their primordial past, native traditions, and modernist art. The icon, a religious image native to Russia, served to bridge the temporal divide between past and present, as well as the class divide between elite and popular. Petrov-Vodkin frequently acknowledged his debt to icon painting, which informed his signature subject, motherhood, and its statuesque rendering.
Radhika Garland, Russian Art Summer Intern, 2010
Kuz’ma Petrov-Vodkin painted Mother of God with Child as a kind of prayer to help his wife give birth to their first child, who was born on October 1, 1922. The painting is one of a series, another of which is in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The artist was a practicing Orthodox Christian, and his first encounter with art was in the workshops of two icon painters. Throughout his artistic career he revisited the aesthetics of the icon. Yet he amalgamated traditional iconography with modernist forms, which at times caused dissonances with representatives of the church. The blue background with blue faces and the faceted structures are typical of Petrov-Vodkin’s work around 1922.
mother and child; faces; abstract; Christianity
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