Although the themes of Adoration and the journey of the Magi seem to be more common in the Western tradition in art, they are by no means alien to the Orthodox tradition, and these two works by the Russian painter Pavel Filonov (1883-1941) are good examples. Since painting on this occasion serves to interpret (i.e. to translate) the Bible, it is interesting to observe how Filonov “domesticates” his translation. On the one hand, he obviously does exactly what European painters did before him, i.e. giving the people on his canvas a distinctly Russian look. Yet on the other hand, he introduces to the Russian painting the new methods and techniques. The same is true about The Magi, which is a watercolour painting featuring the black Balthasar in the foreground. If both paintings, but particularly The Magi, offer a good example of application of the recent methods in Western painting (Futurism, Cubism) to the Russian tradition.
Derek Maus in his article explores how Andrei Bely and Pavel Filonov, the writer and the painter respectively, studied the dimensions of space, time and “strangeness” of things in their works. It seems that the “strangest” thing about Peasant Family is that Filonov had chosen to depict the villagers, not proletarians. This is partly explained by the painter’s personal dislike of the city as the epitome of hustle and bustle. In a way, too, Filonov could merely follow the tradition that depicted the holy family in the “bucolic”, and not urban, environment. But one can also agree with Maus that “widespread socio-political sympathy for the plight of the Russian peasantry as, minimally, an image of the rural proletariat, made it possible for Filonov to use this visual allegory to glorify, perhaps even deify, a peasant family“.
|Pavel Filonov, The Magi, 1914
(The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia)
|Pavel Filonov, Peasant Family (Holy Family), 1914
(The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia).