Portrait of the bride instead of the face of the saint: whom the artist M. Nesterov depicted on the fresco of the Vladimir Cathedral
Portrait of the bride instead of the face of the saint: whom the artist M. Nesterov depicted on the fresco of the Vladimir Cathedral
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M. Nesterov. Left - Lelya Prakhova. Sketch for Saint Barbara. Right - St. Barbara in the Vladimir Cathedral

Over the paintings Vladimirsky Cathedral Several brilliant artists worked in Kiev: M. Vrubel, V. Vasnetsov and M. Nesterov. The project was led by Adrian Prakhov, an art historian and archaeologist. Mikhail Nesterov carried away by his daughter Elena. He used her as a model for the St. Barbara fresco, which caused a scandal in the Kiev high society.

M. Nesterov and E. Prakhova

Throughout the winter of 1893-1894. Nesterov worked on the iconostases of the Vladimir Cathedral. He wrote the saints in accordance with the Byzantine canons - both Adrian Prakhov and the artists who worked with him considered the revival of Byzantine art to be their most important task. However, the faces of Saints Constantine and Helena, Cyril and Methodius created by Nesterov, despite the unanimous approval of the committee, seemed to the artist himself too cold and impersonal. Therefore, he decided to paint the following works from nature.

M. Nesterov. Saint Cyril. St. Vladimir's Cathedral

The image of the Great Martyr Barbara was especially close to Nesterov, and he decided to "humanize" him, endowing the saint with the facial features of a girl for whom he felt tender feelings. The artist recalled his first meeting with Elena Adrianovna Prakhova: “Opposite Prakhova (mother), a girl of sixteen or seventeen was sitting at a samovar pouring tea, also ugly, thin, extremely attractive. This was the eldest daughter of the Prakhovs, Lelia. She somehow simply, as a long-long-time acquaintance, sat me down beside her, offered me tea, and I immediately and forever in this shalom house began to feel light and pleasant. Lelya, thanks to her sweet tact or special skill and skill to deal with different people in a large society, conquered everyone with her good will and was a common favorite. " And later, in 1897, Nesterov wrote to his friend: "This is a beautiful girl, with whom I once took the type of my Great Martyr Barbara and was not far from falling in love with her and linking her fate with mine."

M. Nesterov. Saint Methodius. St. Vladimir's Cathedral

A pencil drawing by Nesterov has survived - a portrait of E. Prakhova, which served as a sketch of St. Barbara. The artist worked with inspiration and finished the fresco in less than a month. He was very pleased with this work, about which he informed his father: I like the "Great Martyr Barbara" … and I think that it is still my best image in the cathedral … ". However, the members of the committee did not share his enthusiasm. In "Barbara" they saw a violation of Byzantine canons and oblivion of Orthodox dogmas. The saint's face was too earthy and recognizable. Soon there were rumors in the society that instead of the icon Nesterov had painted "a portrait of Lelia Prakhova." The wife of the Governor-General, Countess S. Ignatieva and the provincial ladies under her leadership rebelled: "We do not want to pray for Lelka Prakhova!" The vice-governor Fedorov, who headed the committee, demanded to rewrite the head of Varvara, destroying the resemblance to the daughter of Adrian Prakhov.

M. Nesterov. On the left is Saint Barbara. Sketch. Right - St. Barbara in the Vladimir Cathedral

Later Nesterov lamented: “The head of St. Barbara … was hated by the Kiev ladies, and they got me to be forced to rewrite it. With great difficulty, Vasnetsov managed to persuade me to make this concession … Of course, Varvara's head after that lost what pleased me in it. It was the biggest trouble that I had during the painting of the Vladimir Cathedral."

Left - V. Vasnetsov. Elena Prakhova, 1894. Right - A. Murashko. Portrait of E. Prakhova, 1905

His personal relationship with Elena Prakhova also suffered a fiasco: despite the fact that they were engaged, the wedding never took place.A few years later, Nesterov regretted this: “If I were destined to ever marry again, then I would not want to have anyone as my wife, except for this talented and unusually kind and pure-hearted girl. But … alas and ah! " Shortly before the planned wedding, Nesterov had an affair with another girl who became pregnant from him. Despite the fact that the engagement was terminated, the artist and his failed bride managed to maintain friendly relations for many years. The personal life of Elena Prakhova did not work out, she remained lonely and died in Kiev in 1948.

Shroud, embroidered by E. Prakhova according to V. Vasnetsov's sketches for the Vladimir Cathedral

Portraits of E. Prakhova were also painted by V. Vasnetsov and A. Murashko, and she herself was a talented embroiderer and, according to Vasnetsov's sketches, embroidered the shroud for the Vladimir Cathedral. The artist A. Murashko depicted her in this lesson, bent over embroidery. Heavy trials awaited him: short career and the tragic death of Alexander Murashko

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