This Week’s Art: Ivan the Terrible


Ok, so my “little break” was more like a couple of weeks.  Add “extreme coughing from the lungs” to “Post-Las Vegas” and there you go. But I’m back, and this one is an interesting one for me.  It’s one of the first art pieces that I really took something from, especially in the extreme emotion.

This is Il’ya Repin’s Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581 (1885, oil on canvas, 79″ x 100″). The artist based it on a real event, involving (natch) Ivan the Terrible.  In the heat of an argument, Ivan stuck his son with his staff, mortally wounding him.

Repin used a very nice composition here, with very little in the background to steal your attention.  The foreground is a fairly nondescript rug, with little furniture in the room either. The only furniture that you can really see is knocked over, adding to the drama of the moment.  I like is the posing of the characters too, there’s little life left in the son, but he hasn’t passed on just yet.  Ivan is holding his son tightly, and holding his hand across the wound, as if trying to hold his son here on earth as long as he can.

Along with the composition, Repin brought the contrast into only the center of the piece, leaving the rest of the image to fall off into the darkness or into similarly colored areas.  There’s a strong sense to me that the light is actually knocked over, as the shadows that are being cast seem to come from a low spot.  It adds to the drama of the scene, and to the desperation in it.

The palette of colors he uses works well, and he put it in just the right spots.  Red is quite primary in the image, but it sits mostly around the exterior of the image. It’s almost a frame of red, surrounding and even highlighting the blood on the younger Ivan’s face. Your eye is brought right to the blood in the center, and right to the shock on Ivan’s face, a face of madness and horror.

Though certainly, without an actual photograph of the event, there’s no real way to know what happened in that moment.  But Repin has captured a believable emotion perfectly, as Ivan is hit full bore with the realization that in his uncontrollable rampage he has killed his own son. Ivan’s face shows the full horror of his actions, a perfect rendition of going too far, and realizing that you can never take it back.



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