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Andrei Tarkovsky. The captured masterpiece paintings

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Tarkovsky did not quote works of art in his films. He made dialogues with musical, literary, philosophical, and, of course, beautiful works of philosophers. We focus on the works by Leonardo da Vinci, Andrei Rublev, Pieter Bruegel, Albrecht Durer and other masters, who are present in the films and reveal the meanings and ideas of the director’s art.
"One can make something good based on three things only — blood, culture and history"

Andrei Tarkovsky

Ivan's Childhood

The film Ivan’s childhood showed the Soviet audience the war in a new way — how it affected a 12-year-old child, depriving him of his family, childhood and, eventually, life. Trapped in its cycle, a smiling boy, Ivan, turned into an avenger, obsessed with hatred and blood. He became a monster, according to Jean-Paul Sartre.

Sometimes critics noted the similarity of Ivan with the youth from Vision to the Youth Bartholomew by Mikhail Nesterov.

Ivan’s mood can even be seen in reviewing the trophy album with the reproductions by German painter and graphic artist Albrecht Dürer. Curiously flipping through the album, Ivan stopped his gaze on the famous woodcut The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The work is part of a series of Apocalypse, consisting of the 15 woodcuts, which was painted by the artist during 1496−1498.

Apocalypse (Greek "revelation, prophecy") is the last book of the New Testament, which tells about the end of the world and humanity.
The engraving illustrates a passage from the Chapter 6 of Revelation about the four coloured horses and their riders: Pestilence, War, Famine and Death.
With the advent of Dürer's horsemen, a bond of times appeared, the bond of experiences gained by people of different generations.

The prophecies of the Apocalypse always especially sharply sounded during such unfavourable periods as wars, epidemics and poor harvests. After all, they’re the essence of the apocalyptic phenomenon.

Dürer himself created this series at the time of disturbing attitudes in society, caused by rumors about the end of the world which spread across Europe. Tarkovsky chose the climax of engraving series for his movie. Its dynamics and tensions are attuned to the dynamics of the frames of the movie. The film is subordinated to the monochrome of the work: the black-and-white gamma made sensations of war, anxiety and tension more real.

For the wounded psyche of Ivan, there was no other reality except war. And the engravings of Dürer, he took so definitely:
-Are these the Germans?
-Yes, it’s an old engraving!
-They are Fritzes all the same!

At this point, Apocalypse is beyond the surrounding war, it becomes a spiritual loss, a personal Apocalypse of the boy.
After the horsemen, there is the Portrait of Ulrich Varnbüler in the album, whom Lieutenant Galtsev described as "either a German doctor or writer" and that made Ivan protest: "They have no writers!" And then — the engraving Knight, Death and the Devil.

Albrecht Durer. The knight, Death and the Devil
  • Ulrich Varnbüler, the adviser of Emperor Maximilian I
  • The knight, death and the devil like allegorical portraits of war and the young knight Ivan.
Despite the fatality of the events, the spiritual impulse of the young hero is incredibly important and strong, as well as his desire to sacrifice himself for the salvation of others. Starting with the topics of the Apocalypse and the sacrifice in his art, Tarkovsky would develop them deeper in subsequent films.

Andrei Rublev (the Passion according to Andrei)

The interest of Andrei Tarkovsky for the Russian icon was reflected in the epic film Andrei Rublev. Andrei Arsenyevich said:

"The artist exists because the world is not perfect."

Work of the artist should fill the imperfection of the world, facilitate the passions -sufferings, and help people to find hope, dignity and sense of life. The Director saw the similarity between the complex creative path of the icon-painter and his own way. So he was particularly interested in overcoming obstacles by the artist on his way to the realization of intentions.

Andrei Tarkovsky and cinematographer Vadim Yusov are listening to the story about the wonderful Ferapontov phenomenon in the Russian Museum. Leningrad. 1964 photo
The word Стрáсть "passion" in Church Slavonic means suffering. And Andrei Rublev shown by Tarkovsky goes along this painful path full of passions together with his epoch. He took to heart everything that was happening around: injustice, violence, appalling cruelty of the middle ages. The loss of labors and despair of Andrei were caused by them. He had to realize that the talent was not only a gift of God but also a hard work, the artist was doomed to. It’s a kind of carrying the Cross.

Andrei Rublev (actor Anatoly Solonitsyn) on the background of the iconostasis in the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir.
The works by Rublev, the middle part: the Archangel Michael, the Mother of God, Christ Enthroned in Glory, Saint John the Baptist, the Archangel Gabriel

Andrei was reborn to the sound of bell, cast by the power of passion of a young Boriska, and he realized that now he and his art was in need more than ever.
In the epilogue of black-and-white film, the soft contours of the faces and the bright colors of the icons and frescoes drawn by Andrei Rublev appeared: Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem, Christ Enthroned in Glory, Transfiguration, Christmas. And, finally, the Trinity — Andrei's masterpiece.
Andrey Rublev. Trinity
1420-th , 141×114 cm
"He could see the morning in the darkest hour of the night"
Andrei Tarkovsky about Andrei Rublev

Indeed, in Christian tradition, the icon of the Trinity was seen as a window into the heavenly world that the painter can see with his spiritual sight.

The Christ Pantocrator ended the movie episode with the sounds of thunder roll.
This episode was depicted by Lev Anninsky: "There is a direct, working artistic result of the film about Rublev: the light stroke at the end, a terrible and cleansing takeoff, rocket up, output to the Sun — stroke of colours and sense. It is perceived as a miracle for it was then, that the miracle is not "born from" and "followed", but blew up, blinded, and Tarkovsky needed a long catacomb pre-life where people dipped each other into the mud."


In his films, Andrei Arsenyevich tried to avoid the method of living pictures and used the allegorical connections of painting and film.
According to the memoirs of the painter Mikhail Romadin, for the film Solaris Andrei "has suggested to create the atmosphere, like the painting of the early Italian Renaissance by Vittore Carpaccio. In the picture, there is a promenade of Venice, the ships, and a lot of people in the foreground. But the most important thing is that all the characters were immersed inside themselves, they did not look, neither at each other nor at the landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
, and they did not interact with each other."
Probably it was about the painting Arrival of the English Ambassadors.

For this, the method of removal was used, when Chris, saying goodbye to the Earth, he was sitting in the rain and didn’t react to it in any way.

As we remember the plot of the novel, the Ocean seemed to materialize the objects of human culture. However, not wanting to violate his own principles, the Director refused from one episode, which cited a painting directly:
"…a long iron soulless corridor to the railway station, in the depth of it appears the figure of St. Sebastian with a painting by Antonello da Messina, in the background the carpets hang, as in the painting, the arrows are flying, the image is destroying".

  • A frame from the movie
  • Mikhail Romadin. A sketch
    A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
    So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
    of the scenery
In another episode, Tarkovsky instead of a straight quote, suitable to the theme, a painting has played the role of a key to the solution of a complex image of nostalgia for the Earth. Because the film, unlike the novel by Lema, is not a view on the space but it is the view on the Earth from the space.
And the beautiful allegory of this nostalgic memories became the work of a genius master Pieter Brueghel the Elder, namely the painting Hunters in the snow. This is the image of a distant house and dream-memories of the native planet, about her winter holidays, home comfort, about his childhood.

The Director again used a favourite trick with the camera movement and displaying the fragments of the picture. At this time, spectators viewed the painting through the eyes of Hari, which exerted a nearly hypnotic effect. As the girl was a product of the Ocean Solaris, it was difficult for her to understand the life on Earth.

Tarkovsky made the painting Hunters In The Snow almost a symbol of our civilization.

Another painter, whose work helps us to realize the idea of Director is Rembrandt van Rijn.
At the end of the film there is an obvious allusion to the famous painting The Return Of The Prodigal Son.

  • Rembrandt van Rijn The Return Of The Prodigal Son
  • A frame from the movie
And during the above mentioned episode of soaring at the station, Tarkovsky used another picture of the great Dutchman — The Self-Portrait with Saskia on his Knees.

Many critics were arguing about how to interpret this picture, and the most probable version is this one:
apparently, Rembrandt depicted himself in an image of a prodigal son, and the Self-portrait itself was previously called The Adventures Of The Prodigal Son (or Prodigal Son In The Tavern).

  • Rembrandt van Rijn Self-Portrait with Saskia on his Knees
  • A frame from the movie
In a scene of weightlessness there were other paintings by Bruegel visible: The Fall Of Icarus and the works from the series the Seasons — The Harvest, The Gloomy Day.

So the film builds up the new testament parable of the "prodigal son". In the film, it becomes a cautionary tale about the man and the Cosmos, which is possible to learn, according to Tarkovsky, only by the transition to a higher moral level. On the other hand, a parable about the reconciliation between man and God can be noticed.

Not accidentally, the protagonist takes a reproduction of the Rublev’s Trinity to the station.

Chris Calvin as the "prodigal son", comes back home after all spiritual wandering, through shame and repentance in his delusions.
In all senses.


Mirror is a very personal, and that’s why complex and important film for Tarkovsky. This film, or rather-confession (one of the original titles of the film), created from the memories, dreams, feelings of filmmaker connected with the closest people. The movie is laced with the aesthetics of his favorite artist and spiritual teacher — Leonardo da Vinci. Twice in the film an old folio with the works of the great painter appeared.

  • Leonardo da Vinci. Head Of Christ. Sketch
    A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
    So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
    for The Last Supper
  • Leonardo da Vinci. Sketch
    A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
    So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
    of a female head
In another episode, the book remains open at the reproduction of the Turin portrait by Leonardo da Vinci
Portrait of Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo also acts as the symbol of the film. The point here is, of course, not only in the similarity of the heroine Margarita Terekhova with the depicted woman. Andrei Arsenyevich himself explained his choice:
"Take for example the Portrait of a Young Woman with a Juniper by Leonardo da Vinci. There is something that is lying beyond the good and evil. We’ll need this portrait in Mirror to compare it with the heroine… who can be attractive and repulsive simultaneously."
The same dual ability, Andrei saw it in his own mother.

Because originally he conceived the film as mother confession, who was made to respond to son’s questioning.
Tarkovsky’s sister, Marina, said: "We think that with all Andrei’s love for mother, and his mature feeling of quilt about her, he continued to grow with constant resistance to the rules of life, as they were firmly articulated by mother. That resistance later turned into a desire to return to the childhood, to comprehend the essence of mother’s love, and was reflected in the Mirror."

In the Mirror there are cross-cutting images from previous films. As in Solaris, the childhood is again presented using the Bruegel atmosphere. The scene with the boy on the snowy hill and his pose and the scenery remind the Hunters in the Snow.

Pieter Bruegel The Elder. Hunters in the snow
The aesthetics and ideas of Brueghel were very close for Tarkovsky, who admired his work. The beauty of paintings of the artist is not deliberate, and one that Andrei called "harmonious beauty, secret, beauty as such".
The Assistant of Director Maria Chugunova told that Andrei Arsenyevich did not like when it was too beautiful. "There was kind of absolutely Savrasov’s approach of the father to Peredelkin. If someone said: "Oh, how beautiful!" - he just cut it off."

The Mirror has a "picturesque" reference to another film called Andrei Rublev. The image of The Trinity appears in the frame again.
In Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky showed the passion of the great painter, but in the Mirror he showed his ownpassion. In such a way he hoped to to get rid of painful memories of the past.


In his last Russian film, Tarkovsky returns to the Trinity again. Only this time it is not picturesque but presented in the images of the main characters. And there is no Rublev’s harmony of unity, but on the contrary, the Trinity devoured with discord.
A frame from the film Stalker
In Stalker the Director played a role of production designer. There is almost no fiction, all attention paid to the fundamental values. Therefore, the situation in the film is extremely austere, the names of Heroes are allegories (Stalker, Writer, Professor), as well as the zone itself with its inner sanctum — the Room that grants the wishes. The real world from Tarkovsky painted sepia.
The colours appear only on the territory of the Zone, but it also keeps the traces of the "disaster". The Director again focuses on the theme of the Apocalypse, but now he is also trying to find salvation from it. The dream of Stalker during his halt hints about it.

During the long span of the camera above the water, immediately after the narrator read the lines from the book of Revelation a fragment of the Ghent altarpiece by Jan van Eyck depicting John the Baptist appeared.

In the Gospel we read: "There came a man who was sent from God. His name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through him everyone might believe. He was not the Light, but a witness to the light."
The whacky guide to the Zone, like John the Baptist, is the guide to the Light (Salvation), who is trying to assure Writer and Professor that it exists. He and his picturesque character became the mediator between God and man.

There are strong Christian motifs in Stalker, they help the director to convey the main idea: the need to counterbalance spiritual and material. Therefore, the focus is not only on picturesque views, but also on things around. Some springs, syringes, coins next to a religious image show that the spiritual values of people take second place, giving way to things. The sleep environment becomes an image of Apocalypse, and a picturesque view is Salvation. Alberto Moravia perceived Stalker as a very accurate allegory of Kafkaesque type:

"The Humanity trapped itself, but there is a need to have faith that it will be possible to find the way out."

However, there are many images of John the Baptist in the world, but for Tarkovsky it is always a human who is important. So he selects the work by the artist of Renaissance period, when Europe changed it orientations in the direction of anthropocentrism. Painting by Jan van Eyck was able to combine the love to man and to God.


To find the model for new foreign film, Tarkovsky, travelled to Italy with a screenwriter Tonino Guerra. So, along the way, the documentary Voyage in Time was created.
The Director was confident that a strong sense of nostalgia is inherent to all Russian people who are far from home. Throughout the beautiful and infinitely beloved Italy Tarkovsky searched that metaphysical beauty that lies behind the simplicity of Russian nature.
During the trip, many icons and frescoes suggested to Director were rejected. The film includes only the Madonna del Parto painted by Piero della Francesca.

"Madonna del Parto. They filmed The Pregnant Madonna by Pierro Della Francesca in Monterchi. None of the reproductions is able to convey its beauty. The cemetery on the border of Tuscany and Umbria. When people wanted to move Madonna to the museum, the local women began to protest and defend it."

The note in the Andrei’s diary

At the beginning of the film Nostalgia, when there’s the fresco, the characters talk about it only as a work of art. Russian writer Andrei Gorchakov refuses the offer to go see the painting saying: "I'm tired of your beauty, it is worse than a bitter radish!"
Gradually, the painting gains its religious significance and deep religious meaning. The fresco is partly tied to Eugenia who wants to have a baby, but it primarily refers to Gorchakov. There is a hint at the beginning of the film. While shooting a close-up of the face of the Madonna camera sharply jumps on the face of Andrei, although picturesque canvas and hero are in different places.
This technique is called "space substitution".
Mother of God, despite the refusal of the writer to look at her, marks his uniqueness with the white falling down feather (it appears twice in the film). Again, like it was with Stalker, the painting indicates a special role of hero, thereby continuing the theme of the mankind salvation. But now it is represented by the image of The Pregnant Madonna, who is already waiting for the birth of the Savior.

"There will be life, and the God will be born and the faith will reborn"

The Art Historian Francis Furtaj


The last film by Andrei Tarkovsky immediately starts with a painting The adoration of the Magi by Leonardo da Vinci. The Magi arrived to Mary with a child, to worship the newborn and to give him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The entire spiritual meaning of the movie will develop from this painting.

First, the camera focuses on the moment where one of the Magi kneels and gives a baby a Golden Cup, heralding his anguish and redemption.

In this episode, the fate of the protagonist Alexander is predicted. The Canvas already refers to his own sacrifice. In the name of saving humanity from the death, Alexander refuses the most valuable: family, friends, — everything that binds him to life. He burns his house and says not a single word.
The Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo, as if continues the theme started in Stalker, where John the Baptist predicts the appearance of the Messiah. In Nostalgia Madonna expects of the birth, and finally, in Sacrifice the Savior is born and receives the gifts from the Magi.

In addition to the spiritual, the picture carries the storyline of the film. It’s as if particular fragments develop into independent film plot. The tree in the picture, above the head of Mary with the infant, and the tree, planted by Alexander with his son. The gifts of the Magi to the newly-born Christ and gifts to Alexander on the occasion of his birthday…

Two staircases of the dilapidated Palace in the picture and similar stairs in the vision of Alexander. At the end of the film, these stairs with running and pushing people appear in a dream of character, recalling the confusion in the background of Worship.
The camera repeatedly returns to the Adoration of the Magi and each time in a new light, marking a turning, fatal moments.
First, the camera shows only part of the picture with a dynamic group of people behind Mary with the child. Their faces expressed surprise, some even horror caused by unbelievable events. Otto said about the painting: "God, what a terrible one! I’ve always been very afraid of Leonardo". And in the next scene we see the same terrified people listening to the fateful broadcast.

For Tarkovsky the tree is a symbol of faith, it is metaphysically reflected in the glass of reproductions (in real life, nothing but the interior could reflect in it)
The next time the reproduction will appear at the time of the severe vow of Alexander and Otto’s story about the true nature of Mary. Here the postman confessed about his preference for Piero della Francesca. He probably alludes to the Worship of the Sacred Tree, where the object of worship is not the baby Jesus, like those of Leonardo, but the tree (of which the cross of the Lord was made).

In the film, the hero was looking at the presented album iconography with admiration and regret: "What wisdom and spirituality, and the pure innocence. It’s like a prayer. And everything is lost! Lost! Now we no longer know how to pray"

The message of Sacrifice logically crowns the thoughts of the Director about all his previous films. In this film-testament Tarkovsky tries to show that the only way to overcome the nuclear catastrophe, the only way to the world’s salvation is through faith and self-sacrifice.

Never made movies

The director remained a lot of unfulfilled plans, but we can assume that they also included the variety of picturesque paintings.
The script of the film Light Wind written by Tarkovsky together with Friedrich Gorenstein is preserved. It was based on the novel written by science fiction writer Alexander Belyaev which is called Ariel. At the very beginning, during the scene of a confession made by novice father Gregorius, two engravings of Raphael are mentioned.
Andrei Tarkovsky is also known as a fan of Dostoevsky’s works, he even wanted to make a film about the life of the writer, as well as to adapt the novel The Idiot. In his Martyrology Tarkovsky shares his ideas about the script adaptation, but the desire to implement them constantly faced with obstacles and criticism. But there’s a ready-made picturesque canvas The Body of the Dead Christ by the greatest master Hans Holbein the Younger.

Dostoevsky saw the painting in Basel in 1867, where it caused the writer "the overwhelming impression, and he stopped in front of it as if he was struck". At that time the image of the dead body of Christ was so real that it was possible to lose faith in his resurrection, in the Messiah, who will save the souls of men. This thought about faith, about her power, manifestation Fyodor Mikhailovich expressed in the novel The Idiot. So, probably, the canvas would have been just as significant in the film, as in Dostoevsky’s own life.

The Painting by Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky not only passionately loved painting, masterfully used it in his movies, but he himself studied art in his childhood and skillfully painted.

The Artist of Space project in the Russian Museum provided an opportunity to get acquainted with paintings and drawings by the Director
Author: Irina Frykina. Cover illustration: Valeriy Eliseev Apocalypse (from the series Dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky)

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 Comments  1
Marianna Chizhova
, May 5, 2018 12:12 PM 3
Original   Auto-Translated
Очень понравилась статья Ирины Фрыкиной о Тарковском и живописи. Интересная и умная статья. Спасибо за полученное удовольствие. Марианна.
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