Christ and the sinner (Who is without a sin?)

Vasily Polenov • Painting, 1888, 325×611 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Religious scene
Style of art: Realism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1888
Size: 325×611 cm
Artwork in collection: The Wanderers Irina Olikh
Artwork in selections: 74 selections

Description of the artwork «Christ and the sinner (Who is without a sin?)»

On XV mobile exhibition in 1887 (the best of all, according to the critic Stasov) was the two "nail" – two large-format paintings, written two Vasiliani. The first – known "Boyar Morozova" Vasily Surikov, but the second – a six-meter canvas by Vasily Polenov "Christ and the sinner".

Polenov really wanted to call the picture "which one of you is without sin?" and was very saddened that censorship, which this question seems provocative, it is not allowed. Oversaw the exhibition censor Nikitin first changed the name to "Christ and the prodigal wife", and soon all decided not to allow the picture to be exhibited. The problem was that the work of Polenov, factoring out the mysticism and metaphysics, represents Christ as teacher, a sage, the son of man – not God.

The plot

The story took for the image logs, as told in the gospel of John. Jesus taught in the Jerusalem temple. It is listened by people sitting circle. In the meantime, an angry mob led by a Pharisee (he was in white clothes and was actively gesturing) and the Sadducee (bearded and sarcastic) have led to Christ to the court the woman was caught in adultery. The crowd shouts that, according to the law of Moses was stoned, and requires Jesus ' answer, what to do with a woman. Christ answers: "Who is without sin, let him first cast a stone at her".

How many of then in Russia, Polenov was under the strong impression of the book "Life of Jesus" the Frenchman Ernest Renan, whose purpose was, in the words of the writer Ivan Goncharov, "take away from Jesus His divinity". In a similar vein moved and Leo Tolstoy, who valued the Christian doctrine, "which preached love, humility, humiliation, self denial, and retribution is good for evil", but who did not believe in neither the divine nature nor in the resurrection of Christ. "Christ and the sinner" Polenov also be perceived in this way. Vikenty Veresayev wrote: "Picture this gives of Christ, as we now only can think – not God, but a man with a huge heart". Of course, censorship tensed, but all was resolved safely for the picture. Even before the official opening the exhibition was visited by Emperor Alexander III; he bought the painting Polenov, ahead of giving for "Christ and the sinner" on 20 thousand roubles Pavel Tretyakov. Buy the king automatically removed from the picture censored. "Christ and the sinner" brought Polenov 30 thousand, but did not bring satisfaction.

The history of creation

None of the paintings Polenov was not prepared as long as "Christ and the sinner." He conceived it when still a student, and realized, when he turned 40. Relatives – father, mother, sisters Vera and Lily, his wife Natasha, a friend and patron of the arts Savva Mamontov artists Repinand Surikov – not only knew about the plans Polenov, but was somehow involved in the work: discussing, arguing, advised.

Sister Vera (they with Basil were twins, brother portrayed her in paintings "Overgrown pond"and "Babushkin sad") not lucky enough to see "Christ and the sinner": she died of lung disease at the age of 37. But, according to family legend, before the death of Faith took Basil a promise that he would finish the long-planned "picture of Christ" – so it will be easier to die.

For the most realistic reproduction of nature, clothes, faces, and figures Polenov went to Italy and the middle East: he was sure that there still remained those types of looks that were prevalent in the time of Christ. He wanted to make the picture as authentic.
Its well-maintained workshop at the Polenov was not long, and he wrote "Christ and the sinner" in a spacious office Savva Mamontov. Other Wanderers – Makovsky Repin, Surikov before the exhibition was kept secret even the themes of his paintings by Polenov, on the contrary, nothing is concealed: it in mamontovskiy office visited to look at Christ and Pavel Tretyakov, and Leo Tolstoy.

Beautiful the Christ?

The issue that particularly troubled Polenov – as actually looked like Christ? Not idealizing tradition of the Renaissance or classicism, but in reality. "I want to find historical truth– wrote artist sister. – The truth, whatever it was, for me, much higher than invention".
Polenova was a little down with objective information about the appearance of Christ to find: "Positive data is very small. Those that have reached us, is very contradictory. From the beginning the dispute arises, two opposite stories. One described him almost a physical monster, the other, on the contrary, gives it a beautiful appearance".

Biographer Polenov mark Capsizer not without guile notices that, obviously, Polenov in the end inclined to the second version, once asked to pose for Christ Isaak Levitan (1, 2) and Konstantin Korovin second was a handsome Bon vivant, the first handsome with a biblical appearance and as a consequence incorrigible heartthrob.

By the way, all Polenov's sketches of Christ (with a recognizable profile Levitan) shows headdress. Examining historical sources, the logs came to the conclusion that it would be right – no wonder all the other characters too, with their heads covered: in the scorching Palestinian sun or simply impossible. And the picture of the headdress until the last moment was also, Polenov wrote it before the opening day. It insisted that the mother, Maria Alekseevna Polenova – after all, the canonical Christ, and on the paintings and icons always with her head uncovered! Maria Alekseevna was the special power to interfere in the work of the son – and this time the artist, especially lovingly refers to his mother after the death of her sister, did not dare to contradict.


Polenov made his long-standing idea and received Imperial recognition, but that was followed by a wave of sobering, and sometimes just unnecessarily cruel criticism.

"I am sorry that Christ has short hair", – sentimentally lamented in a letter to the artist Pavel Tretyakov. Stopping celebrity Swedish artist Anders Zorn noticed that Polenova much more successful his 'big picture' – landscape "Winter in Inocencio". The film was criticized for excessive academicism – this is especially conspicuous in comparison with the "Boyarynya Morozova". But worst of all was the reaction of Leo Tolstoy's witness "Christ and the sinner" and, as it seemed, a kindred spirit of the artist. "Wood is beautiful, but meaningless– cut your "plain truth" Thick. – The right side of the picture is written very well – the sinner, the Jews; the left will not fit: individuals trivial, Christ it – it polisher, and the apostles poor; rear – scenery". It is – in a letter to a third party. But in the face Polenov Tolstoy said what he thought: "And you don't like it... there is one who sits in the middle".

But Tolstoy was wrong. "I'm very fond of the gospel story, love this naive, truthful story", – wrote Polenov. "Christ and the sinner" will be the beginning of a huge and his Grand Evangelical cycle of paintings, which logs completed only to 1909. It will include paintings "Among the teachers", "Who do I worship men", "Genisaretsky lake" and others.

Author: Anna Yesterday