‘The Temptation of Christ’ (1872 – 74)





‘The Temptation of Christ’ (1872 – 74)

During the turn of the 19th century, Russian art was exemplified considerably by artistic representations of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, in most easel paintings within the period, it is possible to assert deviation of the respective works from colossal religious compositions. Additionally, the respective paintings illustrated a significant disinclination from pictorial notions, which often determined the approaches behind the representation of Christ. Even though the hieratic perspective of Jesus Christ had dominated the Orthodox conventions, Russian compositions advanced the aspect of humanity as evidenced by the appealing representations of Christ. For the aim of confirmation, the introduction of humanity to Christ’s representations did not take place on an unprecedented note. In fact, as early as the late 1850s, Russian paintings were influenced by the influence of the Peredvizhniki. As an outcome, most of the artists from this period incorporated the Peredvizhniki’s depiction of landscape beauty within their paintings. An effective illustration of this constitutes the painting, ‘The Temptation of Christ’, by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy. Arguably, the respective painting illustrates the inculcation of Peredvizhniki dimensions of landscape against the downtrodden figure of Jesus Christ in the desert.

Overall, the painting, ‘The Temptation of Christ’ by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy focused on exhibiting the artist’s convictions regarding the relationship between artistic representation and the character’s morality. Based on its human representation of Christ, the painting’s audience seemed to comprise atheists or people with a need to establish the existence of God. Aside from its title as the ‘Temptation of Christ’, the respective painting is popularly identified as ‘Christ in the Desert’ or ‘Christ in the Wilderness’. The use of such titles places emphasis on the aspect of landscape. Even though Kramskoy inclined his focus towards the inculcation of the human aspect in his representation of Jesus Christ, the respective Peredvizhniki-influenced context assumed a considerable role in exhibiting the portrait’s humanity (Valkenier 81). Despite its different titles, the purpose of the painting was universal. Simply, Kramskoy was convinced that a portrait or a painting capturing a person should characterize the respective character by signifying his or her ethical or moral convictions. In this respect, the artist focused on portraying the innate conflict between evil and good rather than assert focus on the external man. The exemplification of this struggle within the portrait illustrates the supplementation of humanity to the respective painting. As such, Jesus Christ is not represented as the Son of God. Rather, Kramskoy exhibits Christ as an anxious and fatigued man.

In this programmatic representation, Kramskoy’s ‘The Temptation of Christ’ strives to establish a novel philosophical construction to a chief timeless subject. Within the center of a boundless stony plain, the afflicted Savior of Mankind sits in distressing doubt with his hands clenched tightly together. Similar to paintings by the Peredvizhniki such as Perov, the respective artist uses a controlled grey color palette for the landscape that the figure currently occupies. In addition to this, Kramskoy’s incorporation of color renunciation plays a considerable role in implementing emotional effects, which are further used in respect to the painting’s philosophical aspects (Valkenier 9). In the representation, Christ seems to have stopped making decisions on what comprises his personal truth. As an outcome of this, he questions philosophically whether he should serve falsehood in order to achieve wealth and peace. On the other hand, he considers the acceptance of tribulations for sake of good and justice. These possible thoughts are influenced by Kramskoy’s thoughts regarding the painting. Considering this, he asserts the role of meditation in figuring out the right or proper direction for a man to take. In this case, Jesus was meditating on whether to fight the allure of evil or sell his ‘Father’ for Judas’ thirty silver pieces. As an outcome of such thoughts, one cannot deny the humanity imposed on the character of Jesus Christ.

Even though the inclusion of facial expressions and posture work positively in bringing out the character’s human nature, the landscape assumes a significant role in supplementing the respective subject matter. Foremost, the ashen rocky desert forms a substantial part of the character’s background. Apparently, the aggressive and stern rocks evident within the desert assert an attractive contrast to the individual’s moral choice (Valkenier 10). In order to place emphasis on the wilderness, the artist incorporated cold colors. In addition, the emerging color scheme focused on reflecting the cold dawn within the background. Consequently, the afflicted portrait of Jesus Christ is shifted faintly towards the center’s right. The positioning of Christ in his burgundy tunic and dull wrap pose a dominating position on the respective painting space. Since the horizon separates the canvas nearly in half, the character of Jesus domineers over the collective space by harmonizing smoothly with the harsh wilderness concurrently.

In conclusion, the painting, ‘Temptation of Christ’ (Christ in the Desert, Christ in the Wilderness) signifies the influence of the Peredvizhniki form of painting on pictorial representations at the time. Accordingly, the respective painting is a deviation from past illustrations, which follow a particular structure and format. Nevertheless, Kramskoy’s deviation from Byzantine iconography was influenced by his inculcation of humanity. In addition to this, the incorporation of a pale rocky background added further human aspects to the figure of Jesus Christ.











































Works Cited

Valkenier, Elizabeth. “Russian Realist Painting: an Anthology.” Experiment 14.1 (2008): 9-12. Print.

Valkenier, Elizabeth. Russian Realist Art. The State and Society: The Peredvizhniki and their Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Print.

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