SERGEI IVANOV: IN THE SHADOW OF A GREAT BROTHER
Looking at the Russian graves in Testacchio, the Roman cemetery for non-Catholics, in the autumn of 2003, my attention was drawn to one particularly well-tended tombstone. My guide Vanda Gasperovich, a lecturer at the University of Rome, explained that the grave belonged to Sergei Ivanov, architect and brother of the outstanding Russian painter. Sergei Ivanov, it seemed, had left a significant sum of money to the German Archaeological Institute of Rome, which now tended his grave. Several days later, I visited the library and archives of the German Archaeological Institute, and was quickly rewarded with a number of valuable, and unexpected, finds. The first was a letter from Pavel Tretyakov to Sergei Ivanov, sent from Moscow in the spring of 1873. Wrongly listed as intended for the Archimandrite Sophony, the letter was to be delivered to “l’Archimandrite Sophony, al’Ambasad Imperiale de Russie Roma pour remettre a Monsinor Serg Iwanoff”.
Gazing at the lined blue sheet, which bore the even handwriting and unmistakeable signature of the Tretyakov Gallery’s founder, I was deeply moved. Overwhelmed, I shared my excitement with the Director of the Institute, Dr. Thomas Frolich. The archive, it transpired, also contained an entire batch of unpublished letters, 21 in all, from the artist Mikhail Botkin. Dated 1858-1859 and 1870, their envelopes bore comments from Sergei Ivanov himself.
Upon returning to Moscow, I began to study the life and work of Sergei Ivanov - a talented man long overshadowed by his genius brother. For many years I sought out material, studied museum archives and perused countless books, journals and manuscripts. The results of these studies appear below. In this article, readers may also see, for the first time, Pavel Tretyakov’s letter to Sergei Ivanov, as well as a number of previously unpublished works by the architect.
The youngest of several children, Sergei Ivanov was born in July 1822 in St. Petersburg. His father, Andrei Ivanov, was a painter of historical scenes and a Professor at the Academy of Arts, whilst his mother, Yekaterina Ivanova, nee Demert, was the daughter of a German braid maker In the early 1820s, the Ivanovs lived in a part of the Academy foundry recently converted into lodgings. Significantly younger than his artist brother, Sergei was born the same year Alexander Ivanov received a silver medal for his drawings at the Academy of Arts. In May 1830, when Alexander was awarded a grant from the Society for the Encouragement of Artists to travel to Italy, little Sergei was only seven years old. Like his elder brother, the boy received early lessons in drawing and related subjects from his father Having taught at the Academy of Arts for 32 years, Andrei Ivanov was in a good position to prepare his sons for entry to this institution. In 1830, however, Tsar Nickolas I took a dislike to Andrei Ivanov's painting "The Death of General Kulnev", and the Professor was dismissed by personal order from the Tsar No longer able to tutor Academy students, Ivanov concentrated all his teaching skills on his younger son.
Sergei Ivanov would treasure many of his childhood works for the rest of his life. His desire to keep the drawings created at the age of ten reflects the family's deeply held belief that a true artist respects all his own works. The young Sergei's drawing of the plaster cast "Head of a Son from the Laocoon Group", from 1832, State Academic Research Museum of Architecture (SARMA), shows his early mastery of the draughtsman's skills. In his desire to learn, Sergei copied not only ancient plaster casts, but also Western European engravings (see, for instance, his drawing "The Windmill", 1832, SARMA). Created prior to his enrolling at the Academy of Arts, these, and other works bear testimony to the young artist's talent.
In 1837, Sergei Ivanov became a student of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He developed rapidly as a draughtsman, tutors noting his aptitude and tireless efforts. In 1839 his excellent draughtsmanship and exceptional feeling for plastic form brought him a Second Class silver medal, followed by a First Class silver medal for his "Main Staircase of the Academy of Arts" in 1840. Unlike his father and brother, however, Sergei decided not to join the Academy's historical painting class, choosing instead the architecture course taught by Professor Konstantin Ton. As a student in Ton's class, he created works such as the "Design for City Gates" (1840) and "The Conservatory" (1841), both in the SARMA. At the same time, Sergei Ivanov worked as assistant to the architect Roman Kuzmin, which allowed him to gain experience of architectural practice.
As an architect, Ivanov also achieved excellent results, receiving a Second Class gold medal for his design of the "Gostiny Dvor [Trading Arcade] in the Capital" in 1 842, and a First Class gold medal for a design of the "Public Library" in 1843. Having completed his studies at the Academy, Sergei Ivanov was made Artist of the 14th grade and offered a grant to travel and study abroad.
A letter from the painter Fedor Moller to Alexander Ivanov, Sergei's elder brother, written on 13 May 1842 tells us much about the budding architect. Having seen Alexander Ivanov in Rome, Moller visited the Ivanov household in St. Petersburg, where he spoke "with genuine pleasure" of Alexander's life in Italy, dwelling in particular on the "beautiful work" the artist was currently painting. In his subsequent letter to Alexander Ivanov in Rome, Moller remarked that the artist's parents were in good health, and that he, Moller, had taken pains to converse with Alexander's younger brother Sergei, who had "grown up to become a handsome lad and a highly promising young artist. Your brother showed me his latest designs, which, as far as I am able to judge, appeared to me quite beautiful. He is filled with such love and enthusiasm for art, that with his talent and zeal he will doubtless soon have the pleasure of travelling to Italy, to work under your expert guidance and feel the benefit of your advice."
In January 1843, however, Yekaterina Ivanova died, and Sergei felt he could not abandon his father: not yet married, the young architect had lived with his parents. His failure to take a wife was, perhaps, connected with his father's experience. Marrying early, Andrei Ivanov had lost the opportunity to travel abroad on a grant - the Academy rules were such that married artists could not receive travel grants.
Sergei spent the following three years as assistant to the architect Konstantin Ton, working first on the building of the Church of the Horse-guards' Regiment in St. Petersburg, then on the ambitious project for the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Ton suggested that Alexander Ivanov create two large images, "The Transfiguration" and "The Ascension", for the interior of the cathedral - the artist's "The Appearance of the Messiah" was also to find a home here. At Alexander Ivanov's suggestion, the altar-piece was to bear an image of "The Resurrection of Christ". At Alexander's request, during his visit to Moscow in 1845 Sergei Ivanov searched for icons to help his brother create this image.
Sergei Ivanov's design for an Orthodox church shows clearly his admiration for the Byzantine style in Russian architecture. The two brothers were in constant correspondence. Alexander strove to impress on his younger brother that "after working in his homeland", an artist should travel to Italy, this country being "the true homeland of the arts".
In May 1845, the Academy of Arts informed Sergei Ivanov that he was to travel abroad with a grant to "advance as an architect, for six years". Sergei was to receive "three hundred chervonnie [gold coins] per year for board and lodging, and two hundred chervonnie for travel expenses." The Roman archive contains the detailed instructions received by Ivanov from the Academy of Arts - Academy List of Instructions no. 509. According to these, the young architect was free to choose one of two routes: from St. Petersburg he could travel through Prussia either to France and England, or to Belgium and England, then, through France, to Italy. In Rome Academy scholarship-holders were to report to the Russian envoy, who was also responsible for Russian artists. During his time abroad, Sergei was to work on "architecture, and, most importantly, to behave in a moral and noble manner: in short, to conduct himself admirably in all respects and to prove worthy of the title of Academy alumnus." Every four months, he was to send to Russia "examples of his architectural work", as well as written reports.
In August 1845, Alexander Ivanov received news of his brother's embarking on his foreign travels. Sergei's voyage proved a long one: travelling through Germany and Belgium, he then made a stop in France. In January 1846 Alexander sent him a request to purchase in Paris "the machine known as a "diagraph" (a camera lucida).
The spring of 1846 finally saw Sergei Ivanov's arrival in Rome. After 1 5 years apart, the brothers were reunited in Alexander's studio, situated at 7, Vicolo del Vantaggio. Years later, in a letter to Vladimir Stasov dated 15 May 1862, Sergei would write: "I found my brother extremely busy with his painting, which was virtually finished, save the figure of John the Baptist". Fascinated by his brother's work, and his method of "checks and comparisons", Sergei Ivanov made a number of drawings of young male and female nude models. His album also contains a drawing of the head of John the Baptist (supposedly). Sergei spent much of his time visiting, and sketching, the magnificent sites of Ancient Rome: the Forum, Trojan's Column and Thermae of Caracalla.
In the summer of 1847, the brothers visited Naples and Pompeii. Throughout the trip, Sergei made vast numbers of drawings and sketches, showing landscapes, house fagades and decorated interiors (see, for instance, his Villa Diomida). The Tretyakov Gallery's graphic art department houses his drawings of erotic scenes from the frescoes of Pompeii. His "Alexander Ivanov in Pompeii" and "Alexander Ivanov Seen from the Back" (both in the Tretyakov Gallery) were produced during this trip, as was the "Portrait of Alexander Ivanov" used by Ivan Kramskoi in 1879 for his famous etching. The images of his brother created by Sergei Ivanov during this trip would later prove invaluable aids in the task of designing the painter's tombstone.
In July 1848, Andrei Ivanov, the artists' father, died in St. Petersburg of cholera - ten years later, his son Alexander would be taken by the same disease. Alexander Ivanov learned of his father's death only in October of that year, upon his return to Rome: "Brother did not send news to Naples of my father's death, out of consideration for me." As he was shortly to travel to St. Petersburg, the brothers requested their friend, the artist Fedor Moller, to deal with matters connected with their inheritance.
Their father's death severed the final tie between the brothers and Russia. The revolutions occurring in Europe at that time caused the Tsarist government to recall all Russian scholarship holders, yet the brothers Ivanov managed to stay on abroad and continue their work. Alexander, at that time, was busy with a huge canvas, whilst Sergei concentrated on architectural measurements. His albums from the 1840s and 1850s are filled with copies of ancient masterpieces, draft designs and tables of calculations. Like Alexander, he liked to copy out extracts from Plutarch and other ancient writers. In Italy, Sergei also became interested in archaeological digs and the reconstruction of old monuments. For several years, he studied the Caracalla bath complex, discovering its heating system and the architectural arrangement of its vaults. The results of these studies appeared in several publications: "Zapiski ob istorii arkhitektury" (Notes on the History of Architecture) (Rome, 1846), "Restavratsiya Karakallovykh ban" (The Restoration of the Thermae of Caracalla) (Rome, 1858) and "Sulla Grande Scalinata de'Propilei del l'Ac ropoli d'Atene"//Annali dell'Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica (On the Main Staircase of the Athens Acropolis Propylaea, in the Annals of the Institute of Archaeological Correspondence) (Rome, 1861, vol. 33, pp. 275-293).
In 1854, Sergei Ivanov was made an Academician of Architecture. Around that time, he also became a member of the German Archaeological Institute, or Deutsches Archaeologisches Institut. In 1857, the architect travelled to Greece, where he would spend many months studying and measuring ancient monuments. The Roman archive contains his sketches of the Temple of Apollo, with a reconstructed view. In early 1858, Ivanov wrote to his brother from Athens in an attempt to dissuade him from sending his unfinished canvas back to St. Petersburg. By then, however, Alexander Ivanov had decided to return to Russia. Hoping to come back to Rome after two years, Ivanov left his studio to the painter Konstantin Flavitsky. In May 1858, the artist and his painting embarked on a veritable odyssey: in his letters to Sergei, Alexander Ivanov described his adventures en route.
On 3 July 1858, having reached St. Petersburg, Alexander Ivanov died of cholera. The news of his brother's death reached Sergei Ivanov in Rome. The letter from the young artist Mikhail Botkin, in whose lodgings on Vasilievsky Island Alexander Ivanov spent his last days, was dated 9 July 1858. Sergei, at that time, was living in the house of Ludovico Marini at 16, Via S. Apolinaria.
Initially, Mikhail Botkin held high hopes of Sergei Ivanov's returning to Russia for the funeral. This was not to be, although Sergei took on the task of designing and making his brother's tomb stone. The sole heir of the late artist, who had remained single, Sergei eventually inherited the entire amount paid for his brother's large painting "The Appearance of the Messiah" - 15,000 rubles in silver.
Several draft sketches of the tombstone designed by Sergei Ivanov for his brother's grave survive. Initially, the pedestal was to be erected on a tall plinth and surrounded by a round of sculptures: one sketch shows two nude male figures, arms crossed on their chests. In a second version, these are replaced by a single female figure clad in a chiton. Eventually, however, this entire complicated and costly project was dropped, and a more laconic design emerged: a simple obelisk, showing Alexander Ivanov's image in low relief. At an interim stage, Sergei Ivanov also considered a long, horizontal sarcophagus, with Ivanov's portrait in the centre, framed in a laurel wreath. This design put one in mind of the poet Vasily Zhukovsky's line "on marble grave a wreath reposed": the smooth, milky white surface of the tomb showed clearly the laurel wreaths fashioned for a true genius. The final version is simple, yet full of grace, and harmonious in proportion, its austere majesty reflecting the architect's impeccable taste.
The image of Alexander Ivanov, which was to grace the tombstone, also underwent a number of changes. The initial shock of waving hair and curling beard is replaced by a smooth hairstyle and neatly trimmed beard. The sharp, austere profile is accentuated as a result: the romantic image of the artist grows into an epic portrayal of a Master. If early versions bear the explanatory comment "Alexander Ivanov, painter", the final piece showed only Ivanov's name under the portrait, and the dates of his birth and death, to either side of the low relief. The remaining sides of the monument were decorated with carved laurel wreaths.
Sergei Ivanov was aided in his task by the young Italian sculptor Luigi Guglielmi (1834-1907). In the late 1850s, this talented graduate of Rome's Accademia di San Luca, or Academy of St. Luke, was at the very outset of his independent career. It is not impossible that Guglielmi met the brothers Ivanov before Alexander departed for St. Petersburg: in any case, Sergei Ivanov's archive contains a note from Guglielmi, signed "Your devoted friend", as well as a note from the young sculptor, dated 13 July 1859 and confirming the receipt of 390 scudos for work carried out. Around the same time, for 100 scudos Guglielmi also made a marble bust of Alexander Ivanov, now in the Tretyakov Gallery collection.
Alexander Ivanov's tombstone was dispatched to St. Petersburg by ship. On 27 October 1860, it was collected from customs by the sculptor Alexander Beliayev, who was to erect it at Novodevichy Cemetery. In a letter to Sergei Ivanov dated 12 January 1861, Beliayev duly reports on the completion of this task. Today Ivanov's tombstone can be seen in the Artists' Necropolis of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra .
Sadly, Sergei Ivanov's experience in the making of tombstones was before long called on repeatedly. 1869 saw the deaths of three brothers Botkin: Nikolai (1813-4 May 1869), Vladimir (1837 - 18 July 1869) and Vasily (1811 - 10 October 1869). The relatives of the deceased requested Ivanov to design a monument for the brothers' tomb. 15 sheets of the architect's sketches, draft designs and cost calculations survive (1869-1870, SARMA, inv. 7233/1-16). The brothers Ivanov had known the famous Moscow merchant Botkin family for many years. Alexander Ivanov met the writer Vasily Botkin in Rome: a friend of Vissarion Belinsky, Botkin was a true connoisseur of the fine arts; his writings appeared in both "Otechestvennye Zapiski" (Notes of the Fatherland) and "Sovremennik" (The Contemporary) magazines. The fourth brother, Mikhail Botkin, later made Academician of historical painting, was instrumental in the publication of Alexander Ivanov's works and letters. At his insistence, following the artist's death all matters connected with Ivanov's property were handled by the "Petr Botkin and Sons" Moscow Trade Fellowship.
Mikhail Botkin and his cousin Postnikov, nicknamed "the inseparable twins" by certain vicious members of the Russian colony, were virtually the only two compatriots with whom Sergei Ivanov maintained contact in Rome. Leading a reclusive lifestyle, the architect deliberately chose lodgings far from the city centre in order to avoid social gatherings. Another exception was made for the historical painter Fedor Bronnikov, who, with the aid of Sergei, worked on a portrait of "old Ivanov." Corresponding with Pavel Tretyakov, in the spring of 1873 Bronnikov received from the collector a request to approach Sergei Ivanov concerning the potential "purchase of studies by his late brother." On 5 April 1873, Sergei Ivanov sent a letter to Moscow, agreeing to the purchase in principle, yet stressing that he possessed an extremely large number of works: "many sketches of boys, heads, figures, landscapes and even virtually finished pencil studies for the painting. Who would be responsible for the selection of works?
Who can tell which ones would please you?"
The famous collector's reply is precisely the letter I had the good fortune to discover in the German Archaeological Institute. It runs thus (I quote the letter in full): "My dear Sergei Andreyevich! Allow me to thank you for your reply to my letter - I am truly indebted to you. A number of family circumstances prevented me from replying to your letter immediately. It is, indeed, extremely difficult, almost impossible, to imagine who could make the necessary selection. I myself know only the "Back of a Boy” and head of Mary Magdalene (from the painting). This autumn, however, I may come to Rome. Will you allow me to pay you a visit, and to discuss this matter in person? Please accept my kindest regards, with which I beg to remain, your humblest servant, P Tretyakov. Moscow, 29 April 1873."
Ivanov replied, sending Pavel Tretyakov his new address in Rome: N 68, S. Francesco a Ripa, Secondo Piano. As Fedor Bronnikov commented, "...he [Ivanov] lives in the middle of nowhere - each time I wish to see him, I am forced not only to pay for a cab, but also to lose an entire day”. In his letters to Tretyakov, Bronnikov gives an unflattering account of the ageing architect, speaking of his "dry, selfish soul". "This highly stubborn man behaves in a manner which is sometimes utterly incomprehensible," he writes elsewhere, and, finally, "having dealings with a bear like Ivanov, and attempting to wrest something from his paws is, indeed, a difficult task."
Pavel Tretyakov did not visit Rome or write to Sergei Ivanov again. He did, however, succeed in arranging a number of purchases through third parties.
The spring of 1875 saw Sergei Ivanov's health deteriorate: in 1866, the architect all but lost his hearing. From Bronnikov's letter to Pavel Tretyakov it would appear that Sergei Ivanov suffered a stroke. On 25 April 1875, Bronnikov wrote: "The works will be dispatched to you as soon as Ivanov is able to walk and deal with such matters. This should occur in around a month's time. At present, his health is satisfactory, and it can reasonably be hoped that he will recover - if not fully, then at least sufficiently to be able to live without too much suffering. His mental abilities are fully recovered, it now remains only to cure his arm and leg." Ivanov's health did not improve, however - not in the following month, or even in the following year. In early December 1875, Bronnikov wrote to Tretyakov: "Together with Botkin and Postnikov I am attempting to convince Ivanov, who is still in the same hopeless state of health, to delay no longer, and to send you the works by his brother which you have purchased. The chump is truly ill!" In Sergei Ivanov's final letter to Pavel Tretyakov, dated 12 February 1876, the architect informed the collector of his intention to send eight studies and the drawing "The Appearance of the Messiah", as well as the final study for "Joseph and His Brothers", to Tretyakov via Mikhail Botkin. For the above works Ivanov hoped to receive 3,600 roubles. Botkin "was eager to deliver the works, but a slight change in his health prompted him to delay his departure from Rome until the warmer season." "I have no choice," continued Ivanov, "but to ask you to send me the money I am owed via Petr Petrovich Botkin." The works listed eventually reached the Tretyakov Gallery, and now form the core of the gallery's collection of Alexander Ivanov's masterpieces.
In 1877, Pavel Tretyakov received a tragic piece of news from Fedor Bronnikov. "I must inform you that our most venerable Sergei Andreyevich Ivanov passed away on 10 February. In his will, he left all his funds to the Prussian Archaeological Institute in Rome. The compositions of his brother Alexander Ivanov, as well as his own restoration designs have been bequeathed to the Moscow museum. Alexander Ivanov's painted studies are to be sold, and will mainly go to Russia." In his next letter to the collector, Bronnikov wrote: "The sale of these studies will, most probably, take place in Russia, since, after all, who needs them here, in this foreign land? That would be most absurd. Thus, on this matter you can rest assured: in time, you will most likely be able to select and purchase those which please you." Sergei Ivanov's death was written about in Russia: the news-sheet of "The Architect" journal published his obituary.
In accordance with Ivanov's will, his entire capital of 46,000 rubles was inherited by the German Archaeological Institute in Rome. The interest from this sum was used to publish reproductions of all of Alexander Ivanov's works on biblical and mythological topics and photographs of Sergei Ivanov's reconstructions of various ancient monuments. As stipulated in Ivanov's will, the remaining interest was divided equally between the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, which was to establish a prize for the best essay on natural history, and the German Archaeological Institute, which was to use the money for archaeological digs in Greece and Asia Minor.
The artistic legacy of Sergei Ivanov remains little known to the public and experts alike. 1938 witnessed the only exhibition of the architect's work to date: held by the Moscow Museum of Architecture, the event was entitled "The Thermae of Caracalla as Reconstructed by Sergei Ivanov". This year marks Sergei Ivanov's 185th anniversary: thus, the author offers this article as a humble tribute to the life and work of the master.
Special acknowledgements to Irina Sedova, chief curator, and Tatiana Nikitina, researcher, of the State Academic Research Museum of Architecture (SARMA) who placed at the disposal of the author the materials for this publication.
- Following Sergei Ivanov's death, according to his will, in 1879 his collection of drawings and compositions by his brother, and his letters were handed over to the Moscow Public and Rumiantsev Museum. In 1925, the graphic works from the architect's collection passed on to the Tretyakov Gallery, whereas in 1939 the collection was divided, and certain works were given to the Shchusev State Academic Research Museum of Architecture (SARMA).
- The Academic Research Manuscripts Department of the Russian State Library. Archive 111, unit 6.48, sheet 1.
- In 1844, General Lev Kiel replaced Pavel Krivtsov as the envoy responsible for Russian artists in Rome. Alexander Ivanov disliked Kiel, an amateur artist. The graphic art department of the Tretyakov Gallery boasts a sketch by Sergei Ivanov, which depicts a feeble manikin with the head of a lion - in all probability, a caricature of Lev Kiel.
- Russian Public Library Manuscripts Department. Archive 738, unit 303, sheet 7 (reverse).
- After the revolution, and particularly in the 1930s, all the old necropolises of St. Petersburg were ravaged. In July 1936, Alexander Ivanov's tombstone was removed from Novodevichy Cemetery, and his remains re-buried.
- "Pisma khudozhnikov Pavlu Mikhailovichu Tretyakovu. 1870-1879" (Artists' Letters to Pavel Tretyakov. 1870-1879). Moscow, 1968, p. 122.
- Archive of the German Archaeological Institute. Letter from Pavel Tretyakov. Sheet 1.
- Purchased by the architect in 1863-1864, this house in Rome's Trastevere district was subsequently rebuilt according to Ivanov's own design.
- "Pisma khudozhnikov Pavlu Mikhailovichu Tretyakovu. 1870-1879" (Artists' Letters to Pavel Tretyakov. 1870-1879). Moscow, 1968, p. 186.
- Op. cit., p. 114, 186, 123.
- Ibid, p. 199.
- Ibid, p. 217.
- Ibid, p. 224.
- Ibid, p. 287.
- Ibid, p. 292.
- Alexander Ivanov's "Biblical Sketches" were published in Berlin in 14 instalments between 1879 and 1889.
- Sergei Ivanov's archaeological studies with text by Richard Bohn were published in Berlin and Stuttgart in 1882 and 1892 (R. Bohn. Die Propylaen der Akropolis zu Athen (The Propylaea of the Acropolis of Athens). Berlin - Stuttgart, 1882).
Final version. Pencil on paper. SARMA
Ink and pencil on paper. State Academic Research Museum of Architecture (SARMA)
Signed and dated: “By S. Ivanov. 15 October 1832 (aged 10)”. Pencil on paper. SARMA
Watercolour and pencil on paper. SARMA
Pencil on paper. SARMA
Signed: “Sergei Ivanov, pupil of Professor K.A.Ton, January 1840”. Watercolour and ink on paper. SARMA
Pencil and ink on paper. SARMA
Watercolour and gouache on paper. SARMA
Watercolour and gouache on paper. SARMA