Ilya Repin’s “Ivan the Terrible and His Young Son Ivan” 1885

I have not seen this painting before. It’s called Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581, and was completed in 1885 by Ilya Repin.

Warped Perspective has an article by Keri O’Shea on the painting:

It took three centuries before this scene was committed to canvas with the gravitas and horror it deserved. The man who proved himself able is arguably Russia’s best-known painter, certainly its best-known Realist painter. That man was Ilya Yefimovich Repin, who returned to historical painting in 1885 to complete ‘Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan’. It is to my mind one of the most haunting pieces of art ever created.

The differences between the Realist style used here and the idealised, unrepresentative portraiture of the day is exaggerated hugely by the savagery of this piece. Repin chose to paint the exact moment of Grozny’s revelation; the awful moment of stillness after the manslaughter of his heir. The two men, one living, one dead, are presented alone in a room whose fire-lit warmth gives the lie to the scene and its circumstances. That warmth, and its crimson finery is ironically juxtaposed with the blood on young Ivan’s head, which is the brightest red here, and the rich, geometric-patterned drapery in the background forms another contrast with Ivan’s curved, inanimate body, fading into nothingness before the grisly focus of the scene. There is evidence of a struggle; furniture is upended, and Ivan’s leg has disarrayed the silk rug beneath their feet – but now all is still. Horribly, terribly still.

However, for all of that, it is Grozny’s haunted expression which retains its capacity to shock. His wide eyes stare into nothing, he is lost in his thoughts; those eyes contrast utterly with the now unseeing eyes of his son. There is a lone tear on young Ivan’s cheek, as he is cradled in death by his now-penitent father, Grozny’s hands clasped ineffectually to the fatal wound. Even knowing the circumstances of this crime, I find Grozny’s expression deeply moving. To my mind, it seems like a Realist take on the Goya painting ‘Saturn Devouring His Son’ – the same blank expression, the same desperation, the same destruction of one’s young. It also creates something which often features in horror – sympathy for the monster, regardless of their deeds. This disturbing image has shocked many through the years; not least, in 1913, when Grozny’s face was badly slashed by a man called Abram Abramovich Balashov. Balashov was removed from the scene shouting, “Enough blood! Down with blood!”

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