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Home / Issues / № 1, 2013

The problem of the religious-artistic expression of the ideal of a perfect human being and its general meaning in the Russian art culture
Zhukovskiy V.I., Pivovarov D.W.

Philo of Alexandria introduced on the basis of Platonism the notion of a perfect (ideal) human being and has distinguished the created man from its heavenly original: there is the fullness of the human race in Adam, and a human soul is a part of the world-soul. The following images of a "perfect man" are submitted in different worldview traditions: a holistic man, a man-microcosm as a fractal of macrocosm; a man as an image of God, etc. In the conception of nature-centrism a man is seen predominantly as a creature of nature (Democritus, Epicurus, Locke, Feuerbach, etc.), in theocentrism - as a kind of the temple of God (the apostle Paul, Augustine, Voino-Yasenetsky, Seraphim Rose, J. Robinson and others.), in sociocentric conceptions - as a creature that has a purely social essence (Marx, Durkheim, P. Sorokin and others.).

There are three philosophical approaches: spiritualism, psychism and somatism, which are fighting with each other constantly. They have arisen due to different answers to the question, where to look for the nature and essence of a man as a person - in his spirit only, or in his soul, or in his flesh? Some authors see the system-forming power of a man in his material flesh, in physical corporeality. Others say that the soul gives an individual his life and integrity. There are authors who speak of the spirit as the main factor of the formation of integrity of a person (philosophers usually call this integral "personality").

For example, many idealists tend to exclude the "aspect of flesh" from the idea of a human being and to reduce the essence of a person to the human spirit or soul. True materialists, on the contrary, assert view of a man as a purely carnal (material) being. Sometimes the conversation about a man substitutes for the discussion about the definition of a person, the concept of which can be defined as a stable system of socially-significant features of a man. From time to time philosophers propose projects of the description of a man as homo compositus, i.e they are trying to reveal the human integrity through the principle of hierarchical coexistence and mutual reflection of three aspects in one anthropic essence - spirit, soul and body. Today, under conditions of post-modernist destruction of classical anthropology, opponents of postmodernism are trying to realize such a project.

The biblical-Christian tradition (Paulinism) has played a particularly important role in the historical formation of ideas about the essence and the ideal of a man. Let's highlight, on the basis of this tradition, some ideal types of people, polar each other

1. Spiritual people ("spiritual body") who have a totalitarian orientation with all their dignities and disadvantages. Among them, in turn, there are: a) positive-spiritual totalitarian people; the Holy Spirit or another objective spirit of good and creation dwells in their subjective spirits; b) negative-spiritual totalitarian people, seduced by evil and destructive spirits which penetrate into them. Human history knows many examples of both good and evil spiritual totalitarity. Perhaps, Anthony the Great, the founder of Christian monasticism, or Evagrius Pontic can be classified as representatives of positive pneumatic totalitarianism. Some of the top leaders of the black order of the SS in Nazi Germany (and Hitler himself first of all), on the contrary, should enroll in the category of people with satanic spiritual totalitarity. Sometimes there are transitions from the category of evil spiritual totalitarity into the category of good spiritual totalitarity and on the contrary, the bright examples of which in the Christian tradition are such cases as the transformation of the apostle Paul (Saul, the former persecutor of Christians) and the apostle Judas Iscariot (he betrayed Christ, whom he loved).

2. Carnal people ("the body of flesh") of totalitarian orientation, the properties of whom are listed in the epistles of the apostle Paul. First of all these include egoists, pursuing material interests and completely devoid of spiritual aspiration. There are creators and destroyers among them. Many of the images of "flesh" creators (for example, the image of Stolz in I.A. Goncharov's novel "Oblomov") and spiritless nihilists (for example, the figure of Ivan Karamazov in the novel "The Brothers Karamazov" of F.M. Dostoevsky's) are displayed in fiction.

3. A partial man, whose integrity is unstable and whose spirit and flesh are in weak or uncertain cooperation. This kind of totality looks like "soma psychikos" in the typology of the apostle Paul. "Soma psychikos" is a transitional state, and it has trends to become over time either in "soma pneumatikos", or the "body of flesh". For example, an inconspicuous captain Tushin in L.N. Tolstoy's "War and society" showed the sample of the highest military spirit in a deadly battle with the French aggressors. On the contrary, Salieri (in whom, according to A.S. Pushkin, the indomitable envy villain took the top), most likely could be enlisted at the beginning in the category of "soul people" of eclectic kind.

4. A harmonic man, in whom his spirit, soul and flesh are in a state of optimal and stable equilibrium. The first man Adam, lived in Eden, is considered as the most representative example of a true harmonic personality in the Christian tradition. Marx, an atheist, strongly rejecting any monotheistic faith in the reality of Adam, dreamed about the "golden age" of humanity in the distant communist future, when all real conditions for education of harmoniously developed people would appear.

Ideals of "perfect integrity" are specified in every culture with a help of visual images and are embodied colorfully by cultural heroes. One and the same integral ideal is embodied in many cultural forms; it is broadcast in a society through its mutually further incarnation in myths (Hercules, Sisif, etc.), religious examples (Abraham, Job, etc.), artistic images (prince Myishkin, Pavel Korchagin, etc.), political leaders (Alexander Nevsky, Peter I) [10].

There were created a lot of wonderful masterpieces of painting in Russian fine-artistic culture, personifying harmonic samples of the spiritual and carnal people. The ideal of Christ, which I.N. Kramskoy has embodied in his painting "Christ in the desert", is very attractive for the spiritually-integral people ("soma pneumatikos") with positive totalitarian settings. The totalitarian-negative ideal of spiritual integrity was glorified by M.A. Vrubel in his works "Demon" and "Pan". Three different harmony courageous lives with a predominance of physical aspect are in front of the audience in V.M. Vasnetsov's picture "Bogatyrs" - Ilya Muromets, Dobrynia Nikitich and Alyosha Popovich [8].

B.M. Kustodiyev was a great master of concentrated expression of ideals of a harmonic integrity of life of different classes in Russian society. The artist painted different social-class ideals of a perfect man elegantly and evaluated them with subtle irony. For instance, Kustodiev has presented a spiritually-demonic ideal of a Russian revolutionary in his canvas "Bolshevik". In the "Merchant's wife" the artist admires, with the subtle gentleness, the ideal of carnal harmony typical for the class of merchants. The greater part of this wonderful canvas - is a "conditional" (not real) portrait of a woman in a dress with a white handkerchief in her hands - a lush, young, beautiful, immaculate, peaceful and friendly. She is depicted in full growth and is inscribed into a narrow isosceles triangle looking at the sky. There is an orange halo around her head - this is the background of purple leaves of the powerful tree ("tree of life"). Merchant's wife reminds schematically an Orthodox temple. A youthful merchant is located not far from this "temple" and praying to her. He is ready to sacrifice her all his money. As a symbol of "the temple of flesh", a merchant's wife is clearly dominates "the temple of spirit" (the Orthodox cathedral) depicted behind the merchant. It is a picturesque example of such a harmonic integrity of life, in which the fourth part of life only is given to the cult of spirit, and three-fourths of life is devoted to sacralization of earthly flesh and material values [4].

But, perhaps, the maximum capacious image of the equilibrium of harmony of spirit, soul and flesh is realized in one of the world masterpieces - in A.A. Ivanov's work "The appearance of Christ to the people". Alexander Andreevich Ivanov (1806-1858) is a great Russian artist who enriched the fine art of the 19th century with deep philosophical thoughts, compositional and painting discoveries [7].

Let's turn to the analysis of his painting "The appearance of Christ to the people" (1837-1857), which has truly become the cause of the whole life of this genius master.

The canvas depicts the desert on the bank of Jordan River. The main characters of the picture are, first of all, John the Baptist and the group of people behind him depicted on the principle of equality of their heads; still two human figures, going from the Jordan's waters, abut to them (an old man and a boy). All seven people in the left part of the paintings are presented by the artist on the background of a huge tree. Figures of praying are vaguely visible in the distance through the crown of the tree. Actors, located to the right of John, form the second group, in which, in turn, we can allocate several smaller entities. First of all, we see some people (a naked white-haired man and his servant are especially noticeable) sitting on the ground in the middle of the picture at the feet of John. Further - there are three naked male figures: "looking" and "trembling". The crowd, down the hill and accompanied by riders, is the third region in the right part of the canvas. Christ also belongs to this group of characters, although the artist has separated him from all. John, exhausted by fasting and prayer, towers over all; he turns his eyes, a flame of inspiration, to the crowd.

We see that Ivanov has managed to achieve at the level of the first layer of the intangible plan such diversity in the interpretation of the characters that it is impossible to confuse one image with the other. Each person has its past, present and future. That is, the artist understood all of them in the biographical plan, and he depicts their portraits with consideration of the specific circumstances of their spiritual life. A viewer can see different persons in the space of the painting: the gusty, easily flammable people and the people of the solid spirit; the good, merciful people and the bitter, cruel people; the people, who are wise, immersed in their thoughts, and the simple people; the dispassionate and closed, skeptical and suspicious people; the watchful and puzzled people. It is difficult to enumerate all the hues of a human "I", which are reflected in this Ivanov's creation. Various emotional states of the characters are compared as if they characterize the stage of development of any one of the human feelings. Different modes of human worldview are expressed in many images within one painting. Ivanov provides his work with the plastic motifs of "shaking", "scrutinizing into the distance", "an exit out of the water", "raising", «squirming", "straightening", etc. He gives a viewer an opportunity to move naturally from the literal meaning of the motive to the ideal conception of the typical phases of human existence in general.

The wanderer with a stick in his hand is a self-portrait of Alexander Andreevich Ivanov. The artist has portrayed himself under the guise of a wanderer, nestled in among the rocks under the shade of a tree; this person is contemplating the magnificent picture of the Messiah appeared in the world. The wanderer is a spiritual self-portrait of the artist. Being in Italy, Ivanov has studied the philosophy of Schelling - the "ruler of doom" in the environment of art intellectuals of the time. According to Schelling, an artist is a genius and a sample of the absoluteness of God, acting like nature. When an artist builds something of the matter, then he builds his own "I".

Shades of the internal condition of the author-the wanderer, his thoughts and feelings about life and about himself radiate, as waves, to the left and to the right in the space of the canvas "The Appearance of Christ to the people". They are implemented in the various characters of the picture. It is he, the author, being "inside" of his own work; he is both: a prophet and a slave; a sage and a doubter; a passionate young men, interested in his subject, and a helpless old man, not capable of deep feelings; a man who is taking faith selflessly and a man who doubts in the faith. He and only he is "crouching" and "rectified", "rising" and "sit", "looking" and "hearten". What is separated in the world of bodies is merged into the spiritual world in the mind of the author.

In Christianity, the geometry of the vertical figure of "eight" symbolizes the ratio of the earthly and heavenly worlds, and the point of intersection in the center of this figure is the God-man (Jesus Christ). Alexander Ivanov knew this tradition and took it into consideration. He changed fundamentally the direction and content of this geometric symbol - he put it on one side. It turns out as lemniscate, i.e. a geometric shape in a form of the mathematical sign of infinity. The center of this lemniscate is Ivanov himself. His figure is the middle (the mediator) between the circle of the Disciples of Christ and the circle of the scribes and Pharisees; it combines the contact loops of the lemniscate. The figure of Nathanael ("the Doubter") creates the center of the left loop of this lemniscate. The figure of "the Shaky Slave", who is ready to accept the faith, creates the center of the right loop. Although the artist is depicted in the center of the picture, his self-portrait is dimmed and is not too catches the viewer's eyes. The lemniscate's loops are in full equilibrium like bowls of weights. We see John the Baptist with his disciples, the future apostles, in the left loop of the circle. They are symbolizing the world of spirit and the power of religious faith in God. The Pharisees and scribes are placed in the right circle. They are representatives of the world of science, rational knowledge. With the help of this artistic method Ivanov has reached the speculative balance of faith and knowledge, and he has found the golden mean "of true spirituality".

The compositional formula of "The appearance of Christ to the people" is not static. Its dynamism is revealed through the interaction of the image of Christ in one part of the picture (Christ is important first of all to those who lack faith) and the image of the dry branch of the tree in another part of the picture (this branch is the symbol of Christian teachings; this branch-teaching becomes yellow; therefore, Christ's appearance is certainly necessary for the revival of the doctrine, which is perishing in its basis). The semantic pulsation of these elements causes the dynamic character of the harmony of faith and knowledge, feelings and mind. It turns out, that the artist wants to tell the audience that faith and religion should equally be complemented by doubts and scientific knowledge in a truly harmonious man. And, on the contrary, a true scientist (together with his doubts) should be filled to 50 per cent with religious faith; otherwise, the scientific knowledge is one-sided and imperfect [3].

However, no one artist has been able yet to portray the ideal of a perfect man fully, because every single creature bears the indelible stamp of the limited (clan, tribe, time, location, education, etc.). A comprehensive artistic ideal of humanity is inevitably deprived of its "individuality", and, perhaps, an icon reflects its generalized face much better.

A.A. Ivanov solved, with the help of artistic means, the age-old religious and philosophical dilemma: what to prefer - faith or knowledge, a feeling or reason? The focus of the mutually balanced parties of human spirit is the artist himself, depicted on the canvas. This is the formula of the true meaning of life, which Ivanov has suggested to his audience. It is possible to agree or disagree with this formula, but we cannot ignore it today.

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Bibliographic reference

Zhukovskiy V.I., Pivovarov D.W. The problem of the religious-artistic expression of the ideal of a perfect human being and its general meaning in the Russian art culture. International Journal Of Applied And Fundamental Research. – 2013. – № 1 –
URL: www.science-sd.com/452-24395 (17.07.2024).