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The Appearance of Christ Before the People, 1837–1857

Composed by Russian painter Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, this oil on canvas depicts several stories from the Bible. The figure at the center of the painting, right by the river Jordan, is John the Baptist, who is pointing towards Christ who appears in the background. The men to the left of St. John are John the Apostle, with St. Peter behind him, and Andrew the Apostle and Nathaniel further left. A group of undecided men stand in the foreground, while at the center Ivanov features the rich young man who never followed Christ, and a slave, who after a life of despair and suffering experiences joy for the first time. Ivanov depicted both his good friend Gogol (the man on the right standing closest to Jesus) and himself (the man wearing a red hat) in the painting.

The Theophany icon, 16th century

In this icon, called Epiphany (“revelation” in ancient Greek) of the Holy Trinity, also known as Theophany (“revelation of God” in ancient Greek), the writer tried to arrange subjects in order to stress the paradox that Jesus Christ might be revealed as God through an act of submission to a mere man (John). John is the one doing the baptizing but is shown as bent over in reference of Christ to stress that paradox. On the right side of the river stands a group of saints awaiting to welcome the newly baptized Christ in order to clothe him.

Inconsolable Grief, 1884

This evocative painting was produced by Kramskoy after losing two sons in a short span of time. It is juxtaposed to the famous Byzantine icon “Weep Not for Me, O Mother,” which also depicts a parent mourning her son, in this case Mary weeping because of the loss of Jesus.

Weep Not for Me O Mother, 16th century

In this 16th-century icon entitled "Weep Not for Me, O Mother," Christ is shown as standing in an erect position next to a weeping Mary. Such a posture suggests that Christ is already announcing his Resurrection, as indicated in the icon’s title, which is traditionally recited as part of a special service held on Holy Friday in Eastern Christianity (The Lamentation at the Tomb, also known as Epitáphios Thrēnos): “Lament me not, O Mother, seeing me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify you in faith and in love."

Christ in the Wilderness, 1872

This painting by Russian artist Ivan Kramskoi is part of a series of three Jesus-themed paintings, the other two being "Rejoice, King of the Jews" and "Herodias." Here, Christ is depicted looking down in a reflective pose. Kramskoi opted for cold colors that match Jesus’ inner state, a very human mental struggle. It is juxtaposed against the portrait of Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov.

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1872

This oil on canvas work of Russian realism by Vasily Perov depicts world renowned author Fyodor Dostoevsky in a reflective pose reminiscent of that of “Christ in the wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoi. The choice of cold colors and pastel light is also similar to the Kramskoi work.

Life Is Everywhere, 1888

In this work of Russian realism, Nokolay Yaroshenko features a group of convicted criminals on their way to Siberia. Despite the choice of subject, the painting exudes a warm and compassionate feeling, especially thanks to the central figure of a child leaning out of the train window (prisoners were allowed to take their families with them). The woman holding the child is wearing a black veil that makes her look like Mary. In the Vatican Museums exhibition, this painting is in fact juxtaposed against the icon of the Virgin Kikkotissa, a famous Byzantine icon in which Mary is lovingly holding to Christ child as he reaches for the scriptures she holds in her right hand. The green/blue and red/brown chromatic scheme of the painting is reminiscent of that of the icon, too.

Theotokos Kikkotissa, 15th century

This icon by S. Ushakov depicts Mary holding the Christ child. In the Eastern tradition, Mary is known as "Theotokos," or "God-Bearer" (Mother of God), a term still in use in  in Eastern Church's Liturgy, both Orthodox and Catholic. As in “Life Is Everywhere,” the central figure of the icon is Christ child who reaches from his mother’s lap to get to the scripture she holds in her right hand.
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