Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan, 1885
Ugh, I love this painting so much.
Just some background stuff, Ivan the Terrible was the Tsar of Russia for most of the 16th Century. In I think 1581, he caught his daughter-in-law wearing ‘immodest clothing in front of everyone’ and struck her. She was apparently pregnant and she may or may not have had a miscarriage because of it.
Ivan’s son and the girl’s husband, also named Ivan after his father, hears about it and gets into a really heated argument with his father that ends with Ivan the Terrible taking a swing at his son with his pointed staff. It’s said that he immediately fell down and kissed his son’s face, pressing his hands against his left temple to try to stop the bleeding. He famously screamed “May I be damned! I’ve killed my son! I’ve killed my son!” His son briefly regained consciousness and his last words were “I die as a devoted son and most humble servant.”
I love all the details. I love the pointed staff lying on the ground and the signs of a fight with the tossed over chair, disturbed carpet, and the door wide open. I love the single tear on Ivan’s face and their position on the floor. This is a really gorgeous but raw depiction of one of the darkest moments in an incredible man’s life. I wish there were more historical paintings like this.
Holy shit, that is one of the most intense pictures I have ever seen.
Ugh, yes, this is seriously one of my favorite paintings of all time, and not because it’s bloody. A lot of art uses blood and violence, to the point that a lot of our culture has become desensitized to it. But here, it’s personal, set in a domestic and very regal setting, not something we’re used to seeing this sort of scene in. Everything is a mix of yellow and reds, but the blood still stands out, bright and horrible.
But the thing that gets me every time is the senior Ivan. The way he cradles his son, a grown man, on his lap like a child. The way he has his hand over the wound like he can somehow stop the bleeding, or the frayed hair and balding head, transform Ivan the Terrible into a guilt-ridden, terrified old man.
And those eyes. Those wide, horrified eyes.