Russian Art – Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942)

Nesterov is one of my favorite artists. His work has a marvelous Russian quality with an almost pre-raphaelite technique. His rendering of a couple of icon subjects are perhaps the only things that do not work for me. But you see some of his art posted here from time to time. This youtube is a delightful discovery.


  1. Yes. Old Believer communities still maintain some of this – and doubtless there are others. Orthodox nuns wear a variety of head-coverings, including some similar to the black veils you see depicted. I have a friend who is an Orthodox nun, who has a blessing from the Bishop to wear a pectoral cross so that she will not be mistaken for a Muslim woman. Angels probably see the righteous in something like this form…. 🙂

  2. Dear Father —

    What a wonderful and haunting post! Between the art, its themes and the music, one approaches a quiet state of rapture. Thank you and God bless you.

  3. Father Stephen, how are these women treated in society? As a Muslim woman, we are usually viewed as oppressed, even though when the Virgin Mary is depicted she is usually covered in similar attire and nuns get respect and are seen as pious. Interesting, thanks for sharing.

  4. Orthodox women are treated as well as all women. Christian cultures, which are largely in secular countries, have great respect for women. Orthodox women do not cover their heads because they are ordered to by men, but do so out of honor for God. The Orthodox Christian teaching on what it means to be a person, that we are created in the image of God (both men and women) also means that each person has an infinite value and must be treated with respect and love. The head covering in Orthodoxy is not a sign of submission or oppression but instead an honor given to God – perhaps this differs from Muslim cultures.

  5. Actually, women in Islam cover out of obediance to God – NOT because men ordered them to (because they haven’t). And yes it is an honor as well.

    Quranic Verses about covering:

    “O you Children of Adam! We have bestowed on you raiment to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness, that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition.” (Quran 7:26)

    “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear therof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons, or their women or the servants whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex, and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O you Believers, turn you all together towards Allah, that you may attain Bliss.” (Quran 24:31).

    “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” (Quran 33:59)

    When I commented about Muslim women beng viewed as oppressed, it is with secular countries in mind. I am an American convert who covers and even though I was never mistreated many non-Muslims pitied or mocked me fo covering.

  6. Ah, I see. It is likely that the reaction is to the fact that you are Muslim in a Western culture. There are tensions and conflicts for various reasons. When I was in the mid-East, (the Holy Land), I noted both that no notice was taken of women’s dress (of whatever sort) nor of the fact that I was dressed as an Orthodox priest (wearing a cassock). Wearing a cassock in a Western culture (rather than the Orthodox East), also draws comment and reactions on occasion. Life goes on.

  7. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE Nesterov’s work, and this painting is one of my favorites, so much so that I had it converted to a counted cross-stitch pattern (which I expect to be able to execute sometime in the next 200 years or so…). 😉 This particular painting is, I understand, a group of young women who are “taking the veil” in the sense that they are about to become monastics. But I also recall reading about an Old Believer community up around Arkhangelsk where every detail of clothing was related to the Bible (for example, the nine buttons on a woman’s dress were in honor of the nine orders of angels). Fascinating.

    As for the “oppression” of Orthodox, or Muslim, women — really, don’t you get the sense that this culture has a problem with anyone who doesn’t think the exact same way as is taught in school?! I have a dear friend who has been subjected to the most unreasonable persecution because she *chooses* to cover her head in church! Sad, sad.

  8. I wouldn’t say the way things are taught in school…but this culture certainly has difficulty with some forms of non-conformity…but that is generally true of all cultures. As a Christian, I hope there is something in my life that is distinct from our secular culture, and that it is visible. Although, I hope that what is visible is something more than the cassock I wear.

    On the other hand, if your friend is an Orthodox Christian and gets hassled over covering her head in Church – that would indeed be sad and a rejection of Tradition and custom within the Church. If she is something other than Orthodox (or Catholic or Anglican) it would make more sense to me. It would be contrary to Protestant culture.

    What is her Church?

  9. In my Church, (Holy Theophany, Colo Spgs) the women with uncovered heads are the minority… Those who do not cover were mostly brought up that women don’t have to do that anymore, never knowing that head covering has nothing to do with (in)equality. Some will cover only for Pascha – it is an individual choice, whatever a woman’s reason there is no mocking of it.
    At my old parish only three women covered, the Matushka, and two others (I was one, I am also the godchild of one of these women and that could have something to do with why I cover). We are all converts, too, which I find fascinating. Mostly it was a matter of being a bit non-conformist for me and being Orthodox. Covering my head was the easiest way to begin to change, yes external, but it was so different that it wrought many changes internally as well.
    Being an Orthodox Christian is to be non-conformist; in rebellion against the world and its pressures.
    As an aside, Orthodox Jews also cover their heads as well as some protestant sects.
    Christ is born! Glorify Him!

  10. handmaidleah,

    The language of the veil is not unknown in the Roman Catholic world. The first tabernacle was so covered, when it received the eternal promise of the condescending God.

    Thank you so much for your reflections here.

  11. What can you tell me about Nesterov’s painting of Jesus visiting Russian peasants after his resurrection?

  12. David,
    I do not know if Nesterov had anything specific in mind. There were always folktales of Christ appearing (in disguise) in Russia. But this painting is essentially an expression of “Holy Russia.” Some ridicule the phrase as being an idealization that was never real, but I believe the concept of Holy Russia to be good and salutary. It is, as in many historically Orthodox countries, a sense that the true identity of Russia is found in its Orthodoxy and in nothing else. This painting represents that ideal.

    As an Anglo, I would compare it to the British notion of “Logres and Britain.” Only with Logres and Britain, we are dealing with a truly fictionalized spiritual ideal. Holy Russia was a very incarnate reality at many points and places. I taste its flavor in many samplings of Russian culture, as I can in Serbian, Romanian, Greek, etc. I cannot taste it yet in America. Too little salt.

  13. Thank you, Father. I’m guessing Mr Youngblood asked about this because Mormon bloggers have begun using the painting to support their teachings, e.g., that Christ visited N. America. A friend passed one of those along a few days ago.

  14. Rdr. John
    If Mormon claims were that simple, I’d be worried. They are such a mish-mash of fabrication and nonsense, with the Book itself clearly being a 19th century fabrication based on internal evidence alone. It’s not even a good fabrication.

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