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The Awakening of the Daughter of Jairus

The Awakening of the Daughter of Jairus

Ilya Yefimovitch Repin (1844-1930). Museum of Russia. Saint Petersburg. 1871.

Luke tells that Jesus was welcomed by a crowd that had been waiting for him. A man came to Jesus. This man was called Jairus and he was president of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded with Jesus to come to his house because his only daughter, barely twelve years old, was dying. Jesus then performed a first miracle for in the midst of the pressing crowd a woman suffering from haemorrhages had touched him slightly. Jesus had felt the touch and the woman had been cured at that very moment. Then someone came from the president’s house to say that the daughter of Jairus had died. The crowd wanted to retain Jesus, and said not to trouble Jesus anymore since anyhow the child was dead. But Jesus went up to Jairus’ house.

Jesus went into the house with Peter, John and James, and with the child’s parents. They were already mourning the girl, but Jesus said that the girl was only asleep. Everybody ridiculed Jesus then, for obviously the girl had deceased. Jesus tool the hand of Jairus’ daughter and spoke to her, ‘Child, stand up!’ The girl recovered her spirit and she stood up. Jesus told to give something to eat to the girl. Jairus and his wife were very astonished. Bur Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

The Russian painter Ilya Yefimovitch Repin painted the ‘Awakening of Jairus’ Daughter’ in 1871. He was born in the Ukraine, but studied quite young from 1865 to 1871in Saint Petersburg at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. He received a golden medal with the ‘Raising of Jairus’ Daughter’ and with that medal came a stipend to travel outside Russia for several years. Repin travelled to Paris and Rome and continued to learn. He became a very famous painter of the Russia of the nineteenth century. He was an intimate friend of Leon Tolstoy and he made portraits of Tolstoy and of the musician Modest Mussorgsky. He painted a few historical scenes, many portraits, a few religious scenes and many genre scenes of Russia’s social situation. He received official commissions of the Russian Imperial state and thus was quite linked to the establishment of Russia’s ruling class.

In 1863 fourteen students of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts of Saint Petersburg left the academy to protest against its conservative and too restrictive ruling. There were thirteen painters among them and but one sculptor. These founded an association that grew and was only officially installed in November 1870, called the ‘Wanderers’ or 'Itinerants'. The name came from populist students that wandered in those times through the country promoting their ideas of social reform. Ilya Repin was on of these ‘Wanderers’, the leader of which was Ivan Kramskoï (1837-1887). In the years 1890 the association of the ‘Wanderers’ was so well accepted that three of its members, Vassili Polenov, Bogolioubov and our Ilya Repin were asked to define new statutes for the Academy of Saint Petersburg and Repin and a few of his friends became professors of the new academy. Repin was a professor from 1893 to 1907. Then however, Repin continued to paint in his own realist style whereas the Russian Avant-Garde of abstract painters received the attention. Ilya Repin died in 1930 in Finland.

Repin’s ‘The Awakening of Jairus’ Daughter’ is a large painting, in the realist style of the epic historical pictures of the nineteenth century. It is an impressive painting that is difficult to forget. Repin shows Jesus and the daughter of Jairus in full light.

The girl lies on a white bed, but as the room is lit by candles Repin could paint in mellow, soft white and yellow hues that show masterly the skills of the painter in using chiaroscuro. Repin drew a candelabrum on the left with three candles and these lit the scene. It is always a considerable feat to show a room lit by point sources of light such as a few candles, and Repin made an extraordinary, fabulous scene of Jesus and the girl. Jesus takes the hand of the girl and locks his eyes into her. Thus Repin painted a very strong link between Jesus and the girl and that link draws all attention of the viewer.

Repin painted Jesus in a non-conformist entirely blue cloak. Jesus has a long beard and long hair and Repin showed him like he was sun-burnt after long wanderings through the countryside. Jesus is a long, slim man, and the viewers can remark the tiredness but also the spirituality that emanates from Jesus. Repin painted Jesus in blue instead of in the usual red colours to enhance this spirituality, to indicate the distance between the girl, the rest of the humans and Jesus. The candlelight plays upon Jesus robe and we cannot but admire the way Repin rendered the shadows of the bed on the lower part of his tunic. Jesus touches with an emaciated hand the daughter of Jairus. We feel Jesus’ spirituality thus pass from Jesus into the girl. Jesus looks in a very decided, confident way, detached, with the look of a commander. He will command the girl’s spirit to come back into her.

Jesus and the girl attract all attention of the painting, but in the darkness of the room, to the right, the viewer remarks other figures. There is the old Jairus, dressed as a Hebrew, and his wife. Behind Jairus stand Jesus’ companions, still young. There is John on the right, painted in his traditional red robe, but also James, John’s brother, and Peter stands in the distance, hidden and almost invisible. Here Repin used dark brown, even black on Jairus’ wife, and dark red hues and as the figures disappear in the background Repin used rougher brushstrokes. These add power to the scene and contrast with the high detail of the bed and of the girl. Repin painted here as if he wanted to state that he could as well work in full detail like Italian and Renaissance Flemish painters, as work in the strong style of more modern work. With this effect also, Jesus and Jairus’ daughter appear out of a dream, unto which all intentness is concentrated. The other figures fade out of the dream; they appear only at the edges of the awareness. Repin knew psychology well in portraiture and he masterly showed the incredulity in the astonished, somewhat un-intelligent gaze of Jairus. Jairus has appealed to Jesus not out of intelligence but with the naivety of an emotional man.

Russian painting is less well known in Western Europe and the United States, but Russian art of the nineteenth century, be it in painting, in literature or in music was impressive. Many painters like Ilya Repin worked then, and made impressive, extraordinary pictures like this ‘Awakening of Jairus’ Daughter’. It is a powerful work, which showed the strong vision of the painter. Repin showed marvellously Jesus’ confidence and his command of life, in a slender man wandering through the country to promote his ideas. That was also the aim of the Russian ’Wanderers’.

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Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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