KARL PAVLOVICH BRYULLOV RUSSIAN, 1799-1852 PORTRAIT OF A BOY FOR KING STEFAN BATORY OF POLAND BESIEGING PSKOV IN 1581, 1836
oval, oil on canvas
The siege of Pskov was the key battle in the advance for peace between Russia, Poland, Sweden and Lithuania during the prolonged twenty-five year Livonian War (1558-1583). Under the reign of Stefan Batory, Poland joined forces with Lithuania against Russia to gain control of Livania, present-day Estonia and its periphery. In Karl Pavlovich Bruillov's King Stefan Batory of Poland Besieging Pskov in 1581, the artist depicts the city's heroic attempt to protect itself against the invading armies. Although Pskov was surrounded, it did not fall, and the fierce fracas eventually resulted in peace negotiations with Ivan the Terrible. These negotiations engendered a treaty allowing for the return of Livonia to Poland, and the then captured territories to Russia. Bruillov began painting this historic subject in 1836, producing a number of monumental studies, one of which is presently in the collection of the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.
The present portrait of young boy is an expressive study for the more complete composition, where the boy appears life-size, dynamically holding a spear in the left foreground of the picture (see fig. 1). There are very few surviving studies for this historical painting. King Stefan Batory of Poland Besieging Pskov in 1581 is currently in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, though it appears to have taken a circuitous route before arriving at this final destination. From Bruillov's studio in Rome, the work first entered the collection of the Museum of the Fine Art Academy in St. Petersburg. It was later transferred to the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, and finally entered the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow by 1931.
It is likely that the Tale of the Advent of Stefan Batory to the City of Pskov, one of the most celebrated Russian texts of the sixteenth century, served as inspiration for Bruillov's 1836 painting:
"...the limitless power of the Lithuanians flooded the city walls into the Pokrov Tower...Boyars, soldiers, civilians, all Pskovites fought in unison: they stood beneath the city wall with their weapons, the boyar children shot arrows at the enemy, others threw rocks, and the rest helped as much as they could for the salvation of the city of Pskov...Like stocks of wheat torn from the earth, the Christian soldiers fell to their death...The streets of Pskov were filled with painful cries...out of nowhere the holy messengers appeared on their horses...the monarchs rode through town healing the fear and pain of Pskov..." (Vassili the Iconographer, the Tale of the Advent of Stefan Batory to the City of Pskov, 1581).
Bruillov chose to depict the dramatic climax of the aforementioned procession through the city of Pskov, and the Portrait of a Young Boy is a striking meditation on one of the key characters in this monumental struggle.
We would like to thank Dr. Grigory Goldovsky for kindly providing additional catalogue information.