The Russian Academy of Art in Florence
I have just been given information about a school that teaches the traditional academic method according that which developed in Russia in the 19th century, which seems to be a place that Catholics should think about for study. A former student of mine at Thomas More College, Jacqueline Del Curto, who went through our Way of Beauty program, has been studying there and is now about to go and do an apprenticeship with the British Catholic artist, my friend Jim Gillick in England. It seems to me that this represents the perfect training.
The Russian Academy of Art in Florence, is one of a number of traditional schools that have been established in recent years. I am told that it was founded about three years ago and that the atmosphere is Christian – this is important, some of these traditional schools are antagonistic to the Church. It has the strong emphasis on drawing that one would expect at a school teaching traditional methods. As important as the teaching of the skill of drawing and painting are the ways that the artist is taught to introduce stylistic elements into the painting. This is done through control of the intensity of colour and focus (ie the blurriness of the image); and it is as important as the accuracy of the draughtsmanship in creating a picture of beauty that conforms to its tradition and the taste of the teacher is hugely important in governing this, because there are no set formulas that can dictate it. I have just been looking at the website of the work of their students and teachers and at first sight I am impressed.
For comparison, readers might like to look at the gallery of the artists from the Art Renewal Center which shows work derived from Western European academic art of the 19th century. I prefer the style of the works of the Russian school. What is noticeable is how their figures are not charged with any eroticism (which is very common in those that appear on the ARC gallery). Also there are hardly any nude figures amongst the selection. When I asked Jacqueline about this she told me that she did no studies of nudes at all in her training. She spoke of a strong sense of modesty because the founder is Christian (they wouldn’t offer housing to couples who were not married for example). She also told me that the convention in this tradition, as she understood it, is to paint male figures wearing at least loin cloth. All of this is very heartening if correct just goes to show that you don’t need to study the nude in order to learn to draw well.
The photographs as well, I hope, give you a sense of the the style of work the school produces. They are figures studies and not sacred art, but the sort of thing that one must be able to do well if one is going to paint sacred art well. They are by a teacher at the school called Svetlana Kurbatskaya.