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When entering the main hall of the State Tretyakov Gallery the first thing you might see will be an enormous painting of the famous and unique Christ of the Lanterns of Córdoba. And that well deserves a brief investigation on how and why the Capuchins’ square has such an importance  in this Russian Museum.

The State Tretyakov Gallery is located in Moscow and is considered one of the main venues for Russian Fine Arts. It was founded in 1856 by the Moscow businessman and philanthropist Pável Tretyakov, who begun collecting art pieces from Russian contemporary artists with sole idea of building an Art collection, and that would eventually end up in the National Art Museum.

The art work that, in a way, is seen as dominating the Musuem is an art piece consisting of three paintings that goes under the title “Triptych of Spain”, which is considered a masterpiece of Andrei Mylnikov (1919-2012). Mylnikov was one of the most talented and famous painters born into the Russian Soviet era, but then his work and prestige continued into the New Russia. He was, and we shall not forget it, one the top official artists of the regime and was granted several awards and acknowledgements throughout his career as a soviet painter. His works extend to painting, sculpture and mosaics, with famous and emblematic works such as the decorations of Moscow and Saint Petersburg metro stations; he was also the author of the great mosaic depicting V. I. Lenin that dominates the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. He was also a teacher and a politician and the director of the Russian Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. In other words  Mylnikov was an indispensable figure to Russian Fine Arts.

Let’s go back to Andrei Mylnikov’s series “Triptych of Spain” for there is a lot to be said. Mylnikov needed approximately 15 years before considering the series concluded. He started it around 1974 after a trip to Spain but it was not until 1981 that he presented it to the general public, and he did so about the same time he was awarded the Fine Arts Academy Gold Medal of the Soviet Union. A few years later, in 1984, he would also be chosen for the Lenin Award, the highest official mention a citizen could get in the Soviet Union. Mylnikov visited some Spanish cities: Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona… but it was while in a very specific place in Córdoba where he would understand and catch the essence with which he depicted Spain.

“Triptych of Spain” consists of three big oil on canvas: a central painting of 2x2,5 meters (The Christ of Lanterns) and at its sides two of 2x2 meters. As a whole they mean an idea about life and death, a complex composition that confronts once again the eternal fight between good and evil: life and death, love and treason, physical pain and spiritual rise.

Mylnikov named each piece differently, perhaps in order to grant each one with an according set of words to match the essence. Let’s go through them.

 


“BULLFIGHT IN MADRID”
Oil on canvas 200x200 centimeters.

There are some that wrongly know this painting by the name of Bullfight in Córdoba. We see the triumph of the man over the beast; a red background that hurts the eye as much as it hurts the dying beast. The face of the bullfighter is that of Manuel Benítez, or so I think as he was then at the top of his career.

Also pay attention to the pose in which he stands: a crucified Christ of some sort. This is a shape repeated throughout the series.

 


“CRUCIFIXION IN CÓRDOBA”
Oil on canvas 200x250 centimeters.

It is quite a familiar scene that of the Christ of the Lanterns in the Capuchins’ square for those born and raise in Córdoba; part of an urban scenery with which we all grew up: mysticism and sobriety. That is precisely what Mylnikov managed to extract and then reproduce in the painting. We might say that the composition ends at the bottom with a maternity as counterpoint of life and hope to the agonizing death of the main figure. The circle of life is complete.

 


“DEATH OF GARCÍA LORCA”
Oil on canvas 200x200 centimeters.

The triptych ends with another martyr. This being Federico at moment of his death, shot defenseless like so many others during the Civil War. I see in this picture the great tragedy that the War brought to Spain, a dark time that covered the earth with salt for many years (as it would later happened in the rest of Europe). Again a crucifixion, a standing figure desperately greeting a hard and merciless fate with open arms. In other words a portrait of the Spain we were that perhaps could lead us and others to think about human nature these days.


 

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