THE MASTER OF THE SEA: ‘Jesus walks on water’ by Ivan Aivazovsky
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest marine artists of all times is Ivan Aivazovsky. His paintings reflect his ability to capture the ever changing moods of the sea with brilliance and conviction. A Russian Romantic painter, he was born in the Black Sea port of Feodosia in 1817. Situated on the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula, he grew up literally by the waves. Thus began his affair with the wonders of the waters. In the mid – 1840’s, he was appointed the main painter of the Russian Navy.
When Aivazovsky began his career, the world of art was dominated by Romanticism. Well, for those who are new to artistic nuances, the word Romanticism has nothing to do with the Romans. Nor has it anything to do with adorable cupids, cruised in the clouds, poised with bows and arrows ready to make two people fall in love.
Rather Romanticism was an intellectual, literary, artistic and musical movement that originated in Europe in the late 18th century. It reached its peak in the 1850’s. Romantic art stressed on emotions, feelings, individualism, spirituality, imagination and fervour. In most of his paintings, Aivazovsky deals with Dark Romanticism. This lays emphasis on feelings of fear, uncertainty, obscurity, horror, despair, pain, and loneliness.
In today’s painting, Aivazovsky features the duality of Romanticism. On one end are the apostles in a precarious position. The atmosphere is sinister and the men at peril. As strong winds wage the sea, the gloominess of the horizon suggests that the weather is going to worsen. On the opposite end stands hope. Christ categorically calms the apostles and the storm by His extraordinary presence. Thus collide the dialectics of Romanticism, of turbulence and peace.
What is remarkably spectacular about the painting is its wholesome 3D effect. The continuum of the sea and the sky, the translucent foamy waves, the rustic rudder, the shadowed silhouettes of the apostles and the radiant glow owe to Aivazovsky’s meticulous use of light, colour and contrast. This attests his skill of imagination and his ability to render the splendour of nature in all its prismatic forms. The atmospheric colouring lends to the sense of drama.
The luminous aura affirms Christ as the Saviour and Redeemer; as the Light that dispels the storms of fear and darkness. He not only stretches out his hand to save Peter but His aura spreads onto the sea, appeasing it. It engulfs the apostles enough to acknowledge Jesus as the ‘Son of God’
The painting in consideration illustrates the narrative taken from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 14, verse 22 to 33. Aivazovsky painted this image in the 1890’s. He employed it to present Christ as a comforting Saviour to the Russian congregation traumatised by the social and political events of the day. The boat was an emblematic metaphor for the Church and the State sailing through stormy waters and at the brink of a Revolution. Thus, Aivazovsky paints a narrative of adversity, safety and salvation. He applies his masterly skills to acknowledge the Master of the Sea!