Konstantin Flavitsky – the author of the famous “Princess Tarakanova”

Princess Tarakanova. Konstantin Flavitsky
Princess Tarakanova

Konstantin Dmitrievich Flavitsky (born September 13, 1830 – died September 3, 1866) is an outstanding Russian artist of the mid-19th century, a recognized master of historical and religious genres. Konstantin Flavitsky was a prominent representative of the academic visual arts, the influence of romanticism and classicism is clearly noticeable in his work. Most of the genius’s paintings are now kept in Russian art museums, and in his biography, high-profile achievements are closely intertwined with tragic events.

Konstantin Flavitsky lived a short life and left to posterity a small number of works. But his “Princess Tarakanova” still remains one of the most recognizable and beloved by the public paintings of Russian painting.

Konstantin Flavitsky. Christian martyrs at the Colosseum
Christian martyrs at the Colosseum

Biography of Konstantin Flavitsky

Konstantin Flavitsky was born into the family of an influential Moscow official on September 13, 1830. Soon after the birth of their son, the family moved permanently to St. Petersburg, where the father received a new position. But in 1839, the head of the Flavitsky family suddenly died, leaving six children in the arms of a young widow.

A woman experiencing serious financial difficulties was forced to give two sons, including 9-year-old Kostya, to be raised in a charity home. For the next seven years, the boy, deprived of parental affection and warmth, lived among poor orphans, where his only consolation was a passion for the fine arts. Fortunately, the teachers noticed the boy’s talent and allowed him to attend a drawing school.

Konstantin Flavitsky. Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum, Konstantin Dmitrievich Flavitsky (1830-1866)
Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum, Konstantin Dmitrievich Flavitsky (1830-1866)

In 1846, the Society for the Encouragement of Young Artists appointed Konstantin a pension

Thanks to which he was able to do what he loved and live in modest prosperity. And four years later, Flavitsky was accepted to study at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, where his talent was fully revealed.

For five years of study, the young man has achieved impressive success. His paintings have repeatedly received honorary awards at prestigious competitions, and upon completion of his studies, Konstantin Flavitsky received a large gold medal from the Academy and a cash boarding school for six years of living in Rome to improve his skills.

Finding Moses by Pharaoh's Daughter
Finding Moses by Pharaoh’s Daughter

The young artist embarked on a long journey with enthusiasm. On the way to the capital of Italy, he visited Berlin, Dresden and Paris, where he did not miss the opportunity to get acquainted with the works of European painting masters, and then settled for a long time in the Eternal City. For the next six years, Flavitsky enthusiastically studied the work of Italian painters and improved his own style of painting.


painting “Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum.”

The main result of the Roman period in the life of Constantine Flavitsky was his large-scale painting “Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum.” The young artist presented this painting to the leadership of the Academy of Arts after returning to St. Petersburg in 1863. But the members of the influential commission reacted coolly to the author’s work and decided not to award him the title of academician.

Having survived the offensive humiliation, Konstantin Flavitsky took up writing his most famous painting, dedicated to the legend of the death of Princess Tarakanova. At the 1864 exhibition, the greatest masterpiece was enthusiastically received by the public and critics. The artist was awarded the title of professor of the Academy of Arts, and the painting itself was subsequently acquired by Pavel Tretyakov for his famous gallery.

Jacob's children sell their brother Joseph
Jacob’s children sell their brother Joseph

While still in Italy, the young master fell ill with tuberculosis, and upon returning to Russia, the fatal illness began to progress rapidly in the cold and humid St. Petersburg climate. Doctors strongly advised the artist to go south, to Italy, but he did not have time to do this. On September 3, 1866, Konstantin Flavitsky left this world, only 10 days before his 36th birthday. His ashes were buried in the Smolensk cemetery of the northern capital, and 70 years later the artist’s remains were transferred to the territory of the necropolis of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg.

Solomon's judgment
Solomon’s judgment
The most famous paintings by Konstantin Flavitsky

The creative heritage of the Russian painter numbers only a few dozen works, most of which are unfamiliar to the general public. And yet, some of the most famous paintings by Konstantin Flavitsky include:

  1. “The Children of Jacob Sell Joseph’s Brother” (1854) is a painting that marked the end of the artist’s training period in the capital. For this masterpiece, the painter was awarded a cash allowance for a trip to Rome.
  2. Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum (1862) is a work that, instead of loud fame and recognition, brought Flavitsky a lot of mental suffering. Most critics saw in her a blind imitation of the great Bryullov and negatively assessed the picture.
  3. The Death of Princess Tarakanova (1862) is the greatest masterpiece of the outstanding master of Russian fine arts. Although the members of the royal family were very dissatisfied with the free interpretation of historical facts, the public enthusiastically accepted the work.
Painting Raft Medusa , 1819
Painting Raft Medusa , 1819

Konstantin Flavitsky left a bright mark on Russian painting of the 19th century, although fate measured out too little time for him to create. The works of this master today attract many connoisseurs of academic art to the best museums in the country.

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