Tsar Ivan (Vasilievich) the Terrible (1530–1584), ruled as Ivan IV. The Grand Prince “of all Russia” (from 1533), the first Russian Tsar (the coronation took place in 1547). He created the first Zemsky Sobor (Assembly of the Land) (1549–1550) and Stoglav (Hundred Chapter) Church Council (1551), conquered the khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556). During his reign Yermak took control of Siberia (1581). The second half of his reign was overshadowed by the Oprichnina terror and mass executions. The subject of the painting is an episode in the life of Ivan the Terrible when, in a fit of anger, he beat to death his son and heir (tsarevich) Ivan. Repin intentionally gave the painting a precise date. The idea arose in connection with the impression made on the artist and his contemporaries by the murder of Alexander II on 1 March 1881 and the execution of the terrorists. Repin wrote: “It was natural to seek a way out of the painful historical tragedy…Our feelings were weighed down by the horrors of our own day….” The psychological contrast of the main characters in the painting achieves unusual tension. We see the nearly icon-like, calm face of the tsarevich and the face of Tsar Ivan, with its bulging eyes and covered in drops of blood. The red colour dominates in the painting. It is everywhere – from the rose colour of the tsarevich’s shirt to the dull Bordeaux of the background. The painterly expression of the picture was extraordinary for its time.
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