‘A TRUE THEOLOGIAN’ - THE ICON-PAINTER SISTER JOANNA (JULIA NIKOLAYEVNA REITLINGER) 1898-1988
Julia Reitlinger was born at the turn of the century into an upper class family in St Petersburg. Her mother’s closest friends included the Obolenskys and other liberal representatives of the aristocracy. Unlike most of her circle, Julia’s mother was a believer, and took the children regularly to church. Julia’s father was the son of a general, and worked in the civil service. Julia from a relatively early age suffered from deafness but showed early artistic talent - she was known as ‘the artist’ at school, and studied at an art academy called the Society for the Advancement of Artists. Around her flowered the exotic painters and poets of the Silver Age of Russian art, some of whom she met: Zinaida Gippius, Marina Tsvetaeva, Blok, Diaghilev and his ‘World of Art’. In her autobiographical note, Julia particularly remembers The Washing of the Red Horse by Petrov-Vodkin - but the 1917 revolution swept away this society in which she might have made her mark. The family fled to the Obolensky estates in the Crimea, where Julia worked as a volunteer nurse. Following the death of her mother and a sister from typhus and the defeat of the White army, she and her father escaped across the border to Poland and thence by stages (via Warsaw and Prague) west to Paris. In the Crimea Julia had met Fr Sergei Bulgakov, a former Marxist economist turned Orthodox priest and theologian. He had consoled her on the loss of one of her two surviving sisters (her eldest sister had died aged 14 of scarlet fever contracted at boarding school) and mother. Now in the early 1920’s Julia joined his household as a skivvy exploited as a home help in return for a room in the attic. In her autobiography Julia remembered
It was virtually a monastic way of life, meetings with Father Sergei, daily attendance at church – but still the world overflowed into it, seductive temptations knocked one off one’s feet. Somehow, I had to strengthen my way. A convent? No. My vocation was to be a free artist. The example of Mother Maria helped me discover the possibility of staying where I was, to take the veil and get on with my painting. Bishop Evlogiy, Metropolitan of the Russian Church Abroad, gave me his blessing. ‘But’ he said, ‘Mother [Fr Sergei’s wife] is old. You are like a daughter to her – how is she then going to be able to call you “Matushka”? That won’t do. I will ordain you to the habit, but I’ll change your name’. It was the happiest day of my life.
Thus Julia Nikolayevna became Sister Joanna.
What was the artistic and cultural milieu within which Julia Reitlinger found herself in Western Europe? As a professional woman artist, although still unusual, she was not unique. During the late 19th century, increasing numbers of middle-class European women began to enter higher education, many leaving their families and living independently in order to have the time and space to pursue professional careers. Julia Reitlinger was therefore one of a group of women who would have been training and working as artists in Paris in 1925. Nor was she out of step so far as her religiosity was concerned. In his 1909 account of the development of modern French art from the period of Gauguin and Van Gogh, Maurice Denis - Julia Reitlinger’s ‘artistic spiritual father’ - argued that artists should seek to express the human ‘vie interieure’ through their work. A distinguished contemporary who was also based in nearby Meudon at the time, the British artist Gwen John, referred to being alone as being ‘nearer to God’, to her art and religion being her whole existence, and to her desire to be a saint. These statements can be interpreted in the light of ideas, current among artists and in contemporary critical writing, which suggested links between art and Catholicism (i.e. Christianity), and expounded the notion of the artist as a religious figure. The British poet and art critic Thomas Hulme (1883-1917) was predicting ‘the end of the humanist era, and its replacement by a neo-classical Zeitgeist founded on a bedrock of original sin’
The period 1900-1910 was marked by the deaths of Gauguin and Cezanne. But the decade was more than merely a transition between symbolism, Fauvism and Cubism and the thunderclap of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. The first decade of the 20th century saw a rupture with 19th century naturalism. Denis and his contemporaries used pure colours, simplified shapes, and renounced perspective. They espoused a return to Raphael and ‘primitives’ such as the pre-classical Greek objects of Cycladean culture or non-European art (African, Pacific and Japanese).
Maurice Denis (1870-1943) was a deeply spiritual French artist and theoretician of art. He was also a decorator of great spaces and a refined illustrator. Sister Joanna was also to excel in both these art forms. He held to the following virtues: a purely plastic transposition of the initial emotion, the autonomous organisation of the canvas, emphasis on the decorative aspect of art and the reflection of meaning in form. Art was to glorify God (‘La peinture est un art essentiellement religieux et chrétien’). His slogan was: Art, love and faith (‘Art, amour et foi’).
In 1898 Denis published his Theories. They were translated into English by Roger Fry, the art connoisseur and activist who organised the first impressionist exhibition in London where Sister Joanna was later to work – most notably on the wall-paintings (1947/8) for the chapel of St Basil’s House, Ladbroke Grove, home of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius. In 1913, Denis decorated the cupola of the Theatre of the Champs-Elysees, perhaps the apogee of his career. His style could be called ‘new classicism’. Maurice Denis belonged to an influential group of artists, ‘les Nabis’ (the prophets). This group included giants of 20th century painting such as Cezanne and Gauguin, Bonnard and Vuillard. Maillol was a close friend.
In 1909, Maurice Denis travelled to St Petersburg and Moscow where he had been commissioned to decorate the Music Room at the Morozov Palace. His guide was Madame von Meck, niece of Tchaikowsky’s patroness. He met the artist Vroubel and visited the Tretyakov Gallery. In other great Russian houses, he also painted murals such as the Histories de Psyche, l’Eternel Printemps, l’Age d’Or and Soir Florentin.
In 1919, with Maitre Georges Desvallieres, Denis (following the early death of Marthe his beloved wife and muse) founded the Ateliers d’Art Sacré which Julia Reitlinger was to join in 1925 on her arrival in Paris. Students had to have a dual calling: that of artists and Christians. Classes met on the premises of the Catholic Société St Jean, 8 rue Furstenburg near the church of St Germain des Prés. The arts practised included not only painting but embroidery, vestments and sculpture. Mother Maria Skobtsova attended the embroidery classes, and she and Sister Joanna collaborated on artefacts – Sister Joanna painting the outline of a face or figure, which Mother Maria embroidered and decorated with jewels. Students numbered between 20 and 30.
The Confrérie de St –Jean l’Évangéliste was founded in 1840. The aim of the Brotherhood was the sanctification of art and artists by the Catholic faith and the propagation of the Catholic faith by art and artists. In 1872, the premises at 8, rue Furstenberg were acquired to be a meeting place for Catholic artists. A landmark exhibition held under their auspices which included work by Maurice Denis was held at the Pavillon Marsan in 1911.
The Ateliers movement led by Maurice Denis was a reaction against the routine instruction at the École des Beaux-Arts. Work at the Ateliers had an emphasis on ‘doing your homework’, in other words: drawing, learning to look and to use a pencil. Students were expected to become a good workman, then a good painter through the traditional practice of working on life studies and still life. Denis and Desvallieres took it in turns to carry out criticisms on alternate Saturdays. ‘Les Ateliers’ sought to recover the spirit of the art of the Middle Ages. Even a cursory glance at the work of Sister Joanna is enough to satisfy the observer that she was deeply influenced by Denis in her choice of composition and colour.
Sadly, the Ateliers movement died a quiet death in 1942 in the middle of the war, just before Denis himself who was killed in a street accident, run over by a car in 1943.
Letters on icon painting
In May 1929 Julia Reitlinger had her vocation as an icon-painter confirmed by a visit to view a touring exhibition of old Russian icons, including a ‘scientific’ copy of the Rublyev Trinity, in Munich. Evidence of her commitment is suggested by this letter from her spiritual director, Fr Sergei Bulgakov two months later:
11/24 August 1929
I have been thinking about icons, from the dogmatic point of view. An icon cannot be understood outside Sophiology; this is why icons have not been properly understood, even by their defenders. And dogma concerning them is incomplete. We are not speaking about portraits of Christ which of course are an impossibility nor about blueprints and these defenders themselves do not understand why icons are possible but worst of all, they confuse icons and religious pictures. If God grants me life and strength one of the aims of my theology is to explain the meaning of icon veneration. It is Sophiological. Image is only possible above all because the image of man is also the Image of God, the First Prototype, because man is after all created ‘in the Image and the likeness’. It was for this very reason that Christ was incarnate, took on humanity not as something foreign to Himself or as a lesser garment, but as His own face but absolute not created. In his face is the Oneness of eternal and created mankind, Sophia-ty.
It is usually said that Christ can be depicted because He was incarnate, but it should be the other way round: he was incarnate because He is Image – He is The Image. But before the incarnation His Image was invisible because it belonged to the divine realms of uncreated Sophia, and then, being incarnate, was made visible in Created Sophia. That is, having been made man. This does not mean that He became man having previously never been one, but He revealed true man in the untrue man, created and sinful. And the strength of icons is not only the Godman but also the mangod; here human ‘gods’ of classical antiquity meet directly with the Christianity of icons. But this pertains to ‘image’, that is, to nature, but there is a hypostasis which is invisible and not capable of being imaged but this reality begins to dwell or more properly is sanctified (which has not been incorporated into dogmatic definition and thereby establishes the distinction between a soulless portrait and an icon enlivened by a soul. This last people have feared to speak of for fear of idol worship).
Beside you and with you I joyfully aver that the representation, the Sophiological incarnation of the Godman as a man is given not only by forms and features but by hues, light and colour. The symbolism of colours is not merely semiotic but real. Colours are the properties of Christ’s humanity, they are Sophia, not chosen for their beauty but given through revelation. This I understand theoretically but you are training me in this perception. You are a true theologian, a Sophian and I rejoice in you, my friend and comrade…
That winter, Julia wrote to Maurice Denis in her idiosyncratic French explaining the direction that her work had taken as a result of seeing ‘true’ (i.e. old, traditional) icons for the first time. Her previous experience in St Petersburg had been limited to so-called Italian style 19th century icons: she sets out her task ahead of her as being to follow canonical icon tradition without loss of individual artistic merit and personality. That is, not merely to be a faithful copier but to impart something of herself into the sacred object:
Le 16 Novembre 1929
A l’atelier je suis toujours genee de prendre votre temps pour une conversation, et
comme je ne sais pas assez bien m’expliquer il peut toujours arriver que vous ne me comprendiez pas exactement. C’est pour ca que depuis longtemps j’avais l’intention de vous ecrire une letter ce que je fais a present. Je voulais vous expliquer un peu mon travail actuellement, selui que je poursuis pour moi meme malgre tous les ennuies de la vie material et de travail force. Au mois de mai, j’ai visite une exposition d’icones (a Munich), nettoyees et restaurees avec les soins des restaurateurs russes de Moscou, et que les sovietes ont envoyes en Alemagne pour exposer.
C’etait pour moi beaucoup de voir ces oeuvres, car la, pour la premiere foi, j’ai vue vraiment des choses de l’epoque du ‘grand art’ des icons, cet art, qu’on a transforme après dans l’art plutot appliqué ou industriel, lachant de conserver la tradition.
Sous l’influence de cette exposition mes propres recherches d’icone d’aujourd’hui ce sont un peu modifiees; peut etre elles changeront encore plus tard, mais je ne pouvais me retenir que de commencer de travailler dans le genre que j’ai vue – nonn pas parceque le canon l’exige, mais par gout artistique. D’ailleurs vous savez qu’au XIX et XX on ne suivait pas du tous le canon ancien, et nos eglises de ce temps la sont plein de peintures pareilles a ce qu’on peut rencontrer ici, ce qu’on nomme chez nous chez nous “genre italien”. C’est seulement le dernier temps qu’on est revenu au canon ancien, des fois avec un aveuglement fanatique.
Vous comprenez bien que l’icone n’est pas un tableau, c’est un objet de priere – et ce qui me tourmentait c’est comment las faire pour qu’elle soit spirituelle, qu’elle n’empeche pas de prier, qu’elle ne me donne pas un degout au bout d’une annee – et qu’elle soit art en meme temps, car c’est l’art que nous artistes voulons metre aupieds de Notre Seigneur.
Mais suivre le canon sans sincerite, sans avoir conscience qu’on sui le vrai chemin – cela ne me donait pas de satisfaction .C’est après l’exposition que j’ai compris le vrai chemin de peintre icons, car j’ai vue des oeuvres des maitres dans se genre, qu’on admire, qu’on veu imiter par gou artistique et spirituelle en meme temps.
Je voudrais bien vous montrer les choses que j’ai fai (en apportant) après cette preface necessaire pour comprendre les limites de conception et de tradition dans ces choses. Mais comme elles sont assez grands je ne peu pas les apporter a l’atelier, je tacherais d’apporter quelques unes, et j’attendrais une occasion de vous les montrer (car). Je travaillle en esperant les exposer. Il y a a Paris une petite societe russe qui s’occupe de la propagande de l’ancienne icone. Cette societe a l’intention d’organiser une exposition des peintres d’icones contemporains et ils m’ont invite a y prendre part. Mais comme il n’y a pas d’artistes parmi ceux qui exposent et que ce sont precisement des amateurs du metier et de la tradition (don’t j’ai parle plus haut) je me demande si ca serais bien ma place, et l’idee audacieux m’ai venue d’arranger mon exposition a moi meme. Je vous prie de me consiller, je ne peu pas du tous judez si cela peut interesser quelqu’un ou si ce n’est pas la peine de le faire.
Peut etre je restrais incompris des deux cotes – un cote les artistes, qui croiront que c’est toujours la meme chose, que je repete simplement les anciens, d’un autre – les fanatiques de la tradition, pas du tout artistes, qui ne verrons pas l’art dans mes oeuvres, qui ne chercheront que la tradition. Je m’excuse de vous en reparler lorsque je vous venais la prochaine fois; c’est plus facile d’ecrire la question d’avance.
Je m’exuse d’avoir pri votre temps (de) pour lire cette longue letter; et je m’exuse pour l’expressions, qui ne sont peutetre pas du tout francais et peu comprehensible, aussi que l’orthographie, mais pour etre plus sincer je ne voulais pas accourir a un aide de quelqu’un pour composer la lettre.
Je profite de l’occasion pour vous remercier encore de tous ce que j’ai recu a l’atelier, pour le developpement artistique que vous m’avez donne(e), qui m’ai ouvert les yeux.
Veuillez agreer, chere Maitre, l’expression de mes sentiments tres devouee
16 November 1929
In the studio I am always embarrassed to take up your time with conversation and since I am not able to express myself clearly enough there is always the risk that you will not understand exactly what I wish to say. It is for this reason that I have long intended to write you a letter, which is what I am now doing. I would like to explain to you a bit about my present work, the work I am doing for myself despite all my practical worries and being forced to do other work. In May I visited an exhibition (in Munich) of icons cleaned and restored by Russian restorers in Moscow, which the Soviets have sent to be shown in Germany. It meant a lot to me to see these works, because there for the first time I really saw things from the period of ‘great art’ of icons, that art which has been transformed into more of an applied or industrial art form, failing to preserve the tradition.
Under the influence of this exhibition, I have modified a little my own experiments in contemporary icon painting. They may change again later, but I could not stop myself from beginning to work in the style which I had seen - not because the canon requires it but out of artistic taste. Besides you know that in the 19th and 20th centuries, the ancient canon was not followed at all, and out churches of this period are full of the same sort of pictures that one sees here in France which we call in Russia ‘Italian style’. It is only recently that there has been a return to the ancient canon, sometimes with blind fanaticism. You of course understand that an icon is not a picture, it is an object of veneration - what tormented me is how to make one so that it is spiritual that it does not prevent prayer, and one is not sick of it within a year - and that it should be a work of art at the same time, because it is art that we artists wish to place at the feet of Our Lord. But to follow the canon without sincerity, without having a conscience that one is following the right path - that would not give me satisfaction.
It was after the exhibition that I understood the true path of painting icons, because I had seen works by masters in this genre which I admired and whose artistic and spiritual taste I both want to emulate.
I would very much like to show you the things I have done (bring them in) after this necessary preamble to explain the conceptual limits and the tradition of these things. But because they are quite big I cannot bring them in to the studio . I will try and bring in one or two and I will await an opportunity to show them to you (because). I am working in the hopes of having an exhibition. In Paris there is a little Russian society for the promotion of old-style icons. This society is planning an exhibition of contemporary icon painters and they have invited me to take part. But since there are no artists among those who are exhibiting, only those who are devoted to the profession and to the tradition (of which I spoke above) I am wondering if it will be the right sort of place for me and I had the bold idea of organising my own exhibition. Please let me know what you think, I simply can’t decide if it would be of any interest to anyone or if it would be a waste of time. Perhaps I would remain misunderstood by both sides – on the one hand by artists who would think that it is the same old thing, that I am simply copying the old masters and on the other – by the fanatics for tradition, who are not at all artists and who would not see any art in my works and who are only interested in tradition. Please forgive me if I speak to you again about this the next time we meet; it is easier to write about it in advance.
I am sorry to have taken up your time (for) to read this long letter; and I am sorry if some of this is not at all correct French and pretty incomprehensible, also for my orthography but in order to be more sincere, I did not want to go and ask anyone to help me in composing the letter.
May I take this opportunity to thank you again for everything I have received in the studio, for the artistic development which you have given me which has opened my eyes.
A day or so later (the next letter is undated) she writes inviting Denis to an exhibition where her work will be hung with that of others:
Je suis navre d’etre obligee de vous deranger encore une fois, mais comme je n’etais pas du tout au courant des affaires de l’exposition de la societe ‘Icone’ je vous ai dit que rien n’est encore decide. Mais le soir meme je viens d’apprendre qu’elle aura lieu dans le locale de l’ecole russe de peinture, 11, rue (Y) Jule Chaplin, du 26/XII/29-5/I/30, et aujourdhui j’ais recus l’invitation ecrite d’y prendre part. J’etait tellement emu hier de votre visite et confu comme ci je vous ai(s) tromper en vous ayant peutetre raconter plus de mon travail qu’il valait en realite, que j’ai oublie de vous demander votre decision. Et cependant je dois la savoir le plus vite possible, pour savoir comment agire, et c’est pour ca que je n’attend pas vendredi, quand je vous verrais a l’atelier, mais je vous ennuye avec cette lettre et avec cette question ? Peut etre votre resolution sera negatif, non seulement pour le travail meme mais pour toute la position trop compliquee et alors il ne me restra que s’adresser a eux et leur donner mes traveaux. Je ne le ferias pas avant que je vous parle ou j’ai votre reponse, c’est pas ci presse que ca; je vous prie de m’ecrire que deux mots.
Exuser moi que je vous ennuye encore. Je vous remerci encore infiniment
Votre devouee eleve
I am so sorry to have to disturb you again, but because I was not in touch with progress of the exhibition of the ‘Icon’ society I told you that nothing had yet been decided. But this very evening I heard that it is to take place in the premises of the Russian school of painting, 11 rue (Y) Jule Chaplin from 26 Dec 1929 – 5 Jan1930 and today I received a written invitation to take part. I was so moved yesterday by your visit and embarrassed as if I had misled you by telling you more about my work than it is worth in reality that I forgot to ask you what your opinion was about the exhibition. However, I must know as soon as possible so as I know what to do which is why I am not waiting until Friday when I will see you at the studio, but am pestering you with this letter and with this question. Perhaps your decision will be in the negative not only from the point of view of the work itself but the whole very complicated situation then all that I need do is get in touch with them and give them my work.I won’t do that until I have spoken to you or I have had a reply, it isn’t as urgent as all that. Please write me a few words.
Sorry to bother you again. Thank you so much again
Your devoted pupil
Denis’s importance in her life as her ‘artistic spiritual director’ is asserted in her letter to him in November 1931, and her decision to undertake the murals in a church in Meudon:
Paris, le 5 Novembre 1931
Excusez moi que je vous derange en vous ecrivant cette lettre mais j’espere que ca lecture ne vous prendra pas trop de temps. Je vous prie beaucoup de ne dire a personne de la petite union de la quelle je vous ai parle la derniere fois, car nous restons tout a fait caches.
J’ai perdu la paix après ma visite a l’atelier samedi passee, et je comprend pourquoi. C’est l’affaire de la “conscience artistique” car je vous considere un(e) peu comme un directeur de l’ame artistique confesseur. J’etait tellement fixe sur le sujet de ma conversation avec vous que je n’ai pas meme pensee d’apporter mes petites notes de vacances. Et la pensee que vous ne croyez plus en moi comme artiste m’ennuyie beaucoup – comme si en vain suis je venu chez vous pour l’encouragement et vous m’avez donnees des conseils. Mais vous savez ce qui suivit dans ma vie ma visite chez vous l’annee passee – la maladie de mon pere, puis ca mort..
J’ai fait quand meme un grand portrait a l’oeuf que je ne pouvait pas apporter a l’atelier a cause des dimensions peutetre je le ferai un jour quand j’aurai plusieurs a montrer. En ete l’idee m’ai venue de decorer une eglise russe a Meudon, et j’ai passee beaucoup de temps a preparer les esquises, qui je vai apporter aux ateliers pour vous demander des conseils. Leur execution sur place ne pourra pas etre commencer qu’un moment donnee, meme peutetre au printemps.
J’ai compte beaucoup travailler pendant les vacances et au mois de Sept., Oct., - mon eleve etant parti au mois de juin – mais il y aura de nouveau une exposition d’icones en vue a la fin du mois.
Je vai exposer des choses que j’ai fait il y a un an, suivant vos conseils que vous m’avez donne après la derniere exposition (je ne vous les ai pas montre a cause des dimensions).
Actuellement je suis occupe d’ajouter encore des nouvelles choses. Je suis encore plus ennuyer d’exposer avec les autres cette fois ci, car il ai venu cette ete un specialiste du metier de Riga qu n’entend rien au point de vue de l’art dans les icons, mais qui a une vingtaine d’eleves et toutes ses eleves vont exposes. Mais rien a faire – j’expose avex eu, s’ils vont accepter mes travaux un peu trop libres pour eu.
J’espere que vous (trouverez) honorez cette exposition de votre visite, je vous en reparlerai plus pres de la date. Maintenant j’ai de nouveau une lecon – 3 fois par semaine 4 heures de suite. Je ne l’ai pas cherche, elle m’est tombe, cela prend beaucoup de temps.
Vous m’excuser encore une fois de vous avoir ennuyer par la lecture de cette lettre, qui etait important pour moi.
Croyez chere maitre a mes sentiments les plus distingues et devouees.
Paris, 5 November 1931
Sorry to bother you by writing this letter but I hope that reading it will not take up too much of your time. I beg of you not to mention to anyone the little attachment I spoke of last time because we are keeping it completely secret.
I have been worried ever since my visit to the studio last Saturday and I know why. It is a question of ‘artistic conscience’ because I consider you to be a bit like an artistic spiritual father-confessor. I was concentrating so much on the subject of my conversation with you that I did not even think about bringing you my holiday notebook. And the thought that you may not believe in me any more as an artist worries me a lot – as if I had come to you for encouragement for nothing and you had given me advice for nothing.
But you know what went on in my life after I came to see you last year - my father’s illness and then his death…
Anyway, I have done a large portrait in tempera which I could not bring to the studio because of its size perhaps I will bring it one day when I have several to show. In the summer I had the idea of decorating a Russian church in Meudon and I have spent a lot of time making preliminary drawings on site which I will bring to the studio to ask your advice. I won’t be able to start the work on site until I get the go ahead maybe even not until spring. I had hoped very much to work during the summer holidays and in Sept/Oct since my student goes away in June – but there is to be another icon exhibition at the end of the month. I am going to exhibit the things I did a year ago, following the advice you gave me after the last exhibition (I did not show them to you because of their size). At the moment I am working on some more new things. It is even more annoying to be exhibiting with the others this time because an icon painting specialist has arrived from Riga who knows nothing from the artistic point of view but who has 20 or so pupils and all his pupils will be showing. But there is nothing to be done – I will be exhibiting alongside them if they allow my work in - it is a bit too free for them. I hope that you (will find) will honour this exhibition with a visit I will talk to you again about it nearer the time. Now I have another lesson – 3 times a week four hours long. I didn’t go looking for it, it fell in my lap, it takes up masses of time.
Sorry again for giving you the bother of reading this letter which was important for me.
There is one other letter dated in the 1930’s in the Denis archive from Julia Reitlinger to Maurice Denis, concerning a visit of Julia’s sister to France from Prague. Julia was warning Denis that her sister had used his name as a reference for a forthcoming visit, having done so with his permission three years earlier. Her anxious tone betrays the precarious nature of her existence as a poverty stricken refugee in France. Her inexpert written French (‘Chere maitre’ etc) serves to underline her cultural isolation.
During this period in France, and later in Prague, Julia taught painting (which she hated to do, with rare exceptions such as Gregory Krug who was later to become famous in his own right as an icon painter), made many icons for the monastery at Moisenay at the behest of Fr Evfimiy Wendt and a one-tiered iconostasis for the garage church in rue Lourmel at the community of Mother Maria. She also wrote and illustrated children’s book such as the story of St Gerasim and the Lion.
War broke out in 1939 and in May 1940, Julia wrote to Denis telling him of a sad and worrying development: a close friend, a Roman Catholic, had been forbidden by her priest to have any further contact with her.
Paris, le 14 mai 1940
Le sujet de ma lettre vous semblera p.e. petit et drole par rapport aux evenements que nous passons. A cependant il est bien a propos.
Cette annee plus que jamais j’ai rescenti les liens qui m’unissent avec la France, passant comme presque toute la terre son heure de grande epreuve…Et plus que jamais je voyais le front chretien unis.
Vous savez que j’etais beaucoup amis avec Simone Froment. Nos entretiens n’etaient pas frequents, mais cependant nous nous comprenions tres bien dans notre vie spirituelle, et ces relations donnaient beaucoup de nourriture a notre foi et “augmentaient notre amour au Christ” comme dit Ste Therese. Christ etait evident entre nous comme Il est entre tous ceux qui veulent s’unir en lui. A present nos relations sont rompus par la defense de son confesseur – de communiquer avec une orthodoxe. Cette defense m’ai fait beaucoup de peine – non parce que je ne veu pas me separer de quelqu’un si Dieu le veut – au contraire, je ne cherche aucunement des amities – mais parce que mon esprit se revolte contre cette defense et la rescent comme un coup de couteau sur le corps de Christ. Je vous ecrit ceci pour vous expliquer pourquoi je ne viens plus ni aux messes ni a l’atelier, et pour vous demander si vraiment on a raison?
Simone dit que c’est une regle de l’eglise, et cependant je connais beaucoup de catholiques qui pratique(me)nt l’opposee de cettre regle.
N’est pas seulement une “opinion" ? Et a present quand la mort est si proche de chacun de nous, quand Presque toutes nos priers [incomplete]
Paris, 14 May 1940
The subject of my letter may seem to you trivial and funny in comparison with the events we are going through. However, it is very relevant.
This year more than ever I have felt the ties which unite me with France as she experiences like almost the whole world her hour of trial…And more than ever I saw a united front of Christianity. You know that I was great friends with Simone Froment. We did not meet often, but nevertheless we understood each other very well in our spiritual life and these relations nourished us in our faith and’ increased our love of Christ’ as St Theresa said. Christ was manifest between us as He is between all who wish to be united in Him. At present, relations between us have been broken off because of an interdict by her confessor to be in communication with an Orthodox. This ban has caused me much pain not because I do not wish to be separated from someone if God wills it - on the contrary, I do not in the least seek out friendships – but because my soul rebels against this ban and feels it like a knife wound on the body of Christ. I am writing you this to explain why I am neither coming to services nor to the studio and to ask you if he is really right to do this ? Simone says that it is a rule of the church but I know lots of Catholics who practise the opposite of this rule.
Isn’t it just an ‘opinion’ ? And at present when death is so near to al of us when nearly all our prayers [incomplete]
Sister Joanna remained in Paris throughout the war. A close Russian friend Evgeny Lampert, who was Jewish, managed to get to England on a Polish passport in 1939, and in 1942 married Katherine Ridley, whose mother was a Benckendorff. Years later Sister Joanna described this as a totally unexpected and perhaps traumatic turn of events. Lampert was a member of Sergei Bulgakov’s inner circle, one of his most talented theological pupils. Lampert and Sister Joanna despite the disparity in their ages (she was 16 years older than him) had enjoyed ‘an intensely erotic but not sexual relationship’. At her insistence, they visited the Louvre together almost daily where Sister Joanna, liked to sit for hours in front of Nike, the Winged Victory of Samothrace. ‘She shouted a lot’ Lampert recalled, affectionately, in the year before his death. There had been talk of their founding two new religious orders, one for men and one for women of which they would be the heads.
In 1943, Sister Joanna’s close friend and artistic collaborator Mother Maria was deported and later killed in a concentration camp for assisting Russian prisoners of war to escape.
After the war, in 1946 and 1947, Sister Joanna was invited to England where she carried out wall decorations and icons for the chapel of the the Anglican-Orthodox Fellowship of Saints Alban and Sergius and a triptych for the Anglican Monastery of the Resurrection in Mirfield. A brief window of opportunity for intercommunion between Anglicans and Russian Orthodox which had opened in the 1930’s, sadly closed at the last moment as a result of a sudden onset of cold feet on the part of the Anglican church.
Her next great commission 1947-56 was to decorate the east wall of the Orthodox cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague. Sister Joanna had gone to Prague to be near one of her sole surviving relatives her sister Katya, whose invalid husband had died. The cathedral had been wrecked in a shoot-out between the British-trained Czech partisan assassins of Heyderich (architect of the Holocaust and Gauleiter of the Czech lands) and the SS in May 1942. In the terrifying reprisals which followed the assassination, the whole Orthodox clergy team and their families were shot and a whole village Lidice eliminated – literally razed to the ground - after the inhabitants had been shot or deported to the concentration camp in Mauthausen. Sister Joanna left the church, disillusioned by the unedifying manoeuvres of the Orthodox successors to those liquidated by the SS.
In 1956 she returned to the USSR with her sister Katya. They were exiled to Tashkent where Sister Joanna supplemented her pension by decorating silk scarves. Sister Joanna gradually became reconciled with the Orthodox Church, and in 1974 a mutual friend introduced her to the remarkable enlightened and ecumenically-minded Russian Orthodox priest Fr Alexander Men (1935-90). They corresponded from then until her death in 1988.
With Alexander Men’s encouragement, at the age of 76, she resumed her vocation painting palm-sized icons (‘little stars’) for his new converts to mark their baptism. This exercise was illegal in Soviet Russia, so Sister Joanna would pack the icons up and label them as ‘sweets’ for the post. The letters by Sister Joanna and Fr Alexander Men are delightful and illuminating. They needed each other: she found a spiritual father completely in tune with the questing, intellectually outward-looking Orthodox tradition of her youth; he was able to coax from her reminiscences of those turbulent times in émigré Orthodox theological circles in Paris, and discuss Catholic and Protestant theology without any question of betraying their Orthodoxy.
Sister Joanna died in 1988 praising God to the end, dressed in the severest nun’s habit (the ‘skhima’). An extensive retrospective of her work was exhibited in Moscow in Sept –Oct 2000, at the Andrey Rublyev Museum of Ancient Russian Art. Despite her own doubts and fears, and critics within the church of her free spirit, her reputation as an artist of true merit and moral stature is now established beyond dispute.
In his 1958 novel The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa describes the discovery by the religious authorities in Sicily of an anomalous picture above the altar in a private chapel where three devout old female relations of the eponymous hero, a Sicilian prince, have been worshipping for years. The picture venerated by the three ladies above the altar, of a Victorian lady on her knees with a letter in her hand is not, as they fondly supposed, a depiction of the Virgin Mary invoking the protection of her Son for the people of Messina but a Victorian lady awaiting an assignation with an all-too earthly lover. This mistake, made in good faith by naïve and gullible Christians in the Western church, would be more difficult for worshippers to make in the Eastern church, where icon-making values tradition above novelty.
However, icon-making is not without its innovators. One such is Julia Nikolayevna – ‘Sister Joanna’ – Reitlinger 1898-1988. Her life can be viewed as an example of the growing opportunities offered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to European women to make their living as professional artists, but more importantly as a heroic representative of the post-1917 Russian Orthodox diaspora who made the most of opportunities for ecumenical contact and cooperation
Sister J exemplifies bridge between eastern & western xianity, through her life and art
Who is she ? where born, when. St P – 1898. Diaghilev; Blok, the ‘silver age’. The washing of the Red Horse
Crimea – Bulgakov – death of mother and sister 1917-20
Warsaw, Prague, Paris circa 1925 - Maurice Denis; the ‘rappel a l’ordre’ (Jean Cocteau)
Meudon – Gwen John, Rodin, Jacques Maritain and Vera Umantsov 1928
London 1946-7 - Mirfield; Ladbroke Grove
1947 – Prague altar triptych. Leaves the church
195? Returns to the USSR – exiled to Tashkent
1977 Starts correspondence with Fr Alexander Men through friends
Sister J. dies 1988
Fr A. dies 1990
1. Before the Revolution – privileged family background – family life – parents, cousins, school, country estate . Death of her oldest sister aged 14 from scarlet fever.
Julia Reitlinger was born into upper class Russian family in St Petersburg (date). Her parents had an unusual marriage – her mother decided to discontinue marital relations with her husband and so he took their nanny as his mistress; she bore him two daughters, one of whom died one survived and remained a friend of Julia’s. She underwent the collapse of the civilization she was born into, lived most of her adult life as an émigré, a ‘nun in th world’, painting icons and making drawings, and other illustrations eg for fairy tales
2. The First World War – intellectual and artistic ferment. Julia goes to art school.
3. The Revolution – the family flees south to the Crimea where the mother and two sisters die. Julia meet Fr Sergei Bulgakov who becomes her religious mentor. Julia and her father escape to Paris via Prague.
4. Émigré life in Paris and London. Art classes with Maurice Denis (q.v.) a member of the famous movement ‘ Julia is created a ‘nun in the world’.
5. Prague: Sister J paints the altarpiece of the restored church, destroyed in WWII when the assassins of Heyderich made their last stand in the crypt.
5. 1950’s: Julia returns to Russia with her sister and they are banished to Tashkent
6.1960’s Eventually, Julia receives permission to return for short periods to Moscow from exile in Central Asia. Julia is introduced to Fr A Men (q.v.) with whom she corresponds. She provides him secretly with icons for converts, which she sends disguised as boxes of sweets. She dies aged
AUTOBIOGRAPHY My parents' way of life On graduating from university, Father (the only son of General Reitlinger(1) ) was offered the chance of staying on because there was the possibility of some scientific work, but he preferred government service. His liberal friends rather "looked down" on him because of that: however, his best friend, Kurkotovsky, died very young, as did Gleiber, the husband of Lidya Vladimirovna, Olga Vladimirovna (Obolenskaya)'s sister. His way of life was somewhat coloured by this choice. Our mother was the daughter of General N. Gonetsky,(2) who was the brother of Ivan Stepanovich, the hero of Plevna.(3) (She was a pupil of the Smol'ny institute, and an admirer of Ushinsky). But she did not like "breeding", and brought us up very simply, like a born teacher, and carried the worldly responsibilities, which she could not avoid at that time, rather as a burden. "Lidiya Nikolayevna(4) is the only [real] teacher I have met in my life," Asya Obolenskaya later said. (She was to become Mother Blandina.) "Mother, you used to teach us by suggestion." From my early childhood, in spite of all her sacrificial love for us, there was a complete absence of over-indulgence, and from this came freedom. (For instance, when she sensed I was being indecisive, she would not make up my mind for me, but left me to it, etc.) We were all born in Znamensky Street, near the Znamenniy temple (now destroyed), close to Nikolayevsky (now Moscow) station. Our father soon secured very good service(5) with the State savings banks.(6) The state-provided apartment consisted of ten rooms: three children's rooms, including a classroom, Father's study, a large hall and our parents' large bedroom, divided by a curtain into boudoir and bedroom proper. But Mother lived in a small room, with its own way out into the corridor. After the death of my parents I was told that Mother had been afraid of cancer - her mother had died of it at the age of 37, leaving 12 children, and so had one of her elder sisters - and so had withdrawn from normal matrimonial relationships: "I must save my health and my life, so as to bring up my children". All our relatives knew about it. Father said: "This sort of life is more than I can stand - I don't wish to tangle with prostitutes. I shall choose one woman" (our one-time nanny). By her he had two girls. One died almost immediately. The other is alive and well to this day in Moscow. Olya's death. Mother's "conversion". Education I hardly remember my eldest sister Olya: she used to say to me: "it's a shame you don't love Mother - you don't wash your hands up to your elbow!" She was sent away to high school at 14; at once she caught scarlet fever (treatment for it was not very effective at that time) and she was burnt up within two weeks. Our parent's grief was immeasurable - she was the oldest, the most talented, and, it seemed, the most loved (especially for Father). At that time, it was accepted: after the nurses, children could expect "Nannies" (with "languages" - in our case German; we mastered it ourselves and for 6 years spoke it just as we did Russian). Then came the - more intelligent - governesses. Lidiya Vasil'yevna Nabad'yeva (clearly not without Jewish origins) was a talented and powerful teacher who lost no time in establishing her authority over us. We loved her dearly, but her punishments drove us to despair (she would sew a notice on our backs, spelling out our faults, and sometimes take us out looking like that to guests in the hall or into the courtyard, where we played with the children). Mother liked neither these measures, nor her power over us. I can't remember seeing her any more in our house. From her childhood, Mother was brought up in the Christian (Orthodox) faith, and even as grown-up young ladies, they(7) were apparently obliged to go to church with Grandad. ("How we used to grumble when we had to go to church with Grandad, but now I want to - and I can't", Mother used to say, much later, when Father, because of his illnesses or on a whim, would not let her). Evidently, the exodus of the youth of their day from the church did not pass them by (poor Aunt Natasha remained outside the church!) Ol'ya's death could not fail to bring Mother back to the church, and of course it coloured her whole life. But she did not cloud our childhood with the shadow of her grief - we grew up in an atmosphere of joie-de-vivre which pervaded our devotional life too (although I clearly remember that the "remembrance of death" was no stranger to me at quite an early age). We went to first confession and Easter Vigil - it was beautiful! It was some sort of wonderful little "house" church attached to the museum of Alexander III (now the Russian museum); to get to it you had to go down some sort of endless hidden corridor with a wonderful smell of oil paint. A little boy in the apartment below ours was ill with meningitis, an almost incurable disease. We prayed for him (Mother asked us to) and he got better. We believed it was through our prayers. On the first day of Easter, we used to visit Ol'ya's grave. A little steam engine would drag us, puffing and panting, to the Lavra. On her humble cross we would hang golden porcelain eggs - two large ones and five of different sizes, from the largest to the very smallest - symbolic! Education Intrigues at Father's work. He was posted somewhere else. We moved to an unpretentious apartment on Furshtatskaya Street. We were glad because Mother was back in our midst. We went for walks with her in the Tavrichesky garden. She did not want to send us to high school (after what had happened to Ol'ya). We were taught in all subjects by Evgeniya Dmitriyevna Kakhina, a small, fussy, short-haired, typical "cadet" (of the Constitutional-Democratic party) who was invariably arguing with Father at breakfast-time and getting worked up about whatever the current political issue was. In Furshtatskaya Street, in the house of the directorate of the proto-presbytery of the military and naval chaplaincy, there was a small house church. Fr Fyodor, a wonderful, humble and quiet man, almost always stood in for the ageing proto-presbyter Zhalobovsky. "If any be a devout lover of God(8)..." "Filled with bitterness for it was overthrown..."(9) I can still hear his wonderfully expressive reading and such strong inflections in my ears, even now, more than half a century ago.!(10) (Mother expressed her admiration for this talented precentor.) The Meshcherskys and the Obolenskys. High School. Although she was the sister of the very liberal "cadet" Vladimir Andreyevich Obolensky, Maria Andreyevna Meshcherskaya was much closer to mother in ideology (she was a believer). Alexandra Obolenskaya, her mother, was one of the most enlightened women of her time, and founded the high school that bore her name in her own house in Baskovy Lane.(11) On the death of her mother, ownership of the school passed to Maria Andreyevna, but she did not inherit her mother's gifts. The running of it was left entirely in the hands of the talented teachers - Hardt, Forsten and the wonderful Elizaveta Nilolayevna Terstfeld. Her brother, Vladimir Andreyevich Obolensky.(12), permanently banished beyond the "Jewish pale", eventually settled in St Petersburg, and his oldest daughters, Asya(13) and Irina, who were the same ages as Lidiya and I, went to the high school with us (our eldest sister Manya had gone there even earlier). We became inseparable friends for life. I taunted Irina: "Can there be ethics without religion?" but Mother asked us not to talk to them about religion, because she knew that they had not been brought up in the same way as we had.(14) "Nut Hill". "Red Grange" was a small estate in Finland which the Meshcherskys owned (as did so many people who lived in St Petersburg). They used to let out the summer houses and this was where we spent our summers from our very birth. We were teenagers. Mother did not like the worldly atmosphere of the surrounding society. After looking around for a long time, our parents bought a plot on the shore of the (9 km) long neighbouring lake. It was a very picturesque and secluded spot. We made a simple home out of a peasant's hut which stood high up on the bank, and we spent our summer and winter holidays there. Life on these holidays was variously occupied with music (we each in turn used to play piano duets with Mother before dinner), drawing (each day I went to my "studies" - said in a loud voice! - water colours of selected scenes from the surrounding countryside), rest, bathing and reading. "GutZˇ(15)" - wonderful earthenware pots of sour clotted milk. Mother would read aloud in French (or the Finnish national epic, the "Kalevala" in translation), while we did some needlework. (Mother would also work all day long.) From time to time, guests would come from a long way off. Father would travel up from the city. The church The famous doctor and scholar Botkin dedicated a plot of land belonging to him and his large family (near "Red Grange") and on it built a church. We went there with our parents all the time we stayed at "Red Grange". Those who lived round about, and further afield, closer to "Nut Hill" offered themselves, and built a church at Kirche-Yarvo, following the beautiful design of Pronin, in the style of our wooden churches of the west.(16) We even went there on foot, when someone wanted, or alone - it was beautiful! The First World War When we moved to a better apartment (Father was back in good service) people began to come and see us. Father (he used to sing, and composed music for songs, drew etc. - all a little amateurishly)(17) was a man of great enthusiasms: theosophy, Uspensky, the "illustrious" ("notorious") "Greek" Gurdzhiyev (Mother rather kept her distance from him - she did not trust him). Merezhkovsky was appearing with his Zinaida Hippius ((18)we, of course, were altogether elsewhere; Manya was at the Medicinal Institute, Lida on the Bestuzhevsky courses, we (the youngest) were at high school (but already our interests were being formed: for the first time in my life I visited exhibitions - of Nesterov, Serov, The World of Art and the Red horse of Petrov-Vodkin. I was given some beautiful monographs - of Levitan, Serov and others). The first world war. Manya was on a crash course with the sisters of charity at the Kaufmann Community. At the front Lida (in parallel with her studies) worked (unpaid) in the "Trust for the Poor" (which undertook to distribute rations to the wives of the men who had gone away to the front). I finished high school. Clara Fyodorovna (who would always cry out "Reitlinger! Artist!" in lessons when she wanted to scold me for something) placed me in the fourth (chief) class of the School for the Encouragement of Artists; (I escaped the boredom of sketching statues),(19) after only 1Ú2 year I was transferred to the 5th class, and towards spring to the 6th. The February Revolution. But further studying was not to be: the February revolution saw to that. Mother took the revolution like a Christian - no talk of loss of property, as was buzzing all around: "We have enjoyed it, now let others enjoy it." The doctor was unhappy about the condition of my lungs. Mother dreamt about sending me to the Crimea. Everyone in Petrograd was expecting starvation. Olga Vladimirovna Obolenskaya travelled to the Crimea to her father, the vintner Vladimir Karlovich Winberg, right on the edge of the deep blue sea (between Alushta and Yalta). "Lidusha!" (She loved Mother dearly) "I'll take them with me" (that is, the four of us! on top of her eight children!).(20) All Vladimir Karlovich's children and grandchildren assembled at Sayan, and we attached ourselves to them. Several houses provided accommodation for all of us - O.V. and her eight, Nina Vladimirovna and her husband (a professor from Yur'ev, now Tarta) and her six; their sister Leonida Vladimirovna, the wife of their son (Anat[oly] Vlad[imirovich]),daughter of the famous lawyer Korabchevsky, and her two little girls. We lived on a communal basis. We worked on the farm, in the vineyard (I sewed because of my illness), we took the donkey to Alushta for provisions, we taught the youngest children, we brushed up on our languages, and got carried away by poetry (we managed to get hold of Blok's latest works). Mother and Father arrived; they moved in for the time being with Manya and Lidiya in Kiev (they were studying at the university there, and got to know Muna Bulgakova, whose family was also there at the time). Summer 1917 In the summer we were once again on the south coast when Lida invited us to visit Muna, 28 km. Away. Our whole company set off. Fr Sergy, who had not long been ordained, was living in Oleyza with his family at his mother-in-law, Varvara Ivanovna Tokmakova's house. She was not involved in wine-making. She lived off the income from a tea company "Tokmakov and Molotkov". It was a large house, almost completely full of guests, some of whom had come to visit for a week and ended up staying practically their entire lives. Fr Sergy found these merchants' traditions very burdensome, but at this time there was no escaping them. Varvara Ivanovna, a charming old lady, loved him dearly. Very little is known about this period of Fr Sergy's life: his son, who had greatly supported him when he was ordained, was young and involved in drawing and music; his wife and his daughter were occupied with their own affairs. But it is said that he had a great influence on the youth there this year. He served in a small church in Gaspra (it is described in his "Autobiographical notes" in connection with the death of his son Ivashechka, then at the cathedral in Yalta. Sometimes, at Varvara Ivanovna's request, he would keep the vespers vigil at her house in Oleyza). In Yalta another remarkable Fr Sergy - Shchukin(21) - was held in blessed remembrance. In the small library at "Sayan" the collection "Landmarks" happened to fall into my hands (I already knew the name Struve from Mother - she had a nodding acquaintance with them - "the most intelligent man in Russia"). I can still remember seeing Bulgakov for the first time. He was almost frightening, with his burning, piercing eyes and his strainedface, and he made a huge impression on me. He was a prophet! We went back home, taking Muna with us to stay for a while! After a few days, I could not live like that any longer! I set out for Oleyza - to Fr Sergy. Two days there. Talks in the kitchen garden (a difficult time - Fr Sergy put his effort into trying to help) - "call no-one your teacher, for you have one teacher - the Christ"(22) - confession, eucharist, dreams (crosses, crosses....) - remarkable! Simferopol. The "Church of Edein". Death of Manya and Lilya.(23) The Crimea fell now into the hands of the reds, now of the whites. Our two elder sisters and Asya Obolenskaya(24) went away into the army as sisters of charity.(25) We younger ones, together with Mother and the Obolenskys, had to live somehow - in Simferopol. Fr Sergy began to give lectures in theology at the university. But where was he to officiate? A wonderful woman Korvin-Krukovskaya (with all sorts of lovely "girls" around her) found a derelict church building, the "Church of Edein"(26), the "girls" helped in every possible way, and services were held again. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "No Manya, no Lidiya" Mother greeted me when I returned home from lectures: during the retreat, Asya Obolenskaya stole away home, and was ill from typhus with them in Kislovodsk, where they had been put off the train because of their illness, and where they were laid to rest. Mother made her confession with Fr Sergy: he grew very fond of her and respected her!(27) Mother's death The whites no longer had any hope of keeping hold of the Crimea. Father came to meet us, and we travelled with him to Sebastopol. Something strange happened to me: I could not go any further, as though someone was tearing pieces of flesh out of my body. Mother took fright at my state of mind - Father travelled on alone, but we went back to Sebastopol. Fr Sergy was at Oleyza again. Some of the Obolenskys had left, some were still there. We took lodgings in a small room belonging to Veresayev's sister, a woman whose arrival in the church had been somewhat ecstatic. Mother and I gave lessons, Katya worked at the university library. Mother said to us: "I am sad about Father, because he is alone" (It was her dying wish that we should be reunited with him at the first opportunity.) Perhaps I felt that I would soon lose her, - all my spare time I was with her. Typhus raged. Mother fell ill. A well known doctor took her in at the hospital and surrounded her with the best of care (at that time). But her heart did not hold out - Mother died. My grief (the greatest in my life) was boundless. I wrote a desperate letter to Fr Sergy - bu the south coast was almost cut off from Simferopol - so no reply was possible, nor could I go to see him. Flight abroad Katya dreamed of studying. We were not accepted for university, because of our aristocratic provenance. Remembering Mother's dying wish - that we should go away at all costs (I did not want anything, it was all the same to me). The manager of the library gave a paper - a mission - to requisition a large (private) library for an estate on the Polish border.(28) I was taken on as an assistant. But I was altogether inert - although in agreement for the sake of fulfilling Mother's dying wish - Katya did everything. We went by train as far as Zhitomir, and then onwards on foot, on passing carts, and so on, with recommendations from one priest to another. At last - the border. The local population treated the border quite freely and even traded across it. But for those who escaped, it was dangerous: prison. The psalm-reader set about getting us across - one one day, the other the next, on the third our things.(29) We were in Poland. Where should we go? "Go to the (official) station for Polish repatriates", we were advised (we had no right at all to this!). The colonel (in charge of the station) summoned us: "I ought to send you back, and you know what would happen then?... But I've got a daughter in Petrograd, and (according to moral law!) if I cause evil to you, they will cause it to her. Take yourselves off with the party going to Rovno!". But how should we rejoin Father? By some miracle, the wife of Doctor Kreis arrived in Rovno- they had both worked with Father in Kr. Cross. A telegram to Warsaw. Father came to us. The feast of Our Lady of Protection(30). Straight from the station to the church, "to Prague". I wrote a desperate letter to Fr Sergy - "Why did I go away?" A year later, by some miracle, I received a reply from him - it was very supportive (it is preserved in the archive of his letters). In the very first days I took myself off to the library - Grabar', the history of Russian art - and from that moment I began to study iconography. The Czech government helped Russian youth to study, and gave them grants. After a year we were already like Czechs in Prague. Prague. Fr Sergy in Prague. My first involvement with the icon. "This evening Fr. Sergy Bulgakov is arriving", P.I.Novgorodtsev told me at the meeting of the religious-philosophical society, "don't you want to meet him?" There was no limit to my joy, and from that moment I strove to serve his family (in reality he was very helpless, and El[ena] Iv[anovna] had dislocated her foot in Constantinople). We studied at the university, at the academy of artists, at the architectural institute! Kirill Matkov - still very much a child (the son of a professor), had learnt the technique of ancient iconography from the Old Believers somewhere in Pskovschina(31): "Technique, and only technique! There's no need for prayer!" - he initiated me into all the secrets of this craft - although I did not imitate even the icons of the Old Believers very much, just enough to learn. (I was dreaming of the creative icon, but technique was essential). My first attempts were, of course, very unsuccessful. I had to achieve everything myself. After some time I did the head of John the Baptist after sketches from nature - of a guest of Fr. Sergy's.(32) Move to Paris Fr Sergy was instituted Rector of the Theological Institute in Paris. Delighted by the Louvre, he dreamed of me receiving artistic teaching there, and arranged for me to come and live in France Fr Sergy did not lose hope that his beloved eldest son Fedya (an artist) would come from Moscow(33). The attic in the little house of the St Sergius Institute was divided into closets. In one of these ("garrets") Fr Sergy asked for a window to be made in the roof - "Fedya's window" and then he gave me lodgings there (near to the church, a long way from "Babylon"). "It's difficult for his mum here, with her bad foot, she will need you," Lord Benjamin, the inspector of the academy, blessed me. I showed Borya Meschersky(34) my "Head of John the Baptist" (which was being spoken of more and more highly): "Above all you ought to study with my teacher, Maurice Denis, at the Ateliers d'arts. The staff there is least unstable, and he is the dearest of men, I shall speak to him."(35) We drew and painted from nature, still life, compositions on religious themes. Once a month there was the messe d'atelier, everyone took part in the eucharist (I was present, but did not receive communion - at those times it did not have Fr Sergy's blessing). I received a great deal of my artistic development from them. But somehow, insofar as the catholic picture differs from the icon, I later had to proceed, as it were, "contrarily". The Old Believer Sofronov had been sent for from the Baltic group of the Movement, which wanted to paint icons (but they themselves were not artists at all, and this was completely foreign to me). He gave me supplementary advice on iconographic technique, and I began to spend all my time painting icons, in parallel with helping the Bulgakovs about the house. Stelletsky converted the church of the St Sergius Institute (which had been a German "Kirche") into a replica of an old Russian temple and lived there during this work, but I couldn't learn anything from him: he never painted icons as such. This is how all the iconostases were executed: he would prepare a background of oil painting, and on it very decoratively form the figure of a saint or a composition for a feast day in the Old Russian style, leaving a space for the faces, which Princess L'vova would then complete (also in oil). Father had already arrived in Paris, and I was on friendly terms with him, I used to visit him when I went to the atelier. In Paris he was once more carried away with various spiritual trends, and even took a pride in the "range" of his voice. He renewed his acquaintance with the notorious Grudzhiev (and even lived with him in his "famous" home at Fontainebleau), but somehow he didn't manage to grasp the beauty and depth of Orthodoxy. He would question agonizingly: "Give me a book, from which I may understand Orthodoxy!" (at that time there was still no such book). When I stopped going to the atelier, he moved to a miserable hotel quite close to the St Sergius Institute, and that gave me the opportunity to visit him almost daily. He gave lessons, lost weight, and took to his bed for a month before his death - his cancer was discovered too late. He asked them not to operate and to let him die in peace. He was reconciled with Fr Sergy, whom he naturally envied my attention, made his confession and received the Sacrament from him, and Fr Sergy bore witness that he died a true Christian. Exhibition at Munich. Meudon. An exhibition of icons came to Germany and Belgium from the Soviet Union - Rublyev's "Trinity" and the "Vladimir Mother of God" in the scientific copies of Chirikov and Bryagin - the rest originals. I found out that it wasn't coming to Paris, but one family of our old acquaintances and neighbours in the Crimea had settled in Munich - the Winbergs (that gave me somewhere to stay). I got a visa and went to Munich. For five days I didn't leave the exhibition from dawn till dusk - I couldn't tear my eyes away from Rublyev's "Trinity"! At last I knew icons in something other than their reproduced form. Getting to know the old Russian icon showed me how important a confident line is for iconography (I am not talking about "tracings", but about the simply artistic line), and I began to practise it: I also made sketches with a brush, and with a fine quill with Indian ink. On holidays in the country I used to walk in the fields like the Japanese, with a towel fastened to my belt. The sketches enjoyed no small success in their own right amongst the French, but they were not enough for me for very long, and even in this I was unable to acquire the necessary mastery. But as well as the icon, I was still struggling with frescoes. But there weren't any walls! In Paris, the colonial exhibition was closing. Many pavilions had been put together inventively and fashionably - such as Stie§'s watercolour imitating a fresco. This was a fortuitous lesson for me. With my own money I bought a scrap of plywood that had been made ready for this watercolour, but it was still possible to paint something new on it. We refurbished the barrack church at Meudon with the blessing of Fr Andrei Sergeyenko, the incumbent, and I painted it with the help of Katya, after sending for her to come from Prague for a month. The old guard grumbled: "We lead a difficult life in exile, and come to church to forget - why do we need these wall-paintings?" Of course, Fr Andrei was indignant at such an attitude to the church and the paintings and supported what we had done. El[ena] Yakovl[evna] Breslavskaya (later Vedernikova, but I got to know her before) gave what help she could.(36) Reviews. A group of newly-formed iconographers (with the Old Believer Ryabushinsky at their head) put together an exhibition of icons. The reviews in the journals, the talk (the public repeated isolated phrases from them); Timasheva (wife of the professor, not an artist, but she also painted icons) - about me: "You might not agree with her, but you cannot reckon without her".A photo of my icon "Do not weep for me, Mother" was placed on the first page of the journal "Russia and Slav." (The public, without taking the trouble to find out enough about our iconography, called me "the foundress of Russian Pietˆ", although I did not have the idea for this composition myself, but only interpreted it in my own way). A review of the exhibition: "Deadly, motionless... if it were not for Reitlinger's icons". Weidle, rendering full account of the hugeness of my task and the paucity of my resources, gave me his approval and support.(37) Professor Zeib visited Meudon: "Lebendig!"(38) Profession An almost monastic way of life, living with Fr Sergy, going to church every day - but the "world" flooded into everything all the same - we were run off our feet with temptations and distractions. Somehow we needed to set a firm course for our pilgrimage. There was no monastery: my obedience was a free creation. The example of Mother Maria opened up possibilities: to stay in place, to take vows and to busy myself with my art.(39) Yevlogiy blessed the Lord. "But", he said, "you are young, and Mother is old, you would be like a daughter to her - how would she be able to call you "Mother" - that would not be good. I shall profess you as ryasofor(40) but I shall change your name..." That was the happiest day of my life; although the whole ryasofor's profession consists only of one prayer, and is not even a "vow", but "this holy intention"- at that moment I was given the grace of such a complete devotion to Christ as I have never been able to achieve either before or since. First trip to England The Brotherhood of St Alban and St Sergius invited me to paint a triptych for the chapel at the theological college at Mirfield, in northern England - their gift to the college. I went there, lived in the women's monastery(41), and travelled each day by bus from there to the college to work on the triptych. In the middle was the Saviour, on either side, Saint Sergius and the martyr Alban. The chapel was the last word in contemporary Anglican architecture. The triptych was enormous, and it was so overwhelming in its proportions and perhaps its style (too Orthodox), that afterwards, when everything was ready, it provoked grumbling amongst the leaders of the college, almost to the point of schism. How the whole thing ended up, I do not know.(42) Diversion from iconographic work. On my return from England, I carried on working in Paris - I made many icons to order for Fr Evfimiy Wendt, for the monastery at Moisenay, a large altar-piece icon "He rejoices because of you" for the barrack church in the rue Olivier de Serres, a one-tiered iconostasis in the garage-church at the community of Mother Maria in rue Lourmel and others. But as ever, I could not keep myself from all distractions from creative work, getting lost in aestheticism (this time rather to the delight of the French buyers): I hung one of my "Saviour" icons, a very decorative large head in beautiful tones, in a snobbish modern furniture shop.(43) There is a page in Russian iconography which our people pass over, rightly, of course, attributing it to the applied handicrafts, but don't they recognize this last among other disciplines as being just as much art, too? In the realm of iconography, tradition is everything, and that is its charm. I held in my hand such a small icon "The Mourning Mother of God", and later proceeded, on this foundation, to do "Seraphim of Sarov on the Rock with a Bear", etc., ... all in small dimensions, and I got very much carried away with this: this style offered the opportunity to do a greater number of pieces, at one time I even enlisted the services of Mother Blandina (formerly Asya Obolenskaya) - she was regrettably too tied up in her monastic obediences and soon had to give up, but with her the work was restored precisely to its primitive beginnings, as it had been in the monasteries at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. They enjoyed success among the French too, and I often used to depict Catholic saints and ordinary people. Some acquaintances(44) obtained the latest editions of Soviet children's books. I was delighted by them - "see how religious they are!" I was carried away by "Missionary zeal". With my pitiable means (I had never attempted illustration and my own drawing was poor, etc.) I fussed with this work.(45) Fr Sergy (he always left me free to choose, especially in artistic matters, in which he reckoned himself as one without competence) shyly said to me: "Aren't you wasting your efforts?" But I was deaf to that, and an hereditary amateur! Fr Sergy's Death The illness and death of Fr Sergy are covered in "Fragments of Recollection" which I wrote while in England, and which were sent to me not long after (I had left them in France on my return to my homeland), and I handed them over to Fr A. Men', as I was unable to write any further reminiscences about Fr Sergy. Second visit to England The Brotherhood of St Alban and St Sergius bought a house in London (in Ladbroke Grove). They invited me to paint the "chapel" - one of the rooms of the upper floor with its lobby. They had lined the walls (at last - a wall! even if it was plywood) with plywood, and covered it with levkas(46). The story of the Church; on top a frieze - from the creation of the world to the end of the Apocalypse; below - the fathers of the Church, Anglican and Orthodox saints. In the lobby (sanctuary), the Lamb, standing on top of a mountain, elders with psalteries. A one-tiered iconostasis - the Saviour, the Mother of God, the martyr Alban and St Sergius. Carried away by the matt texture (fresco!) I left the walls without any oil, but it was egg tempera, like icons, and needed fixing, and a good master would have found a means of matt fixing, but in my inexperience, I could not!(47) For some reason the back wall was not included straight away in the plan of the wall painting (it was a large sliding door into the large neighbouring hall). We did not cover it, and I went away to fulfill Fr Sergy's dying wish that I should be reunited with my sister after his death. She was living in Prague at that time with her husband and son, and our one dream was to return to our homeland. Weidle very much approved of the wall-paintings. But not without malice (he could not sympathise with my ultimate plan!), he would say "The man(48) who has begun such a thing ought to find a way of finishing it" (referring to the back wall).(49) Move to Czechoslovakia. Prague and the reality of the Church. But the "man" went away, left Paris forever and moved to the Czech SSR (to write to him from there that he should continue the work - neither he nor anyone had the means). Orthodoxy, with a strong political hue, was being propagated there at this time. Lord Elevferiy had been sent there from Rostov, and clearly suffered in the atmosphere that had been created. These were the facts: everyone knew that Karchmary had been a collaborator (he had worked with the Germans). He needed to attain to the episcopacy. But he was married. With total lack of understanding he asked his wife to take monastic vows and then be taken off to some monastery or other. I was told to take part in her profession ceremony, to carry her in a chemise from the entrance of the church to the sanctuary. And that was all there was to it. I left the church. Eastern Slovakia After one large work in Prague (a triptych for the altar of the chapel in Ryassovy Street) I was directed to paint churches in Eastern Slovakia. If Czechia[?] was both Catholic and Hussite, then Eastern Slovakia was exclusively unionist. This was the time of its liquidation. My wall painting technique was the most primitive: lime paint on a lime base. Of course, I had to please the people who lived there, to paint in the style to which they were accustomed (naturalistic!), Church life was far from spiritual(50). At first they sent me to Medzilabortsi(51) to work on a church that had only just been completed. I was incredibly delighted with the region (of the same type as the Ukraine - I had never in my life been in the Russian countryside), but I became even more distant from the church and I myself was not at my height- I was carried away in a way which became neither my age nor my status. Besides a few churches in the neighbourhood, I received orders for religious pictures for people's houses - all in the Catholic style, not artistic by a long way, and all in oils. The icon was once more forgotten. This was at that time the centre of attention for all Russians - I earned my living with copies and reproductions from the Russian periodicals. For my part, I did not want to be left behind the times (it was partly for the sake of getting into the Artists' Union that I returned to oil - portraits and landscapes). Move to the USSR At last we obtained a visa and our whole party was packed off to the USSR - Central Asia, the region that had suffered least from the war. As in Slovakia (where I had also tried to gain entrance) I did not manage to get into the Artists' Union. I worked for my living by decorating silken shawls. At the first opportunity, I took leave and went to Moscow, at first to Fedya Bulgakov's (he was married to the daughter of the artist Nesterov), then to Elena Yakovlevna, now Vedernikova, and got to know her remarkable husband. By some miracle I received the necessary documents from Paris and by the ministrations of my energetic sister, I started to receive a pension. Then I was able to travel to Moscow not just for a month's holiday, but for the whole summer. Convinced by now that I would never again return to painting icons, I gave away all my "means of production". But Elena Yakovlevna looked at things differently (she painted icons herself) and cozˇte que cozˇte(52) (53) she turned me back to the holy work which I had abandoned (at first to set her work right, then to finish it, and so on until at last I began my own work). Little by little, I began to breathe a forgotten air. The Vedernikovs, books, meetings with the wonderful new youth. I returned to the Father's House, made my confession and received communion from Fr Andrei Sergeyenko (I had not done this for a long time) and worked on the icon for 15-20 years, more than at any time in my life. At last, I met Fr Alexander Men'. It was as if he had been sent to me by Fr Sergy. Here is all my biography, remarkable for nothing except my remarkable teachers! NOTES 1. According to family tales, he was an orphan, brought up in the family of Alexei Tolstoy [a prominent Russian poet, no relation of the novelist Leo Tolstoy - translator's note]. But so far I have been unable to find any corroboration of these tales anywhere. He took part in the defence of Sebastopol, and his portrait can be found in the history of this campaign. 2. For a long time he was the commander of the armed forces of the "Kingdom of Poland". Gal[ina] Vas[ilevna] Zavadovskaya visited Vilnius in 1957, and confirms that there is a memorial to him there. 3. There is a Soviet publication of "memoirs" of Vodovozova, my mother's cousin, which describes this family. 4. Obviously Sister Joanna's mother 5. That is what a job was called then. 6. This house, Fontanska 76, is apparently still occupied by a similar establishment. 7. Switch of number as per original. This is typical of the author's style, introducing her aunts almost as an afterthought. 8. From Easter Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom 9. Cf Easter Sermon of St John Chrysostom 10. On Zhalobovsky's death, proto-presbyter Shabel'sky succeeded him. Somewhat fashionable in worldly circles, he played no part in our life. 11. N. Krupskaya later studied in this school; now there is a school there in her name. 12. His memoirs exist as a book in itself. Our parents were friends with him and his wonderful wife, Olga Vladimirovna, and all their family, even before we came into the world. 13. Later to become Mother Blandina. 14. They had in no sense been brought up as atheists, but they had received no religious instruction besides the obligatory lessons in "God's Law" at the high school. Much later, in France, when we took Fr Sergy for his "Nachkur" to Lake Annecy, where she lived with her youngest daughter O.V., she overcame her unbelievable shyness, went to him and told him that she had never lost her faith, but had hidden it, as something alien to her environment. 15. Snacks 16. They say it was utterly destroyed during the Russian-Finnish war. 17. We often used to laugh about it at the time - amateurism was our sort of karma: my sister Katya was absolutely not an amateur by nature; but when she had finished architectural institute, she was prevented by law from becoming an architect - there was a financial crisis in Czechoslovakia[?]and all women architects were dismissed. To earn her living, it fell to her to take up the applied arts, in which she attained the greatest accomplishment without special training. As for me, I am thankful for the many times I have been unfaithful to basic principles. 18. Mismatched parenthesis as per original 19. Original punctuation retained 20. At that time, when communications with Petrograd were on the point of being broken, you could not be sure that someone wouldn't burst into the sleeping car and throw the "children" out of the window. 21. His wonderful little book "Around the Church" saw the light of day by the pains of Yek[aterina] Ed.[uardovna] Courtain (who was to become mother Yevdokia) in the publication "The Way" (he himself, unstintingly devoted to his parishioners, lost the whole manuscript, which she had collected in leaflets.) 22. cf. Matt.23:10 23. typographical error in the original for Lidiya? 24. Who was to become Mother Blandina 25. As nurses were then called. 26. Some private person evidently built it for his ailing wife, and after her death went off to the Crimea and closed it. 27. My sister and I have always remembered Fr Sergy's words at that time on the shroud of Christ: "Christ is dead! God is dead!" he began his sermon. 28. It only became clear later that the estate was in Poland! 29. And we, of course, were on tenterhooks as they were of no small value. 30. 15 October 31. He was later commissioned to work on the iconostasis of a church the Russians built in Prague at the "Alders" cemetery. 32. This thing was quite successful. Unfortunately it was lost somewhere and no-one could find it then. 33. They would not let him go away fro the beginning, and he remained in Moscow as a kind of "hostage". 34. The second son of Mar. Andr., he had settled in Paris before the Revolution and was living as a French artist. 35. Maurice Denis, who like many of the French intelligentsia had come to the faith after World War I, founded the ateliers d'art sacrZˇ together with his friend Georges Desvali?res - it was an attempt in contemporary terms and with the contemporary resources of art to revive the best traditions of medieval religious art. 36. Later this barrack church was left untended and burned down. The Vedernikovs have saved a photo of it. 37. Apparently his article was in the journal "Numbers". 38. "Alive!" 39. Afterwards, many of my Catholic friends envied me: "That's what we would have wanted!" 40. Ryasofor - lit. cassock-bearer. 41. The Community of St Peter, Horbury 42. The Triptych is now in the Community Church 43. Maybe the whole thing was Christ for the snobs, but was there much of Christ in it for me? Was it not rather a beautiful decoration? 44. Natasha Parain, nZˇe Chelpanova, an artist and daughter of Professor Chelpanov, Parain brought her from Moscow. In Paris she illustrated French children's books and enjoyed great success. 45. Besides my "Picture Booklet" which I printed with my own money, I did "Child with Christ by the Fir Tree", "Where love is, there also is God" (they never saw the light of day), "Gerasim and his Bear" - at first as a freehand stencil, - 60 copies, then a French authoress supplied a French text, and this book lasted several editions and enjoyed great success.. 46. A mixture of chalk and gum, which would is applied to cloth stretched over board, in several layers, and then polished, to form the surface for icon-painting. 47. After a few years, it started to deteriorate! Fortunately, they managed to find some specialists, who saved it (already without me). Slides of the wall paintings and a photo of the iconostasis can be seen at Z Semyentsov's house. The artist V.A.Volkov visited London in 1972 after his journey to Italy and France, and formed a very high opinion of the wall paintings, surprising even himself with his appraisal: "And this after Italy" - he would say with a laugh. I do not know what response it drew locally. 48. (chelovek) is masculine, but can refer to the whole species. The ambiguity is at about the same level as with "man" in English. 49. The wall paintings are now in the chapel of the Monastery of Chirst the Saviour, 23 Cambridge Road, Hove. 50. Of course, there were exceptions - the wonderful priest Fr Grigoriy Kuzan and his mother - but that was already closer to my departure. Before them I found nothing. 51. Incidentally, Medzilabortsi is the homeland of I.Grabar'. 52. whatever the cost 53. How often in my life had I upbraided her for her commanding way, but here she turned out to be quite salutary!
I have had some thoughts (been thinking) about icons, from the dogmatic point of view. An icon cannot be understood outside Sophiology; this is why icons have not been properly understood, even by their defenders. And dogma concerning them is incomplete. We are not speaking about portraits of Christ which of course are an impossibility nor about schema (designs ?) and they themselves do not understand why icons are possible but worst of all, they confuse icons and religious pictures. If God grants me life and strength one of the aims of my theology is to illuminate (explain) the meaning of icon worship – it is sophiological. ‘Image’ is only possible above all because the image of man is the Image of God, the First Image, because man is co-created according to the Image and in the likeness. It was for this reason also that Christ was incarnate, took on humanity not as something foreign to Himself or a lesser garment, but as His own face but absolute not created. In his face is the Oneness of eternal and created mankind, Sofia-ness.
It is usually said that Christ can be an image because he was Incarnate but it should be the other way round: he was Incarnate because he was he was an image – the one Image. But before the Incarnation this Image was ‘invisible’ (unseen), because it belonged to the divine realms of uncreated Sophia, and then, being Incarnate, was visible in Created Sophia that is, having become man; this does not mean, that he did not become a man having previously not been one, but he showed the true man in the unreal man, created and sinful. And the strength of icons is not only the Godman but also the mangod; here old humangods (statues) are met directly with Christianity (of icons). But this refers to ‘image’, that is, reality, but there is a hypostasis which is invisible and not capable of being imaged but this reality vselyaetsya (is ?) or more properly is united through sanctification (which is not brought into dogmatic definition) and thereby establishes the distinction between a non-spiritual portrait and a spiritual icon (this last people have feared to speak of for fear of idol worship). But also with you and on you I joyfully aver that the representation, the sophiological incarnation of the Godman as a man is given not only by forms and features but also by shades (hues) light and colour. The symbolism of shades is not only ornamental, but real. Hues are the characteristics (properties) of Christ’s humanity , Sophia-ny and they are not chosen for their beauty but zryatsya (? Ripen? Emerge ? Hues are sophiology, therefore theology, they are the ideas, the life of revelation. This I understand in the abstract (theoretically) but you will teach me it. You are a true theologian, sophialogical, and I rejoice in you my friend and comrade…
The nun Joanna (who always called herself 'Sister') ‑ in the world, Julia Nikolayevna Reitlinger, ‑ was born in Petersburg in 1898 and died in Tashkent in 1988. She had lived a long life. The fate of the 'first wave' of emigrants, whose cultural and religious achievement is still not fully known to us or understood by us, was reflected in that life, as in a mirror. J.N. Reitlinger was an outstanding master of 20th century icon painting. But whereas the names of other great icon painters of the Russian diaspora, such as her pupil Father Gregory Krug, or Leonid Uspensky, are well known and as respected in tyhe West as they are in Russia, the work of Sister Joanna is known to only a few. Nevertheless, she worked a great deal and fruitfully in France and in England and in Czechoslovakia, especially in the 1930's and 40's. She continued to work when she returned to her native land (if you can call Tashkent her native land), up to the 1970's.
The icons of Sister Joanna, even those painted in her extreme old age, retained the same freedom and depth and complete sincerity. The canon of the iconographic tradition is represented in them rethought through and reworked with a tireless personal religious zeal. As if summing up, she wrote towards the end of her life: 'When I was young, I painted icons very freely...later, more traditionally and now I feel like doing them more freely again, now that all is 'imbibed' ('taken in'/'absorbed'/'digested').' And later, concerning her main aim, and aware of her weakening powers: 'I am always tormented by one thing: there are so many unhappy people even among believers ‑ but I am happy. How can I give them this happiness ? I try but I do not succeed...'
Doubts in art are always natural. The exhibition itself refutes the fears of the painter. The living icon world of Sister Joanna is evident to all.
The road to icon‑painting was simple and direct. The childhood of a child of a noble family in the years before the Revolution ‑ with a nanny, a maid, foreign languages and the gymnasium' and before she finished the 8th class to art school, the Society for the Advancement of Artists; during this time, her grandfather, having dropped the proud prefix 'von' from the surname of the barons Reitlinger and the deep piety of her mother visiting the small domestic church by the museum of Alexander III. Then ‑ 'exile': the Crimea, the death of her nearest and dearest, and then Warsaw, Prague, Belgrade, and from 1925 onwards ‑ Paris. In the Crimea in 1918 she made the acquaintance of Fr Sergei Bulgakov which determined the direction and meaning of the whole of the rest of her life. In Paris, Yu. N. Reitlinger settled in the attic of the St SergiusMonastery / institute (church and house) above the rooms of Father Sergei, and was guardian to him and his wife until their deaths in 1944 and 1945.
Before her repatriation in 1955, she lived in the circle of the spiritual children of Father Sergei and maintained contact with them afterwards.
In her autobiography , Yu. N. Reitlinger remembered: ' It was virtually a monastic way of life, meeting FatherSergei, daily attendance at church ‑ but still the world overflowed into it, seductive temptations knpocked one off one's feet. Somehow, I had to strengthen my way. A convent ‑ no, my vocation was to be a free artist. The example of Mother Maria (Kuz'mina‑Karavaeva) showed the possibilities: to stay where i was, to take the veil and get on with my painting. Bishop Evlogiy (Metropolitan of the Russian Church Abroad) gave me his blessing. 'But,' he said ‑ 'You are young, mother (the wife of Fr. Sergei) is old. Be a daughter to her ‑ how is she then going to call you 'Matyushka' ‑ that won't do. I will ordain you to the habit, but I'll change your name...'
It was the happiest day of my life. Thus it was that 'Sister' Joanna made her appearance. And, indeed, her art became her most important spiritual achievement.
Evidently, sister Joanna drew from her earliest childhood. At school, she was nicknamed 'Reitlinger‑ the artist'. Her entry into the school of the Society for the Advancement of Artists was a kind of realisation of that nickname. We do not know whether Yu. N. Reitlinger worked as an artist in the Crimea 1917‑21, but drawings and watercolours from her Prague and Belgrade periods (1922‑24) have survived. They testify to the taste of a young artist both in the turn of the century aesthetic 'World of Art' movement and the romantic images of the European Middle Ages. The majority of the drawings were done ‑ when she had already become Sister Joanna ‑ and later, in part, in the outskirts of Paris. They as well as the illustrations for children's books in the 1930's and 40's, bear witness to her unceasing love for 'our lesser brethern'. Animals possess a spirituality and appeal, a limited humanity. It is no accident that one of her best loved subjects of later years was 'All that hath breath...'
What could Yu. N. Reitlinger see in her childhood and early youth from examples of icon‑painting, which thereby had such an influence on her spiritual stirrings ? We do not know whether she was at two major exhibitions in 1911 and 1913 . However, she took certain impressions away with her from Petersburg.
In emigration she kept the best publication of those years of old Russian paintngs, the 6th volume of the 'History of Russian Art' by Igor Grabar (1914) with wonderful illustrations by P.P Muratov . The question of a renaissance of the tradition of religious art in pre‑revolutionary Russia boiled down to a contrast between the living Old Believer tradition and modern art. We know that the technology of Old Believer icons was closely studied by Yu. N. Reitlinger. However, she ruled out going down the path of the purely automatic practice of tracing ('It wasn't my way'). Attempts at reviving the tradition of Old Russian within the branches of the modern style did not suit her either. Evidence of this is her quite harsh comment on the work of D. S. Stelletski (1875‑1977) in her autobiographical remarks. Much was learned by the young artist in the workshop of the religious artist, Maurice Denis (1870‑1943). An undoubted legacy of his workshop was exercises on composition which are specially noted in the memoirs of Yu. N. Reitlinger. However, here also she explains: Ê I went to Denis, although I myself wanted to work in creative icon art whereas Catholic pictures have nothing in common with that'.
A fundamental breakthrough in her understanding of the path to 'the creative icon' appeared to be her visit to an exhibition of recently discovered icons from the USSR, which toured many european cities in 1929, including in Germany. According to her memoirs, she spent 5 days at the exhibition and it was one of the most decisive (?memorable/impressionable) experiences of her life. Along with (?) scientific copies of andrei Rublyev's 'Trinity' and the Vladimir Mother of God about which Yu. N. Rublyev writes, , there were original icons on exhibit includinh masterpieces from the XII‑XV centuries. As a result, her aim became: to return icon painting to the realms of 'fine art'.
It should be noted that !Yu. N. Reitlinger was not the only one to be astounded by this encounter with traditional icongraphy. Fr Sergei bulgakov was also deeply affected. It is no accident that soon after, he published a small but ‑ for the future of icon painting, fundamentally important book ' The Icon and iconography (icon painting)' (1931) Nor were certain lines in this book accidental, clearly they arose in conversation with Yu N Reitlinger who was then living under the same roof, about the canon and accurate (faithful) copies as per the Byzantine masters as a 'living memorial of the church', her soborny (communal church fellowship) inspiration', of the essential possibilityof the re‑establishment of 'new icons with new content' (the life of the church is never merely quarried out of the old, it has a present and a future and the ever‑present movement of the Holy Spirit. And if spiritual visions and discoveries could be depicted in traditional icons, they could be again now and in the future. Whether or not creative inspiration and boldness are evident in a new icon is simply a question of fact.') So in a combination of liturgical life, theology and 'speculation in paints' was born an understanding of the task of giving birth to contemporary Russian Orthodox art.
From this time onwards, Yu. N. Reitlinger (Sister Joanna from 1934) worked much and fruitfully. The range of her reference points and images is chronologically wide (lit. 'unrestricted') from the decorative primitives of the XIX (so‑called 'icon‑measles', such as the series 'Pages for Children's Reading' published under the editorship of Protoierei S. Chetverikov) to early Christian mosaics. These found their reflexion in her lively and picturesque style. A typical comment on an exhibition of icons in Prague, where a contingent of Old Believer apprentices predominated ran: 'lifelessness, stagnation...if it were not for the icons of Reitlinger.Ë In the 30's and 40's, she painted many icon commissions in France itself and in England (among them only a few are known to the Russian public, and only 4 of which are displayed in the exhibition).
However, her great dream was 'monumental' art ('I dreamed of murals and frescos all my life). Unfortunately, for purely practical reasons this dream was only destined to be fulfilled to a very limited degree. And evern some of what little she carried out has perished.
Part of the murals for the chapel of St john the Warrior in Meudon has been preserved, saved after a fire and now restored through the initiative of N.A. Struve. the most vivid and powerful scenes are those of the Last Judgement and the Heavenly Liturgy. In general, the problems of the future, knowledge of the triumph of the world (lit:vek=century)to come is the central preFellowship of St Alban and St Sergius in London, she created a great cycle of the Apocalypse ‑ sharp, expressive, traditional and contemporary (now at the Monastery of christ the Saviour near Oxford (sic). As is well known, Russian culture of the 20th century is intimately linked with ('nakorotke'=colloquial familiar to)an apocalyptic consciousness. There is not a single theologian who has not devoted several pages of commentary to the 'Revelations of St John the Divine'. The book about the Apocalypse by Fr. Sergei Bulgakov published in 1948 after his death was one of his best works. The murals of 1947 werre a kind of artistic parallel with the thgeological text. The spiritual link of sister joanna with her mentor was not broken.
Not long before his death, Fr Sergei told her ÊReturn to your Motherland Julia and take up your Cross. and listen, julia, carry it with joy !Ë (recorded by S. Yu. Zavadovskaya). Her return was preceded by a visit to her sister in Prague and years of waiting. She also worked in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia: icons, church murals, copies from reproductions of works by Russian artists. ÊI was overburdened with work....By the way, I painted successfully from nature because I particularly liked the countryside.Ë remembered Yu. N. Living in Tashkent where she was directed to stay in 1955 ÊI made my living painting silk scarves.Ë After she started to live on a pension, she was able to stay in Moscow more often and for longer. She came back to icon painting through a friend from Paris, E. Yu. Vedernikova (Braslavskaya). Yu. N wrote: 'Little by little I am beginning to breathe a forgotten air. the Vedernikovs , books, meetings with wonderful new young people. I return to my Father's House (the Church) , make my Confession and take Communion with Fr. andrei Sergeenko which I have not done for ages and for 15‑20 years I am working on icons more than I have ever done in my life.
Eventually my meeting with Fr. Alexander Men' was somehow sent to me by Fr. Sergei. That is my whole biography, nothing remarkable except my remarkable mentors. (Father A. Sergeenko 1903‑1973) was the incumbent at the church in Meudon, returned to Russia in 1947. Yu. N. could have met Fr A. Men (1935‑1990) in the 1960's, but their spiritual meeting took place around 1974. A return to icon painting in the anti‑religious 60's and 70's was also an achievement. She paonted icons free, sent them by post from Tashkent (often in boxes hidden by sweets) addressed 'by request' and 'as presents'. According to oral reports, her last icon was 'Walking on the Water' (1983, displayed in the exhibition).
She died in the severest Russian nun's habit (the 'skhima) ‑ deaf and blind, praying ceaselessly, remembering her nearest and dearest.
At this exhibition of the work of Yu. N. Reitlinger, the first ever in Russia, there are represented mainly icons from the 1970's‑beginning of the 1980's, some watercolours and sketches from the 1920's and 30's and preparatory drawings for icons. Like her early work, the late work of Sister Joanna expresses the wide range of her artistic interests, her sympathy for a wide variety of traditions and an unfailing honesty of interpretation, also a wonderful mastery of composition and spiritual authenticity in her images.
 Sr Joanna’s own biographical note was published in the Russian catalogue of a retrospective of her work at the Andrey Rublyev Museum of Ancient Russian Art in Moscow in 1999. For a full English translation of the text see my website www.crookedstane.com.
 Personal reminiscence by Evgeny Lampert, interviewed by me in Athens Oct 2003.
 Elizaveta Kuz’mina-Karavaeva (Mother Maria), canonized Feb 2004 with her son Yuri, her treasurer Ilya Fundaminsky and her chaplain Fr Dimitri Klepinine by the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and her home diocese, the Exarchate in Paris which is under Constantinople.
 Letter of Sr Joanna to Maurice Denis, Nov 5 1931, ‘…car je vous considere un peu comme un directeur de l’ame artistique confesseur.’ (Sr Joanna wrote French without accents.)
 A. Foster, Gwen John (London, 1999).
 R. Ferguson, The Short Sharp Life of T.E. Hulme (London, 2002), p 275.
 The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius founded in 1927 to promote mutual understanding between the Eastern and Western churches following meetings of English and Russian students of the Student Christian Movement (SCM).
 Russian text in Umnoe nebo. Perepiska protoiereya Aleksandra Menya s monakhiney Ioanney (Yu.N. Reitlinger) (Fond im. Aleksandra Menya, 2002). [The Wise Sky. Correspondence between archpriest Aleksander Men and sister Joanna (Ju.N. Reitlinger)]. This book contains not only the correspondence between Fr Alexander Men and Sr Joanna but also thirty-nine letters to Sr Joanna from Fr Sergei Bulgakov. “Wise Sky” is the technical term, as Sr Joanna explains in an early letter to Fr Alexander Men, for the background of an icon.
 The French letters of Julia Reitlinger to Maurice Denis are kept in the archive at the Musée Departmental Maurice Denis in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. Julia wrote French without accents and with grammatical mistakes.
 A two volume History of this society ‘Icône’ was published in Moscow: G.I. Vzdornov, red., Obshchestvo ‘Ikona’ v Parizhe (Izd. Progress-Traditsia, 2002).
 The barrack church of St John the Warrior. Sr Joanna’s murals of the Heavenly Liturgy and the Apocalypse were rescued from likely destruction from this derelict and abandoned building and sent in 2004 to Moscow for restoration by M. and Mme Nikita Struve. Mme Struve was a pupil of Sr Joanna in Paris.
 Letter to Fr Alexander Men dated 24 July 1975.
 Lampert’s Oxford PhD thesis (Divine Realm, 1944) was based on his work with Bulgakov and Berdyaev.
 Personal conversation with Evgeny Lampert in Athens Oct 2003
 Anastassy Gallaher, “Grace and Opportunity: Bulgakov’s Proposals for Intercommunion”. Address to the Oxford Chapter of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, October 27, 2003. See also his articles: “Bulgakov’s Ecumenical Thought”, Sobornost 24 (2002) no 1, 24-55, and “Bulgakov and intercommunion”, Sobornost 24 (2002) no 2, 9-28.
 Canon Hugh Wybrew, chairing the meeting above on 27.10.2003
 A magnificent triptych incorporating Christ Pantocrator (centre); the Crucifixion (left) and St Prokop of Sazava (985-1053) and the Bohemian Duke Oldrich (d.1034) who founded the Sazava monastery.
 Sr Joanna’s father died in Paris, reconciled at the last with the Orthodox church after experiments with fringe personalities such as Gurdjieff; she also had a half sister in Moscow, the fruit of her father’s liaison with a domestic servant in St Petersburg following her mother’s breaking off of marital relations aged 37
 The substitute Orthodox bishop appointed, a Nazi collaborator, was inconveniently married, so he sent his wife to a monastery.
 See E. Roberts and A. Shukman, eds, Christianity for the Twenty-First Century. The Prophetic Writings of Alexander Men (London 1994).
 Their correspondence was recently published under the title: Umnoe nebo. Perepiska protoiereya Aleksandra Menya s monakhiney Ioanney (Yu.N. Reitlinger) (Fond im. Aleksandra Menya, 2002). [The Wise Sky. Correspondence between archpriest Aleksander Men and sister Joanna (Ju.N. Reitlinger)]
 Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo (Milano, 1958). English trans. The Leopard (London, 1960).
 Born 23 April 1898 died 31 May 1988.