This work’s greatness has nothing to do with its size, but rather with the monumental nature of the artist’s vision. On the canvas is portrayed the deadly clashing of two forces embodying the age-old battle of Good against Evil. The action takes place during the early 1920’s. An international band has broken into an Orthodox church where members of all the classes of pre-revolutionary Russia are gathered. In the center of the composition is a commissar in a leather cap. In one hand he holds a mauser, and in the other, a dog on a leash with the cross of St. George around its neck. His hate-filled gaze is directed at the image of the crucifixion of Christ in the right side of the painting. In the savageness of the commissar’s image one can sense how he anticipates the achievement of his longed-for goal: to wipe out Orthodox religion. Rallying behind him is an assortment of rabble: a sailor with a rifle and machine gun, weapons of mass executions; a person letting a pig with a church cross out of a sack; a promiscuous woman with a general’s greatcoat thrown over her naked body; a woman in an ermine coat, acquired in the spirit of “Steal what’s been stolen!”; a “revolutionary family” wearing wedding crowns upon which pentagrams have been pinned…. It is known that during the “great French revolution” a naked prostitute was enthroned upon a church altar. And it is also common knowledge that mercenaries became the striking force of the revolution – Chinese, Latvians and others who were known for their especial cruelty in their dealings with the native population. The painting shows a Chinese woman in an officer’s peaked cap.
A bloodthirsty dark throng astride charging horses (recalling the horses of the apocalypse) falls upon those who have come to celebrate the Resurrection of the Savior, the holiest of Orthodox observances. A priest extends his arms in a gesture of anger -- “Be gone!” One need only look into the faces of those surrounding him to get a sense of the Russia which was crucified, with its clergymen and “God’s Fools,” the nobility, the army and the merchants, along with simple ploughmen and all those who embodied a state built upon the principles of orthodoxy, autocracy, and the common people.
The women’s faces have a remarkable expressiveness, and bear the imprint of the tragic nature of the events transpiring. Each image is very unique, yet at the same time evokes familiar associations with other famous images.
The recognizable familiarity of the time and its characteristic features comes from the artist’s profound penetration into the historical fabric of the epoch. The painting’s atmosphere and its images are based upon the rare wealth of historical and artistic materials gathered by the artist over the course of his life. Among them are rare volumes published both in Russia and abroad, such as a three-volume album of portraits of the Russian aristocracy, published in Spain in 1987, and miraculously preserved birth records. The artist also utilized personal sketches from models completed during his student years and images of real people who survived the revolutionary upheaval and the ensuing “great changes.”
Naturally, biographical motifs also appear in the painting. Those who are familiar with Glazunov’s book “Russia Crucified” will recognize the artist’s parents in the officer with a candle and the woman standing next to him, and his grandfather in the image of the government official in the left corner of the picture.
The tragic events transpiring in the church take place against the background of evangelistic subjects painted on the walls of the defiled place of worship. In the painting the earthly goes hand and hand with the heavenly, and this association forces us to think more deeply about these events, comparing the past with our present times, and contemplating the future.