More than any other style he liked the French—graceful and effective—and in that style he began to paint Anna’s portrait in Italian costume, and the portrait seemed to him, and to everyone who saw it, extremely successful.
The old neglected palazzo, with its lofty carved ceilings and frescoes on the walls, with its floors of mosaic, with its heavy yellow stuff curtains on the windows, with its vases on pedestals, and its open fireplaces, its carved doors and gloomy reception rooms, hung with pictures—this palazzo did much, by its very appearance after they had moved into it, to confirm in Vronsky the agreeable illusion that he was not so much a Russian country gentleman, a retired army officer, as an enlightened amateur and patron of the arts, himself a modest artist who had renounced the world, his connections, and his ambition for the sake of the woman he loved.
The pose chosen by Vronsky with their removal into the palazzo was completely successful, and having, through Golenishtchev, made acquaintance with a few interesting people, for a time he was satisfied. He painted studies from nature under the guidance of an Italian professor of painting, and studied mediaeval Italian life. Mediaeval Italian life so fascinated Vronsky that he even wore a hat and flung a cloak over his shoulder in the mediaeval style, which, indeed, was extremely becoming to him.
“Here we live, and know nothing of what’s going on,” Vronsky said to Golenishtchev as he came to see him one morning. “Have you seen Mihailov’s picture?” he said, handing him a Russian gazette he had received that morning, and pointing to an article on a Russian artist, living in the very same town, and just finishing a picture which had long been talked about, and had been bought beforehand. The article reproached the government and the academy for letting so remarkable an artist be left without encouragement and support.
“I’ve seen it,” answered Golenishtchev. “Of course, he’s not without talent, but it’s all in a wrong direction. It’s all the Ivanov-Strauss-Renan attitude to Christ and to religious painting.”
“What is the subject of the picture?” asked Anna.
“Christ before Pilate. Christ is represented as a Jew with all the realism of the new school.”
And the question of the subject of the picture having brought him to one of his favorite theories, Golenishtchev launched forth into a disquisition on it.
“I can’t understand how they can fall into such a gross mistake. Christ always has His definite embodiment in the art of the great masters. And therefore, if they want to depict, not God, but a revolutionist or a sage, let them take from history a Socrates, a Franklin, a Charlotte Corday, but not Christ. They take the very figure which cannot be taken for their art, and then...”
“And is it true that this Mihailov is in such poverty?” asked Vronsky, thinking that, as a Russian Maecenas, it was his duty to assist the artist regardless of whether the picture were good or bad.