Kiev, winter evening, the entrance of ancient Church of St. Cyril, sunken in the ground. Several stairs leading downwards, into the 12 century… Nearly empty premises, rest and silence, iconostasis shining in twilight… An icon is at the left, a glance at which sets one's heart aflutter, fills eyes with tears and raises desire to kneel down…

     "The Blessed Virgin Mary With Child" by Mikhail Alexandrovich Vrubel is a masterpiece of Russian painting. This icon is a home for a part of soul of wonderful real Artist who was able to feel and see things not seen by others.

M.Vrubel,  "The Blessed Virgin Mary With Child"

     The icon is painted against golden background, in deep velvet dark red tones, a pearl embroidered pillow is at the altar, tender roses are at the foot. However, the artwork details are of no importance. Marvellous face of the Blessed Virgin Mary takes up attention completely, and one has eyes glued to it. Having infant Jesus on her lap, she is gazing sadly and wisely.

M.Vrubel,  "The Blessed Virgin Mary With Child"

     Unusual, magnetic image painted contrary to the ecclesiastical painting canons. Hardly noticeable flexion of head, ordinary, tired face with wide nose and plump lips, earthly and unearthly at the same time. Huge, charming eyes hide love, pain, supplication, patience, and foreknowledge of the artist's tragic fate. This icon is not a grand and public one, not intended for famous gorgeously decorated temple. This icon for a quiet church is painted with emotional upheaval, addressing to the heart of a particular man.  
Church of St. Cyril, Kiev

M.Vrubel. "Jesus Christ", Church of St. Cyril, Kiev
     The year of 1884. Mikhail Vrubel, a 28-year-old student of St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, among others is invited to Kiev to conduct restoration and recovery of Church of St. Cyril, being the best student of well-known teacher of the Academy Pavel Chistyakov. Professor, art historian Adrian Viktorovich Prakhov supervises the restoration and recovery works.   Vrubel spends nearly all the evenings in the professor's house, discussing work progress, studies books on the history of Byzantine and Russian art. Following stylistics of old frescos preserved in the church, the artist works at figures of angels, the heads of Christ and Moses, compositions "Descent of Holy Spirit on the Apostles" and "Pieta (The Lamentation)". He talks much to his teacher's wife, mother of three children and the life and soul of Kiev artistic society Emilia Lvovna Prakhova. Emilia Lvovna, who has married the professor and art historian at the age of 16, knows the world of art well, she has graduated from conservatorium where she has studied piano and has taken lessons with List. They talk of music, poetry, literature. "One wonderful person (oh, Anya, how wonderful people can be!)" - these are lines of Vrubel's enthusiastic letter to his sister. It was Prakhova who has become a "wonderful person" for him. And Kiev turned to be the most cherished city: "However, how good is Kiev! What a pity is my living not here. I love Kiev…" The artist's biographers mention that he has never been so happy as at that time. Soon Vrubel realizes that their conversations go beyond just friendly talks, and love arises in his heart.
M.Vrubel. "Saint Athanasius", Church of St. Cyril, Kiev
     Rumours reach Professor Prakhov that his wife has got a young admirer. To prevent further development of their romantic relationship, he suggests that Vrubel should go to Italy to get familiar with the works by old masters and to complete four icons for iconostasis - "Jesus Christ", "Saint Athanasius", "Saint Cyril", "The Blessed Virgin Mary With Child". Vrubel leaves for Venice, taking a photo and several portrait sketches of his beloved with him. M.Vrubel. "Saint Cyril", Church of St. Cyril, Kiev     In Venice Vrubel spends about half a year. Despite the fact that the artist owes significant part of his creative development to Italy, he waits for returning impatiently. He experiences the same thing which often happens to people who find themselves abroad for a long time: only then does a man feel the whole strength of his Motherland's attraction. From Italy he writes in letters that one can only study here, but creative work is only possible at the native land; to create means to feel, and to feel means "to forget that you are an artist and be glad that you are a human being first of all". "… How much beauty we have in Russia!" - this exclamation escapes Vrubel for the first time.
    Returning to Kiev becomes a real triumph for the artist. Icons at heavy zinc board were completed, and everyone recognized Emilia Lvovna's face features in the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a portrait of her little daughter Olga - in the image of Jesus Christ. Feelings overfilling Vrubel, homesickness, first poetic love to a woman attributed soul to the image, made it closer to human heart.    Despite hostile attitude, Prakhov highly appreciates Vrubel's work: "If it were my decision, I would build a temple and suggest that only Vrubel should paint it - such a talent needs other walls".
        It remains an enigma whether Vrubel has made a declaration of love. Vrubel takes the following cold attitude of Emilia Lvovna heavily and, in spite of started works of painting of St. Volodymir's Cathedral, leaves for Odessa. A few years later he will write to his friend M. Korovin: "I cut myself with a knife. I am not sure whether you understand… I loved a woman, she did not love me - well, actually she did, but so many things prevented her from understanding me. I was suffering, and when I cut myself my suffering diminished".     In half a year the artists returns to Kiev and gets to know that Prakhov has passed the profitable contract in St. Volodymir's Cathedral to Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and then popular artists Wilhelm Kotarbinsky and Pavel Svedomsky. This was not only due to strained personal relations between Vrubel and Prakhov, but also because of the artist's large delay in submitting painting sketches. In addition, bright individuality of Vrubel badly fit in with traditional painters. Vrubel departs from Kiev which has inflicted so much personal suffering on him.
    The image of Prakhova will keep haunting the artist for a long time. It is widely presumed that Emilia Lvovna inspired Vrubel not only for the representation of the Blessed Virgin Mary's face on an icon in Church of St. Cyril, but also for Demon images at which the artist kept working during all his life (but this story concerns other masterpieces). Although all presently known "Demons" have been created much later, their concept and start are referred exactly to the Kiev period. At present a letter by Vrubel's father is available who has seen incomplete painting of the first "Demon" in Kiev, and the Demon looked like "evil, sensual, repulsive elderly woman". No traces of this work have come down to us - the artist destroyed it.
M.Vrubel. Fresco "Angel with Labara", Church of St. Cyril, Kiev
M.Vrubel. Fresco "Pieta (The Lamentation)", Church of St. Cyril, KievM.Vrubel. "Descent of Holy Spirit on the Apostles", fresco, Church of St. Cyril, Kiev      Vrubel's future prepared for him strong rejection of his works by academic community, acquaintance with Savva Mamontov, well-known patron of the arts, participation in international exhibitions and all-Europe recognition, large contracts, new love and happy marriage to an opera singer Nadezhda Zabela, birth of a son, and then – financial difficulties, criticism, death of the son and mental hospital. Many of his contemporaries believed that such life journey of the artist of genius is divine retribution for being too captured by the Demon topic. The artist, aware of impossibility of being cured, once said sadly to his wife: "I have started from St. Cyril's and probably I will end up in it" (at that time St. Cyril's Monastery which included Church of St. Cyril hosted mental hospital). During 8 years Vrubel and his wife travel from one hospital to another, but health keeps worsening: eyesight deteriorates, and eventually full blindness occurs. Even in such state the artist tried to work, using short lucid periods. On April 14, 1910 Mikhail Vrubel dies in the arms of his wife, Nadezhda Zabela. The artist was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in St. Petersburg.     Emilia Lvovna outlived Vrubel by 17 years. She has separated with her husband and asked her daughter to burn all the letters which the young admirer in love has written to her. The daughter fulfilled her mother's request.

    Vrubel's creative work has repeatedly undergone sharp changes in modern estimates as well, since it failed to comply with the accepted frames. It was not until 1960-ies that Vrubel's unrepeatable individuality again caused heightened interest, and in 1980-ies studies were published which objectively assessed creative work of the master as one of the most bright artists of late XIX - early XX centuries.

Materials on the subject:

1.Museum "Church of St. Cyril" - a monument of architecture of the XIIcentury
.2. Wikipedia - The Blessed Virgin Mary With Child (Vrubel).
3. N.Shebarshina. "Crazy genius presented the Blessed Virgin Mary to Kiev".
4. O.Onguryan."When image of the Blessed Virgin Mary painted by Vrubel appeared inChurch of St. Cyril, Kiev residents recognized in it the features of a womanwell-known in Kiev"
5. Vrubel world.
6. About love, fair ladyand "The Blessed Virgin Mary".
7. Online Movies. "Essays on Vrubel".