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Informations de la page
Creating the Pictorial Heritage
The doors of the Saint Sergius church
© Photo André Serikoff
The Church of the Saint-Sergius Hill was entirely decorated between 1925 and 1927 by Dmitry Stelletsky who was a painter, sculptor iconographer, illustrator, and scenographer with the help of Princess Lvof. It was inspired by the Russian religious style of the 16th century. For the central doors ("royal doors") of the iconostasis, both at the level of the main altar and the left side altar, original Russian doors of the 16th century (Novgorod school) were used, donated by a art collector.
Upon Stelletsky's death in 1947, Mikhail Osorgin the Elder shared his memories and related the conditions under which Stelletsky's work had taken place:
"If my memory serves me correctly, two months after the purchase of the Church of Saint-Serge at auction at the Palais de Justice, on July 5-18, 1924, the question of the interior decoration and the painting of the iconostasis by a competent iconographer arose. By chance, while chatting with my uncle Nicolas Victorovitch Gagarin, a great connoisseur in the field of art now deceased, I learned that Dimitri Stelletsky, living in Cannes, was the only one capable of carrying out such an ambitious project. .
According to my uncle, no one but him could agree to such a project. I did not know him and decided to write to him to ask how he would react to an official proposal. I attached to my letter three German photos of the church (which was a Protestant temple before 1914), which I had found in the attic of Saint-Sergius, they represented the church from the outside but also the interior with German children around a Christmas tree and the portrait of Emperor Wilhelm in the apse of the temple. I wanted to give Dimitri Stelletsky an idea of the work to be done.
Five or six days later I received a package and an enthusiastic letter from D.S. He agreed to take charge of the decoration of the church without conditions and completely free of charge. In the package he had enclosed sketches of the iconostasis and the decoration of the interior walls of the church made according to the German photos, there was also a sketch of the exterior of the building with an "orthodoxized" appearance ("оправославленный вид") as he himself wrote.
Dimitri Stelletsky revealed himself in this enthusiasm, this desire to give himself entirely and freely to this work for the benefit of the Church.... But how many difficulties remained to be overcome until he was officially invited to perform this work officially!
The question of the decoration of the Church of Saint Sergius was increasingly debated. Many members of our "Committee for the construction of Saint-Sergius" had their own candidates. Finally an official competition for the painting of the iconostasis and the interior walls was opened. Dimitri Stelletsky almost jeopardized his chances of competing by his refusal to send a project. He thought he had sent me most of his project (but it was only a sketch, done in broad strokes). He refused to send a detailed project, claiming that as an artist he knew what he had to do. Either he was trusted or he was withdrawing from the project. The other candidates and in particular Prince M.C Poutiatine had presented a very detailed project of the iconostasis. Prince Putiatin's project appealed to many, and the abrupt tone of Stelletsky's response had offended the members of our Committee who did not know him.
The major obstacle for a final decision was the lack of financial means and this, curiously, favored the candidacy of Stelletsky. I had learned that the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna possessed a precious emerald which she had inherited from her late aunt, the Grand Duchess Elisaveta Fedorovna who wanted this stone to be used to decorate a church. When I asked the Grand Duchess to offer us the stone for our church, she only accepted on the condition that the chosen painter be Dimitri Stelletsky and no one else. If this condition was met, she agreed to chair the artistic committee responsible for raising funds for future work.
Finally our Committee confirmed Stelletsky's candidacy and the Grand Duchess began the collection which brought in more than 400,000 francs in two years. Stelletsky arrived in Paris, settled in Saint-Serge and began to work. On the inner side of the north doors is a handwritten inscription by Stelletsky - "I began to paint the church on Friday, November 6, 1925. I finished on Thursday, December 1, 1927 - Dmitri Semenovitch Stelletsky"
This speed of execution for such a vast artistic project once again characterizes the immense talent of the painter. He worked without the slightest hesitation, having in his head the whole composition down to the smallest detail.
I remember with what virtuosity and speed (ten days) all the white boards of the iconostasis, smeared with levkas, prepared according to his plans, were drawn by him using black charcoal. The contours of the saints were precise and the helpers of D.S (they were between two and three) only had to pass the contours to the point. And I am not starting from the ceiling paintings, the angels and the symbolic representations of the Evangelists! Stelletsky had the exact measurements of the part to be drawn, D.S spread out the corresponding size paper on the ground, fixed a piece of charcoal on a stick and sketeched the drawings with a sure and firm hand in order to obtain the desired representations. The helpers of the painter only had to cut out the silhouettes, to mount the bosses to the ceiling and to paint them according to the indications of Stelletsky who controlled their work from below.
Stelletsky's faithful collaborator, Princess Elena Lvova, painted the faces of the saints on all the icons with her immense talent. Stelletsky never made any changes to this work trusting her completely for this task.
How Stelletsky loved our church! How many times thereafter he came to Paris to admire his work which now had acquired worldwide notoriety. During the last two years of his life, spent in the Russian House, he responded with a categorical refusal to my multiple proposals to go to Saint-Serge. He said he couldn't see anything and he could only cry.
Now that he is gone, all of us, his friends, feel alone and orphaned. We are comforted that God had mercy on his servant Dimitri, ended his suffering and rewarded him for his pure, childlike faith and his passionate and selfless service to the Orthodox Church. »
In 2013, following damage due to humidity and acts of vandalism, a restoration of the paintings took place in the church on Saint-Sergius hill.