Alessio Issupoff (Rome 1889 – 1957), The necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand
Oil on panel cm 39 x 48 signed in cyrillic lower left. On the back, datation (1921) and geographical indication (Turkestan, Russia).
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The Shah-i-Zinda (“The Living King”) of Samarkand is an ancient monumental necropolis, built from the IX century and used until the XIV century and, to a lesser extent, during the 19th century. It takes its name from the legend according to which Kusam ibn Abbas, cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and preacher of the law of Allah, was buried in the VII century. Composed of over twenty buildings that recall the architecture of the Registan and its madrasas, the complex of Shah-i-Zinda is divided substantially into three large parts, connected to each other by passages with four arches, called in the local language “chartak”, while the main entrance, the Darvazakhana (or First Chartak) dates back only to 1434-1435, and has monumental features enriched by marbles and polychrome mosaics. This ancient necropolis is the protagonist of the painting presented here, executed by the Russian painter Aleksej Vladimirovic Isupov (1889-1957), known by the Italianized name of Alessio Issupoff.
Originally from Vyatka, in Northern Russia, but trained at the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Moscow under the leadership of the fathers of Russian national painting Valentin Serov and Konstantin Korovin, Issupoff prefers a landscape painting, which will only open in the years of maturity to portraits. The bright colors and the evanescence of light, stylistic figures of Issupoff’s brushstrokes that can also be found in this painting, suggest his closeness to the French-derived Russian naturalism-impressionism headed by names like Isaak Levitan, Valentin Serov and Filipp Maliavine.
In the autumn of 1915 Issupoff received the call to arms and entered a Siberian regiment that settled in Turkestan. The oriental customs, known during the military period, fascinated him very much. Once dismissed, he participates in the opening of a school of painting and sculpture with other former soldiers, assuming the role of director of the section of Figure. This, however, distracts him from his pictorial activity; he decides to leave the office and go to Samarkand to see and paint the city with its beautiful mosques, rich in monuments and inhabited by a picturesque population. The painting presented here returns all the magic and enchantment arising from the painter’s encounter with the Moorish architecture of the mythical Uzbek town. The years spent in Samarkand leave a profound trace in the spirit and art of Issupoff. In his fervent imagination as an artist, there are still memories of the beautiful city and the extraordinary lighting effects experienced in Eastern Europe. In 1921 he returned to Moscow: in the same year he painted this phantasmagoric representation of the necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda of Samarkand. The attraction exerted on the painter by this important archaeological site is also demonstrated by a second painting that depicts it, sold at auction in 2015 by Macdougall in the London sale of 3 June.