By Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) – A man who attacked and damaged a masterpiece of Russian painting with a metal pole said on Tuesday he had acted for ideological reasons to rescue the reputation of a tsar, recanting an earlier confession that the vandalism was fuelled by vodka.
His explanation is likely to add to liberal concern about the influence of religious conservatives and politicians who have turned Russia’s history into an ideological battleground to boost patriotism, sometimes inspiring violent attacks on films and works of art that don’t fit their narrative.
Igor Podporin, a 37-year-old from the city of Voronezh, has confessed to attacking one of the country’s most treasured 19th century art works, which depicts Tsar Ivan the Terrible cradling his dying son.
In an initial confession, he explained his actions last Friday by saying he became overwhelmed after drinking vodka in the cafe of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow’s most important art museum, where the painting was displayed.
But in a Moscow court appearance on Tuesday, Podporin denied he had drunk vodka before the attack, and said he had acted because he objected to the painting.
“The painting is a lie,” Podporin told the court, Russian news agencies reported. “He (Tsar Ivan the Terrible) is ranked among the community of saints.”
The damaged painting, “Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581,” was completed by Ilya Repin in 1885 and portrays a grief-stricken tsar holding his own son in his arms after dealing him a mortal blow.
Repin is perhaps the greatest painter of the 19th century flowering of Russian culture, known for a vivid realist style that had an impact comparable to that of literary figures such as Tolstoy or composers such as Mussorgsky. His image of the tsar is widely accepted as one of his masterpieces.
But some Russian historians dispute the idea that Ivan murdered his son, and President Vladimir Putin said last year it was unclear if the tsar was guilty or not.
At least one senior government official has suggested that the West has exaggerated the tsar’s cruelty to blacken Russia’s name, while statues of Ivan the Terrible have started to appear in some Russian towns.
Ivan Melnikov, a human rights official who visited Podporin in custody, told the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid newspaper on Tuesday that Podporin had been thinking about what he regarded as the incorrect portrayal of Ivan the Terrible for two years.
“I’d heard about this painting a long time ago,” Podporin was quoted as telling him.
“Even Putin said on TV that what it depicts is not true. When I got to the Tretyakov I couldn’t stop myself. Foreigners go there and look at it. What will they think about our Russian tsar? About us? It’s a provocation against the Russian people so that people view us badly.”
Last year, Christian Orthodox militants attempted to torch a cinema showing the film “Matilda”, which depicted sex scenes between the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his lover, a ballerina. Police arrested the head of an Orthodox group who had pledged to burn down any cinema that showed the film.
In 2016 an art gallery shut an exhibit of work by U.S. photographer Jack Sturges after a pro-Kremlin senator labelled the images child abuse and a protester threw urine at them.
(Editing by Peter Graff)