Nothing gets lost. The experience of Pavel Florenskij


Pavel Florenskij (1882-1937) died as a martyr in the Soviet Union, even though he hadn’t received a religious education; on the contrary, out of a mistaken human respect, his father had kept him totally extraneous to any religion and ended up depriving «his dearest person in the world of the strongest support, of the most dependable consolation ». The Russian cultural environment at the turn of the 19th Century didn’t support, with its nihilism, the religious interest. Instead, since his younger age, Florenskij had grasped the sense of mystery in the simplest way: admiring nature («A vertiginous sense of infinite and transcendence is hidden in the most obvious and ordinary things»), and desiring to defeat his loneliness («The place where the revelation of truth begins» «is the friendship, as mysterious birth of a “you”»).

We can’t say in just a few words what Florenskij became in his adulthood: an engineer who patented thirty inventions; a philosopher, great exegete of the Platonism; a mathematician who in 1922 had conceived the idea of curved space; an art historian who helped the modern age understand the icon again; a fine theologian who gave the Church a fundamental text. Besides all the above, he was a man who, within the dreadful conditions of the concentration camp, continued to work for his research, maintained a profound spiritual life, and desired to pass his own conclusions to his five children.

The route of this exhibition that shows such a versatile personality is divided into three main phases of his life: his formation, when he abandoned the agnosticism impelled by the observation of nature, and he came to his faith and even to priesthood. His work, which occupies the central years of his life and witnesses the birth of his powerful cultural syntheses. And, finally, his martyrdom, that finds him first banished, than in a concentration camp, but always busy with his work, researching and thinking, up to the day when he was executed. Each one of these creative phases places itself within a particular «background»: first the Caucasus (the land of his ancestors) with its fascinating
nature. Then, the great monastery of Sergiev Posad, close to which he decides to live in order to feed on the Church’s sanctity.

Finally, the splendid and tragic Solovki monastery-concentration camp, where he decided to offer himself. His intellectual and spiritual journey is clearly displayed in the exhibition through his notes, through his scientific tools that he would build by himself, through the drawings that he prepared to communicate to his students, or to his children, his immense passion for all of the human knowledge. An enthusiast for any scientific research, Florenskij didn’t see in science a form to control things; on the contrary, according to him a totally rigorous scientific knowledge depended on the conscience of the mystery. Both in his scientific work and in his search for the truth, he followed the idea of unity: «What did I do through my life? I contemplated the world as a whole». And it’s possible to know this world only through a personal relationship: «not only an external contact, but an internal unity».

In his personal life, he always invited to grasp this sense in all circumstances, so that not even one single instant would be excluded; this conscience took root in him through a very harsh experience of defeats, dispossessions, and new beginnings, from which he had become certain that all personal events are governed by a good destiny. This is what he writes to his son in 1933 from the concentration camp: «It’s time for you to understand that whatever happens has its own meaning and is connected in a way so that, ultimately, life heads towards the best.

Consciously endured sorrows lived in light of the general events educate us and enrich us and, therefore, bring their good fruits.» Florenskij doesn’t speak of «general events» in an abstract way; they represent the relationship with the ultimate truth of everything, which is Christ: «God is not an
innate or transcendental idea, nor he is any idea; he is our Father who guides us… I experiment this with all my being, because whatever my misery may be, never have I lost the perception of the presence of God, the certainty that he is ens realissimum».

In collaboration with Father Andronik Trubačev

Coordination of: Angelo Bonaguro, Marta dell’Asta, Giovanna Parravicini (Fondazione Russia Cristiana)


23 Agosto 2009 - 29 Agosto 2009




Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions