This is the Krivooserski Monastery near Yuryevets, Russia. Levitan spent the summer of 1890 here, painting and sketching. He knows the forest and the river are holy places too, not just the monastic buildings.
A wooden footbridge (needing repairs) connects us to the far side. It is quiet and still here, even the river is calm, so calm, water lilies grow in the bottom left corner. The monastery's reflection is very beautiful, isn't it? What we're looking at is so important, we get to see it twice.
There are four cupolas on the far right church, (though one is hidden from view) symbolizing the Four Evangelists gathered around Christ. They also signify lighted candles - the monastic community's prayer ignited by faith.
We might wonder how this painting would be received today? Would it be rejected because the theme is so overtly religious: "I'm spiritual, not religious," people say.
One website says about this painting, "The bridge links the monastery to the outer world." That's correct of course, but only on a very practical level. Rather, the monastery on the other side of the river calls us to traverse the river, walking over the unsure bridge, to our own inner monastery, our own interior silent place. We remember the invitation of Jesus:
"And now the apostles came together again in the presence of Jesus, and told him of all they had done, and all the teaching they had given. And he said to them, Come away into a quiet place by yourselves, and rest a little. For there were many coming and going, and they scarcely had leisure even to eat. So they took ship, and went to a lonely place by themselves." Mark 6:30-32This invitation echoes another Gospel verse from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teaches us about prayer:
"But when you are praying, go into your inner room and shut the door upon yourself, and so pray to your Father in secret; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:6Of course Jesus is talking about an inner room. Most people don't have a private physical space to call their own. I remember when I was a young teacher in the early 1970's and on the deafening subway going up to Harlem every weekday morning - I'd see African-American women sitting peacefully with small open bibles on their laps. They would understand this painting.