The old neglected palazzo, with its lofty plastic plafonds and frescoes on the walls, with its floors of mosaic, with its heavy yellow stuff curtains on the windows, with its vases on pedestals, and its open fireplaces, its carved doors and gloomy reception rooms hung with pictures- this palazzo did much, by its very appearance after they had moved into it, to confirm in Vronsky the agreeable illusion that he was not so much a Russian country gentleman, a retired officer of the life guards, as an enlightened amateur and patron of the arts, himself a modest artist who had renounced the world, his connections, and his ambition for the sake of the woman he loved.
The pose chosen by Vronsky with their removal into the palazzo was completely successful, and having, through Golenishchev, made the acquaintance of a few interesting people, for a time he was satisfied. He painted studies from nature under the guidance of an Italian professor of painting, and studied medieval Italian life. Medieval Italian life so fascinated Vronsky that even his hat, and a plaid flung over his shoulder, were worn in the medieval style, which, indeed, was extremely becoming to him.
"Here we live, and know nothing of what's going on," Vronsky said to Golenishchev, when the latter came to see him one morning. "Have you seen Mikhailov's picture?" he said, handing him a Russian gazette he had received that morning, and pointing to an article on a Russian artist, living in the very same town, and just finishing a picture which had long been talked about, and had been bought beforehand. The article reproached the government and the academy for letting so remarkable an artist be left without encouragement and support.
"I've seen it," answered Golenishchev. "Of course, he's not without talent, but it's all in a wrong direction. It's all the Ivanov-Strauss-Renan attitude to Christ and to religious painting."
"What is the subject of the picture?" asked Anna.
"Christ before Pilate. Christ is represented as a Jew with all the realism of the new school."
And the question of the subject of the picture having brought him to one of his favorite theories, Golenishchev launched forth into a disquisition on it.
"I can't understand how they can fall into such a gross mistake. Christ always has His definite embodiment in the art of the great masters. And therefore, if they want to depict, not God, but a revolutionist or a sage, let them take from history a Socrates, a Franklin, a Charlotte Corday, but not Christ. They take the very figure which cannot be taken for their art, and then..."
"And is it true that this Mikhailov is in such poverty?" asked Vronsky, thinking that, as a Russian Maecenas, it was his duty to assist the artist regardless of whether the picture were good or bad.
"Hardly. He's a remarkable portrait painter. Have you ever seen his portrait of Madame Vassilkova? But I believe he doesn't care about painting any more portraits, and so, likely as not, he may be in want. I maintain that..."
"Couldn't we ask him to paint a portrait of Anna Arkadyevna?" said Vronsky.
"Why mine?" said Anna. "After yours I don't want another portrait. Better have one of Annie" (so she called her baby girl). "Here she is," she added, looking out of the window at the handsome Italian nurse, who was carrying the child out into the garden, and immediately glancing, unperceived, at Vronsky. The handsome nurse, from whom Vronsky was painting a head for his picture, was the one hidden grief in Anna's life. He painted with her as his model, admired her beauty and medievalism, and Anna dared not confess to herself that she was afraid of becoming jealous of this nurse, and was for that reason particularly gracious and condescending both to her and her little son.
Vronsky, too, glanced out of the window and into Anna's eyes, and, turning at once to Golenishchev, he said:
"Do you know this Mikhailov?"
"I have met him. But he's a queer fish, and quite without breeding. You know, one of those savage new people one is forever coming across nowadays; one of those freethinkers, you know, who are reared d'emblee in theories of atheism, negation, and materialism. In former days," said Golenishchev, not observing, or not willing to observe, that both Anna and Vronsky wanted to speak, "in former days the freethinker was a man who had been brought up in ideas of religion, law, and morality, and only through conflict and struggle came to free thought; but now there has sprung up a new type of native freethinker who grows up without even having heard of principles of morality or of religion, of the existence of authorities, who grows up directly in ideas of negation in everything, that is to say, a savage. Well, he's of that class. He's the son, it appears, of some Moscow butler, and has never had any sort of bringing-up. When he got into the academy and made his reputation he tried, as he's no fool, to educate himself. And he turned to what seemed to him the very source of culture- the magazines. In old times, you see, a man who wanted to educate himself- a Frenchman, for instance- would have set to work to study all the classics: theologians and tragedians and historians and philosophers, and, you see, all the intellectual work that came in his way. But in our day he goes straight for the literature of negation, very quickly assimilates all the extracts of the science of negation, and he's all set. And that's not all- twenty years ago he would have found in that literature traces of conflict with authorities, with the creeds of the ages; he would have perceived from this conflict that there was something else; but now he comes at once upon a literature in which the old creeds do not even furnish matter for discussion, but it is stated baldly that there is nothing else; just evolution, natural selection, the struggle for existence- and that's all. In my article I've..."
"I tell you what," said Anna, who had for a long while been exchanging wary glances with Vronsky, and knew that he was not in the least interested in the education of this artist, but was simply absorbed by the idea of assisting him, and ordering a portrait of him; "I tell you what," she said, resolutely interrupting Golenishchev, who was still talking away, "let's go and see him!"
Golenishchev recovered his self-possession and readily agreed. But, as the artist lived in a remote ward of the town, it was decided to take a carriage.
An hour later Anna, with Golenishchev by her side and Vronsky on the front seat of the carriage, facing them, drove up to an ugly new house in a remote ward. On learning from the porter's wife, who came out to them, that Mikhailov saw visitors at his studio, but that at that moment he was in his lodging only a couple of steps off, they sent her to him with their cards, asking permission to see his pictures.