Under certain circumstances, good people can be involved in very bad things. There are mostly psychological factors, environment and circumstances to blame. Some people have simply abandoned morality guidelines, they are unable to determine the difference between good and bad deeds. But either of them is inevitably followed by retribution. In his painting, Stepanov shows us his vision of this process.
The central character of the picture is the Guardian Angel. According to the Christian tradition, it is a disembodied heavenly warrior who helps a person to keep the chosen path and not to take the wrong turning under temptation. In his right hand he holds a cross as a symbol of invincible spiritual weapon, and a sword in his left hand symbolizes the active participation of the Angel in such service.
There are people feasting at tables on either side of the Angel. To the viewer's left of the picture, there are pious people having peaceful conversations. We can see an angel among them, which indicates their righteous way of life. Above them, on the same side, there is a spiritual image of the sun as a symbol of light and good. To the viewer's right, there are men talking over a meal. We can see dark figures with wings behind them - they are demons, angels who sinned. People become obsessed with bad ideas, behave abominably under their influence. On the opposite side, the image of the moon is revealed parallel to the sun, being a sign of darkness and evil.
The so-called Supreme Court is depicted on the clouds, at the very top of the picture. It is headed by the Supreme Intelligence represented in the form of a man. The angels next to him read out the lists of deeds that people have done on Earth, according to which commensurate punishments and rewards will be awarded.
We can only guess what really happens after death. The artist sees the relation between the persons’ deeds and their fate. He believes that there is no point in waiting for the Heavenly Trial. What we need to do is to behave properly now and to remember that the forbidden fruit is always the sweetest. Everything is possible, and we have enough willpower to live a good life. There are some circumstances that can instigate the most respectable man to do bad deeds, but it is us to decide whether to break the rules or not.
Good or bad deeds?
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27/31/4 cm, tempera painting on linden wood, decorated with gold leaf