Artist Gregorius Maltzeff

Art critic Nicholas Bok from the Havard Club in San Francisco befriended Maltzeff in Italy. He described him as; a humble man who never allowed his great knowledge to go to his head.

In 1921 Maltzeff was shocked by a surprise visit to his studio by the Grand Duchess Victoria (sister of the Russian Emperor) and her husband the Prince of Battenburg (Milford’s Haven). In her relish for what she witnessed there in the studio, she confidently assigned the young artist to a task in making sacred images for a chapel in Jerusalem; the place where they buried the third sister of the Grand Duchess who was killed by a Bolshevik. Following this, he was offered assignments from the English Royal Family in 1922.

At the same time, he was forced to look for another studio, relocating to an area called Monte Verde Vecchio. He presented himself at the exhibition of “Amatori e Cultori” in 1925 held at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome with his painting “Barge on the Volga.” In the same year, he painted a portrait of colonel Pellegrini of the 13th Artillery – hero of Africa in WWI. He also painted a portrait of his wife and children.


In 1926, he was assigned yet another job from the Jesuit Motherhouse at Borgo Santo Spirito. This unique task consisted of large tapestries for the two lateral walls of the chapel. His first attempt of painting on canvas, employing a Byzantine style (of the eastern Roman Empire). Such assignments helped aid him in maintaining his large family.

Finally in the same year, he purchased land in a desolate and vaguely known town of Rocca Priora in the Roman Castles (25 kilometres southeast of Rome’s centre). The cost was small, and the land volcanic, undesirable to Roman citizens or for agricultural purposes. His satisfaction came in the fresh cool air that the city of Rome lacked during the smoldering summers.

Maltzeff was well liked by local villagers, as they also recognized his artistic abilities, which soon led to another assignment in the Santa Maria delle Neve church. He crafted a portrait of Saint Vincenzo Pallotti.

Other works by Gregorius Maltzeff included several; one for a newly erected church in Ostia by the sea. The artist enjoyed Rocca Priora’s vast solitude. And as a result, he was given more assignments including one for the Antonine church of Frascati, the Greek monastery of Grottaferratta, Mondrogone al Tuscolo and Piglio in Sabina.

In 1930-1, he received a very important assignment: the Vatican entrusted him to supervise the paintings in course for the Church of Saint Antonio Abbot:

  • The chapel of the Apostles Slavi Cirillo and Metodio
  • The chapel of the Apostils Peter and Paul
  • The chapel of Saint Teresa of the Baby Jesus
  • Two chapels with icon screens for the Oriental Institute
  • One screen for the Seminary of the Russicum

Maltzeff prepared the panels himself, along with sculpting the wood.

The president of the pro-Russia pontifical commission Mgr. D’Herbigny blessed him on the results. Later he painted a Madonna and child for the Catholic Sanctuary at the Porto-Novo near Ancona. The Russicum College set up its summer headquarters at the Villa Ottone on the island of Elba in that same year. And the artist once again was asked to decorate the chapel.

Among his works outside of Italy there are; San Maria Deificatora in Bogota, Colombia, for the motherhouse of the sisters of the Holy Eucharist in Sofia, Bulgaria and for the Creator in Salamania Church in Spain. He also created the Ethiopian Madonna which appeared in a Vatican publication about Our Lady. And painted the Madonna “Stella dei Mari” Star of the Seas-for the Catholic Sanctuary of the Fishers of the World in Bari.

Besides all this he painted a portrait of the Cardinal Fumasoni-Biondi that had the patience to pose endlessly despite his demanding schedule. This portrait is now in the possession in the home of the Marquis Fumasoni-Biondi of Rome. Many more works were arriving by sea to Malta just as WWII broke out in 1939-40; this was to be the last of his endeavors.

Soon after he was struck by an incurable disease and died on March 10, 1953. He was buried in a rural cemetery set amid an expanse of corn and olive trees not far from Spoleto. For someone who loved Mother Nature so deeply, his final resting place in a corner of the Umbrian countryside could not have been more fitting.

Click here to see part I of this article

By Jackelin J.Jarvis

Extracted from a publication by Emmanuel Fiorentino, Art Critic with a bias toward Byzantine Art.

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