Mikhail Nesterov’s career spanned the pre-Revolutionary era, when he studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, through the Communist era. He began painting religious themes as a young man in the 1890s.
One of his earlier commissions of religious art was the Alexander Nevsky church in Abastumani, Georgia, where he spent six years creating approximately fifty small murals, including the iconostasis. Later he accepted a commission for the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary (a/k/a the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent), dedicated to two of the Myrrhbearers by its founder, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna who envisioneda religious community made up of women from all social strata that would merge the ideals of saints Martha and Mary in its dedication to both prayer and service to the poor.
In 1901, the artist wanted to deepen his spiritual appreciation of the monastic life and spent some time in painting and reflection at the Solovetsky Monastery, founded in the fifteenth century and located in the Solovetsky Islands off the coast of the White Sea.
As a Tsarist Nesterov was forced to reject religiously themed commissions after the revolution, although he continued to work on his Saint Sergius series in private. From the 1920s until his death he painted many portraits of prominent citizens, including Leo Tolstoy and the theologian/philosophers Pavel Florensky and Sergei Bulgakov.