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Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky was born in July 1817, in the city of Feodosia, or Theodosia, Crimea, then, a part of the Russian Empire. He was baptized under the name of Hovhannes Aivazian and received education at the Feodosia's St. Sargis Church. His first artistic education was with a local architect. At age 16, Aivazovsky moved to the Russian Capital, St. Petersburg, and became a student at Maxim Vorobiev's landscape class at the Imperial Academy of Arts.
In 1835, at age 18, he was appointed as assistant to the French painter Philippe Tanneur, on top of receiving a silver medal. Two years later, Aivazovsky joined Alexander Sauerweid on battle-painting and participated in exercises of the Russian Navy in the Gulf of Finland. Later that year, he graduated with a gold medal in the Imperial Academy of Arts.
Aivazovsky was sent to study in Europe by the Imperial Academy of Arts. He first went to Venice and Vienna, where he visited San Lazzaro Degli Armeni, the location of an important Armenian Catholic congregation, where he studied and became familiar with Armenian manuscripts and art. He then headed to Amalfi, Sorrento, and Florence, where he met the Russian painter Alexander Ivanov. He remained in Rome and Naples between 1840 and 1842. Through this period, he was heavily influenced by Italian art, and he would study in their museums.
He also traveled to Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Britain, where he made acquaintances with the painter J. M. W. Turner, who was very impressed by Aivazovsky's painting, The Bay Of Naples at Moonlit Night. Aivazovsky's works were admired throughout Europe. He also visited Portugal, Spain, and Malta. While in France, he was awarded a gold medal by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de sculpture.
Returning to Russia, Aivazovsky was made an Academician at the Imperial Academy of Arts, as well as appointed as the official artist of the Russian Navy to paint naval battles, coastal scenes, and seascapes. In 1845 he returned to his hometown, Feodosia, he settled there, building a house and studio. After that, he isolated himself, and that didn't take a good turn to his artistic career. In that period, around the mid-nineteenth century, Russian art was changing from the Romanticism towards Realism, but Aivazovsky didn't go through this change. He continued painting Romantic seascapes, which he was heavily criticized.
Aivazovsky worked in Paris from 1856 to 1857, where he received the French Legion of Honour, which is the highest order of merit to receive, civil or military, he was the first Russian and the first non-French as well, to receive it. He also received the Order of the Medjidie in Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire, the Greek Order of the Redeemer, and the Russian Order of St. Vladimir. He was also elected as an honorary member of the Moscow Art Society.