Russian painter, classicist, master of historical painting. Professor of the Academy of Arts in Saint-Petersburg.
Losenko was born in Ukraine in rural family, early was deserted. In youth he sang in court chorus of empress Ekaterina II.
He benefited from the opening of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg in 1757. He studied at the Academy 1758-1760, then studied and worked in Paris and Rome. Losenko was one of the first Russian professors at the Academy. Whereas his predecessors had been mostly portrait-painters, Losenko attempted historical subjects. His "Vladimir and Rogneda" (1770), is the first painting on a theme of Russian history. Losenko based his canvas on Mikhail Lomonosov's "Russian History," rather than drawing from the Bible or Greek and Roman history, as in the Western European school. Depicted is Prince Vladimir of Novgorod, who had proposed marriage to Rogneda, princess of Polotsk. Being refused, Vladimir waged war on Polotsk, killing the princess's father and brothers and forcefully made her his wife. In keeping with classicism's critique of despotism, Losenko shows the moment of repentance when Vladimir begs forgiveness for his deeds. Resonating with the principles of classicism are local Russian features. The faces of the warriors are typically Russian and the maiden is wearing a Russian dress. But the mosaic floor, antique vase in the corner, and pilasters on the walls are purely classical. The costumes resemble theatrical ones, as do some of the expressions on the faces.
Through this work, Losenko moved away from abstract idealization of figures towards capturing human passions in painting. Nonetheless, Losenko had no followers in historical painting among his contemporaries. Portrait painting continued to dominate Russian art and it would be another two generations until painters appeared who were equal to the challenges of representing Russian history in painting.