An Orthodox believer in the heart of Roman Catholicism, Natalia Tsarkova paints her classical-style portraits in a flat filled with Vatican memorabilia by the walls of the Holy See.
"I like the atmosphere here, I feel needed. When I studied in Moscow, masters like Raphael, Michelangelo, Pietro da Cortona were like God and now I find myself among them," said Tsarkova in an interview in a studio with several unfinished works and back copies of the Vatican's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.
Tsarkova arrived in Rome in the early 1990s and began doing portraits of Roman aristocrats, who introduced her at the Vatican where her background captured the attention of late pope John Paul II.
"He spoke Russian with me. He said 'Long live Russian art!'"
John Paul II made great strides in rebuilding relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and Tsarkova said she too feels she can play a role. "I feel like a small bridge between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I am like a diplomat with art."
Her latest work in progress is a painting of Saint George slaying a dragon. She said she is doing it for herself and was "inspired by the Holy Spirit".
A protege of award-winning Russian artist Ilya Glazunov, who is best known for his patriotic and religious themes, Tsarkova said she would not consider straying from her classical style.