Born in Armenia, he was educated at the Moscow Gymnasium at the behest of his notary father, but his true vocation was painting, so much so that he decided to enrol at the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg. During this period, he became interested in Aubrey Beardsley and his Symbolist graphics.
His debut came very early in Rostov, with Woman at the Window, a Futurist painting. Soon, this interest in the avant-garde was abandoned in favour of a pure and sincere return to the antique, not only iconographically, but also technically.
Like the old masters, Sciltian paints in oil on canvas or on panel, making himself the interpreter of a chromatism rich in chiaroscuro, which takes its cue from the observation of 16th and 17th century painters. He landed in Vienna in 1919 and completed his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, but the real turning point for the painter came in 1923, when he moved to Rome, where he found a studio in Campo de’ Fiori.
The museums he visited in Russia and Vienna were nothing compared to all that he could see in Rome and Italy: he began to study Caravaggio in San Luigi dei Francesi and in the Galleries close to his studio. He moves towards a return to antiquity that has contact with the present, especially in the creation of almost metaphysical settings.
He specialised in portraits and above all in the execution of trompe l’œil: cabinets, glass cabinets, scribbles, desks with luminous colours re-propose the illusions of Flemish masters such as Cornelis Gijsbrechts. The transparencies of cruets, the confusion of desks, yellowed pages and symbols of vanitas populate the works of Gregorio Sciltian, who directly quotes authors such as Caravaggio, Antonello da Messina or Vermeer.
In the 1920s he exhibited at the Galleria Bragaglia, and at the 1925 Rome Biennale he presented Musical Instruments, with the typical allegorical elements of ancient art. The following year he exhibited Biondo corsaro at the Venice Biennale and shortly afterwards spent a few years in Paris, showing at the Salon des Indépendants in 1927.
In 1936, on his return to Italy, he presented Bacchus at the Venice Biennale, a citation of Caravaggio’s St. Matthew and Bacchus, transported into a modern and rarefied dimension, which was very close to the language of Pietro Annigoni. To this period belong numerous trompe l’œil such as Natura morta con strumenti musicali (Still Life with Musical Instruments), Drappo appeso (Hanging Cloth), Fiori e frutta (Flowers and Fruit), Natura morta con libri (Still Life with Books) and a series of portraits including that of Peppino de Filippo, always treated through ancient customs.
In 1947, he signed the Manifesto dei Pittori Moderni della Realtà, together with his brothers Xavier and Antonio Bueno and Pietro Annigoni, affirming, this time by means of a programmatic manifesto, his total adherence to ancient models and reality, declaring his distance from any abstractionism or informal derivation.
In the 1950s, he set up his studio in Palazzo Trivulzio in Milan, but often stayed in Gardone Riviera to devote himself to the study of Mannerism in the Lombard area. He participated in several exhibitions together with the Pittori Moderni della Realtà and sent the triptych Pagine di Storia to the 1950 Venice Biennale.
He then made costumes and set designs for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 1953 and for La Scala in Milan. In his later years, he devoted himself mainly to sacred paintings and the illustration of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Like an ancient painter, consistent to the end, in 1968 he printed a treatise: The Sciltian Reality. Treatise on Painting. In the 1970s and 1980s, his important anthological exhibitions were held in Milan, Moscow and Ferrara. He died in Rome in 1985.