Thursday, January 24, 2019

Russian Icons Displayed at St Peter’s Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica is currently hosting a really splendid show of artworks from Russia, entitled “Pilgrimage of Russian Art”, a combination of icons, including some fairly famous ones, and paintings from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. A large portion of the artworks, especially the icons, come from the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, founded by Pavel Tretyakov (1832-98), a Russian businessman, in the mid-1850s; having amassed a very sizeable collection, he donated it to the city in 1892. (It has now expanded to 130,000 pieces, housed in several different buildings. In the descriptions below, I will only note the current home of the item if it is not from the Tretyakov.) The icons are mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries, some even older, and are therefore displayed, of course, behind protective glass, which does not make for optimal photography; tomorrow, I will post some of the more recent paintings on religious subject matters. The show runs until February 16th, and is free of charge, in the Braccio Carlo Magno, next to the basilica. (Mon., Tues., Thurs. Fri. 9:30-5:30, Wed. 1:30-5:30, Sat. 10-5.)

“In Thee All Creation Rejoices”, second half of the 16th century. This icon is based on the hymn to the Virgin Mary sung during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St Basil: “In Thee rejoiceth all creation, that art full of grace, the host of Angels, and the race of men; o hallowed temple, and rational paradise, glory of virgins, from whom God was incarnate, and born as a child, who was our God before the ages; for He made Thy womb a throne, and Thy body broader than the heavens! In Thee rejoiceth all creation, that art full of grace.”
Mother of God of Vladimir, Moscow, first half of the 16th century. (The Byzantine prototype from which this motif is taken, made in Constantinople ca. 1130, is one of the most revered icons in all of Russia, now also displayed at the Tretyakov Gallery.)
The Last Judgment, Novgorod, second half of the 16th century. The Gospel of the Last Judgment, Matthew 25, 31-46, is read on Meatfare Sunday, the second Sunday before the beginning of Lent (Sexagesima in the Roman Rite.)
St George Slaying the Dragon, 16th century
The Vision of Eulogius, 1565-96; from the Monastery of the Presentation in Solvychegodsk. Eulogius was a priest who, according to a traditional story, during the all-night vigil in church beheld a vision of angels who distributed to each monk a reward that expressed his degree of perfection in the ascetic life; the purpose of the icon is to encourage the distracted and lazy. In the middle of the lower part, Ss Sergei of Radonezh and Cyril of Belozersk, two of the great monastic founders of northern Russia, adore the Body of Christ in a chalice on the altar. The three cupolas of the church symbolize the Trinity; on the left, a monk rings bells mounted in a tower; on the right, another knocks a block of wood called a semantron with a hammer to call the monks to prayer, which is still done in many Eastern monasteries to this day.
The reception of the icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir; Moscow, mid-late 17th century.
St John the Evangelist; northern Russia, mid-16 century. St John is called “the Theologian” in the Byzantine tradition; this representation of him with his hand on his mouth indicates that he was able to apprehend the divinity of Christ only through silence.
Mother of God of Kykkos (Kykkotissa), by Simon Ushakov, 1668, from the Kremlin Armory. 
The Savior “Not made by hands” (Acheiropoita), or Holy Mandylion, Novgorod, 16th century.
The Mandylion, and “Do Not Weep for Me, Mother”, 17th century. The motif in the lower part is named for the hymn of the Virgin Mary sung at the Divine Liturgy of St Basil on Holy Saturday: “Weep not over me, Mother, as Thou beholdest me in the tomb, Thy Son whom Thou didst conceive in the womb without seed; for I shall rise and be glorified, and as God, shall unceasingly exalt in glory them that magnify Thee in faith and love.”
The Holy Trinity Appearing to Abraham, by Kyril Ulanov, 1690, from the Regional Museum of Ustyuzhna. (The Tretyakov Gallery is the home to the single most famous example of this motif, by Andrei Rubliev.)
The Transfiguration, Novgorod, 15th century.
The Myrrh-Bearing Women at the Tomb, Novgorod, 16th century. A well-known hymn from Orthros of Holy Saturday says, “The angel stood by the tomb and cried to the myrrh-bearing women, ‘Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has been shown free from corruption.’ ” On the second Sunday after Easter, which is dedicated to them, this is expanded with the addition of the words, ‘But cry out, the Lord is risen, offering great mercy to the world.’
Another version of the appearance of the Holy Trinity to Abraham, central Russia, second half of the 16th century.
The Nativity, Suzdal, end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century.
The Baptism of Christ, second half of the 16th century.
The Holy Trinity, by Paisius, 1484-5, from the Andrei Rubliev Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art.
Christ Enthoned, with the Mother of God and St John the Baptist (Deesis), Novgorod, 15th century.
The Crucifixion, by Dionysius, Moscow 1500
Christ in Prison, a rare example of Russian religious statuary; 18th century, from the area of Perm, (State Art Gallery of Perm).

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