Russian Icons

  1. Definition:
    Painting done on a wooden board, usually of a religious subject. The word 'icon' means 'image'.
  2. Purpose:
    To aid religious experience and help the spectator discover another mystical world beyond the one our senses perceive. By striving to emulate the 'image' of a virtuous subject, the viewer could hope to lead an equally saintly life.
  3. Subject
    1. Christ: the Pantocrator (Ruler of All); as a child: Nativity of Christ. Warrior before King Harod, Christ Immanuel; the 'Image Not Made by Hands': Redeemer Not Painted by Human Hands; scenes from his life: Annunciation from Ustyug, Christ's Descent into Limbo, Crucifixion, Deposition of Christ, Transfiguration, Savior with an Icon Cover
    2. Mary, Mother of God: holding the Christ Child or standing with arms raised in prayer and wearing a medallion portrait of Christ: Our Lady of the Don, Our Lady of the Monastery of the Caves, Our Lady of the Sign, Virgin Odigitria, Virgin Odigitria, Detail, Virgin Orans (The Graet Panagia) , Vladimir Mother of God; scenes from her life: Dormition of the Virgin, Dormition of the Virgin, Virgin of Compassion, Virgin of the Sign, Prophet Elijah, St Nicholas and St John the Precursor..
    3. Old Testament scenes thought to anticipate the Incarnation and Passion of Christ.
    4. God Appearing in the Form of Angels to Abraham and Sarah.
      Holy Trinity.
    5. Angels, Saints and scenes from their lives:
      Archangel Gabriel.
      Archangel Michael
      Elijah the Prophet.
      Elija's Ascent to Heaven.
      Elijah the Prophet in the Desert.
      >Elijah the Prophet in the Desert. St John the Forerunner.
      St John the Forerunner in the Wilderness.
      Boris and Gleb.
      John the Benefactor.
      Life of Metropolitan Peter.
      St Nicholas with Scenes from his Life, Detail.
      St Nicholas with Scenes from his Life
      St Nicholas with Scenes from his Life.
      St Paraskeva-Pyatnitsa.
    6. Some secular people nd events, especially if associated with miracles, were depicted in later icons.
      Defence of Novgorod against the Troops of Suzda.
      Prince Andrei Bogolyubskii.
      Prince Skopin-Shuiski
      Royal Family of Nicholas II.
  4. Techniques
    1. Icon painters did not just aim to create something beautiful. Technique and composition were important only in so far as they helped convey a message and lead to a religious experience.
    2. An icon was neither an exact representation of earthly reality nor an abstract symbol of spiritual reality. Painters drew on their knowledge of the physical world since they considered their subjects historically true, but they tried not to identify the living world around the subject too precisely because the subject was thought to have spiritual significance for all times and places.
    3. Icon painting was formalized, supposed to follow traditional techniques, presentations, subjects and symbols.
  5. History
    1. icon painting may go back as far as Egyptian mummy portraiture. Icons became so popular in Byzantium that conservative churchmen tried to ban them during the "Iconoclastic Controversy". The Eastern Orthodox Church finally reaffirmed their use, however, and Kievan Russia inherited the tradition after it had undergone a period of rebirth in Byzantium.
    2. 900's - 1200's: Early period of Russian icons. Most were by Greek painters or Russians under Byzantine influence.
    3. Greek facial features: long thin nose, small mouth and chin, wide eyes. Redeemer with the Moist Beard.
    4. Personages seem distant and aloof from earthly life, but often their eyes look directly at the spectator or at another personage in the picture.
    5. "Vladimir Virgin" (1000's). Vladimir Mother of God.
      1. outstanding example of icon by Greek painter, or Russian under Byzantine influence.
      2. Christ Child has fairly childlike expression, looks at mother, who looks sorrowfully at viewer.
      3. Russians believe it has miraculous powers.
      4. Inspired many subsequent icons that show affection between mother and child rather than austerity.
  6. Novgorod School.
    Archangel Gabriel.
    Assuption of the Virgin, Detail.
    Divine Fatherhood.
    1. Novgorod retained considerable independence under Tartars and contacts with outside world. Began to develop own icon style by 1200's.
    2. Linear designs (e.g. in hair, beards, etc.)
    3. Tendency to be more two-dimensional (little knowledge of ancient sculpture)). Size of figure depends on importance, not perspective St John 'the Ladder' between St George and St Vlassi..
    4. Bold primary colors: red, green, black, white. Backgrounds frequently red, accents -white.
    5. Also developed narrative icon depicting saint's lives. St Nicholas with Scenes from his Life.
  7. Theophanes the Greek (1340-1410).
    Dormition of the Virgin.
    Our Lady of the Don.
    1. As Tartar yoke relaxed, Greek influence began to return. Theophanes was Greek master who lived in Russia.
    2. adhered to Byzantine standards but used Novgorod style of highlights.
    3. more attention to movements.
    4. greater variety in types of faces and figures.
  8. Andrei Rublev (1370-1430)
    Holy Trinity.
    St Paul the Apostle.
    1. Student of Theophanes. Considered greatest Russian icon painter. Belonged to the Moscow School of icon painting. Most significant work "Old Testament Trinity"
    2. Theme: 3 angels' appearance to Sarah and Abraham. This episode, which led to founding of Jewish nation, thought to anticipate founding of Christian nation in New Testament.
    3. 3 angels represent God the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Since God the Father and Holy Spirit are mysteries, can only be represented symbolically.
    4. Theme of 3 in 1: 3 angels, heads, halos. Unity: all 3 in triangular area; sides of outer angels form chalice shape which encompasses central angel; all concerned with coming sacrifice: central angel (Father) looks at second (Son) and places hands over chalice with lamb's head; second raises hand as if to assent; third looks at chalice.
    5. Subdued colors, highlights not stressed.
    6. More 3-dimensional quality, motion, humanity, emotion.
  9. Icon Screen (iconostasis)
    1. began to be widely used in 1400's.
    2. In Byzantine and Kievan Churches, icons were hung on low rail between altar and worshipers. In northern wooden churches, panel paintings replaced frescoes and were hung above rail as well.
    3. Developed into tall barrier with several rows of icons, scenes of Christ's life and crucifixion higher.
  10. Later icons also depicted historical events. "The Battle of Novgorod and Suzdal" (late 1400'2) is the earliest known icon on an incident in Russian history.
    1. Novgorod had long tradition of narrative painting.
    2. Subject not entirely secular, as Novgorod attributed victory to God's aid.
    3. 3 panels depict three episodes.
  11. Dionysus (early 1500's)
    Christ's Descent into Limbo.
    Christ's Descent into Limbo.
    In Thee Rejoices All Creation.
    Virgin Odigitria.
    Virgin Odigitria, Detail.
    1. worked close to Novgorod but in many ways developed a personal style different from the Novgorod school's and closer to Moscow's.
    2. Uses both subtle and glowing colors.
    3. Method of placing dark figures against light backgrounds and separating them by space makes them resemble silhouettes.
  12. The main schools of Russian icon painting had developed in Moscow and Novgorod and moved far away from the original Byzantine style by the 1300's and 1400's. In the 1500's however, the differences between these schools became less discernible, especially when Moscow imported many icons and artists from Novgorod after the fire in 1547. Much icon painting was financed by wealthy Novgorod family of the Stroganovs, who also sponsored exploration of Siberia. New features:
    1. more elaborate detail
    2. new subjects: Christ's parables and miracles
    3. Russian facial types
  13. 1600's
    1. emphasis on elaboration increases
    2. western influences appear: introduction of perspective, classical settings, figures that harmonize with background. By the next century, icons would have a western appearance except in outlying areas. Christ Immanuel.
      Our Lady of Kykkos.
      St Demetrius of Thessalonica with Dmitri, Son of Ivan IV.
      Virgin of Compassion.
      Virgin of Compassion, Detail (the Ailing).
  14. Such early Russian art as icon painting continued to affect Russian attitudes toward art long after it had been secularized and westernized. In the 19th century, both artists and revolutionaries were often more interested in the ideal or message conveyed by a painting than in its artistic qualities. In the 20th century, Stalin used crude secular "icons" of political and economic leaders to indoctrinate Soviet citizens. Even now, Soviet papers occasionally alter photographs so that they will represent not physical but political reality. Interest in early Russian history and art has reawakened recently in the USSR. Tourists flock to the many churches preserved as museums, and some modern works of art reflect this new interest. In 1971, for example, a movie Andrei Rublev was released in the Soviet Union. 8th of March
    Antireligious cartoon
    Comrade Lenin
    Goncharova, Natalia Sergeevna: Washerwomen
    Dancing Peasants
    The Virgin, Costume design for the ballet "La Liturgie"
    St. Mark, Costume design for the ballet "La Liturgie"
    Lebedev, Vladimir
    Iron Cutter
    The Red Army Fleet
    Tatlin, Vladimir:
    Female Model