Russian Iconography

The word “icon” is translated from Greek as “depiction, image”. The system of iconographic artistic devices had been developed in Byzantium by the IX-X centuries. A new hagiographic type of icons was likely to be spread notably from Byzantium. There was a saint’s figure depicted in the middle of an icon, and on the fields of the icons in stamps (small picturesque compositions) were scenes from the saint’s life. From the Byzantine hagiographic icons went on to Italy, the Balkans, Russia and the Caucasus. Iconography played an important role in ancient Russia, where it became one of the main forms of art. The earliest Russian icons represented traditions of Byzantine iconography, but soon original centers and schools of icon painting appeared in Russia i.e. Moscow, Pskov, Novgorod, Tver, and other centers. Both Russian saints and holy days who found the clearest reflection in the local iconography emerged in the country.

1. The Museum of Russian Icons is the only private collection in Russia of both Byzantine and Old Russian art that has been officially transformed into a public museum. It is not only the largest and most significant private collection in terms of the number of provided works, amounting to almost 4,500 items, but also the most wide-ranging in material and also impresses by its chronological coverage. It includes works from the most important artistic centers in the East-Christian art of both ancient and late Roman examples, serving as a basis of the Byzantine imagery; Early Christian and Byzantine antiquities of the VI-XIV centuries, some of which have no parallel even with the richest collections in the state museums; Greek and post-Byzantine monuments; works of Ethiopian culture, and many others – up to Russian iconography, which is the central pillar of the collection and covers a wide period from the XIV to the early XX century.

Small plastic’ items of the XII-XVI centuries give an idea​​ of Old Russian arts and crafts’ uniqueness and peculiarities. It is extremely rare for private collections to have a product of pictorial embroidery of the end of the XVI century, that has been perfectly preserved and has a great quality of performance.

The Museum offers daily complimentary reviews and thematic tours for everyone. Moreover, lectures, concerts and presentations are organized and scientific advisors are at the premise.

2. Department of icons at the State Tretyakov Gallery. After the revolution of 1917 the department of Old Russian art (so a part of the State Tretyakov Gallery exhibition was called) worked until the reorganization of the Gallery in 1923. By that time the Gallery’s collection of icons combined 70 icons and one painted portrait. The systematic expeditionary work of the ancient Russian art’s department began at the turn of 1950-1960. The expedition routes were not random, they were formed to cover previously unexplored areas and centers, which ancient art either hadn’t been studied properly, or hadn’t been represented in the Gallery’s collection at all. The expedition went through the Ryazan and Nizhny Novgorod Regions, a number of the Vladimir region’s districts and the northern parts of the North-Eastern Russian ancient kingdoms. In 1961 the Gallery experts took part in the expedition of the Arkhangelsk Museum to the Ryazan and Kostroma Regions and Veliky Ustyug. The Gallery’s Old Russian Painting Collection has being enriched for the recent decades, and specifically thank to generous gifts.

It is not accidental that the collection of icons in the State Tretyakov Gallery is considered one of the best collections in the world. The State Tretyakov Gallery’s collection of Old Russian art keeps growing through purchases and gifts of private citizens. Now the museum’s collection combines more than six thousand items: icons, fragments of frescoes and mosaics, sculpture, small plastic, items of arts and crafts, copies of frescoes.

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