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One of such works, the Holy Virgin of Vladimir, said, of course, to have been painted by St. Luke, and now absolutely black, and with features obliterated, receives, as one of the most ancient images in Russia, countless kisses and genuflexions. Here is an instance where Mr.
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Kremlin Museums. Tretyakov Gallery. Which of them most accurately reflects British perceptions of these objects at the time? The rationale behind this date-span is that it post-dates the Enlightenment, which in respect of western responses to Russian icons — and Orthodoxy as a culture — has attracted scholarly attention; 3 the terminus ante is the exhibition of Russian icons held at the Victoria and Albert Museum at the end of and the book on the subject published soon afterwards under the title Masterpieces of Russian Painting.
Together they mark a seminal moment in British experience of icon-painting.
Icons and Artefacts From The Orthodox World
Into the last category falls Captain C. Colville Frankland RN, who visited Russia in His comments on the icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir in Moscow are very similar to those of Beavington Atkinson forty years later:. Money badly spent, thought I. There are so many holy pictures of Saints, Martyrs, etc. Whilst acknowledging the splendour of the iconostasis in the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin, his description of the Mother of God of Vladimir icon was followed by this dismissive remark:.
The number of these miraculous pictures in Russia is quite inconceivable, and the readiest faith is bestowed on them although the priests, like their heathen brethren of old, themselves prepare the fraud, to which it is impossible that they can be dupes […]. I can imagine fanaticism bowing before the sublime conception of a Thorwaldsen, or worshipping the representations of a Murillo or a Raphael, but I cannot conceive the genuineness of even mistaken devotion when its objects are either a caricature or a burlesque […].
It might be expected that valuable paintings should also make a part of the riches of a church, in which religious pictures are not only an indispensable ornament, but are necessary in its worship […] but though the number of these pictures is so great, and though religion was the cause which called forth such excellency and perfection in painting and sculpture in popish countries […] yet the same cause has not been so lucky as to produce one good painter or one capital picture in Russia: on the contrary these are the most wretched dawbings that can be conceived, some of them notwithstanding are said to be the work of angels.
Even in the case of Beavington Atkinson, who was writing from the point of view of an art critic, his strictures were as much religious as aesthetic. As in the Enlightenment, the antipathy towards the visual manifestations of Russian religious practices and beliefs applied to Eastern Christianity as a whole. The discourse was that of a superior faith which deemed the culture of Orthodoxy in its various manifestations to be ignorant and idolatrous and hence belonging to the world of the Other.
The Rev. In John Mason Neale, one of the founders of the Cambridge Camden Society and a High Churchman, published A History of the Holy Eastern Church ; although only a brief section is devoted to a description of an iconostasis, the tone throughout is anything but hostile. Like Neale, his work spanned the Orthodox world, but he had observed the Russian church at first-hand during a stay in Moscow. Curzon understood the devotional rather than the purely aesthetic appeal of Greek Orthodox images:.
They are all painted in the stiff conventional manner which tradition has handed down from remote antiquity. No one who has had the opportunity of improving his good taste by a careful study of these ancient works of art can fail to appreciate and reverence that high and noble spirit which animated the pencils of those saintly painters, and irradiates the composition of their sublime conceptions with a dignity and grandeur which is altogether wanting in the beautiful pictures of Rubens, Titian, Guido, Domenichino, and other great artists of more mundane schools.
Already, however, by the middle of the 19th century the taste for foreign travel had given rise to the expansion of the guidebook genre aimed at a wider public. The most enduring and prominent of these was the series of red handbooks produced by the publishing house of John Murray whose imprint included Visits to Monasteries in the Levant — the authors of which were almost entirely drawn from outside the ranks of the clergy.
In the first edition of the Handbook for Northern Europe appeared, under the editorship of Captain W. The Russian section was largely confined to St Petersburg, Moscow and their environs, but as communications improved with the construction of railways, in subsequent editions more places became accessible and were included although the focus remained on the two main cities. Although they rarely attract scholarly attention, their significance in disseminating information on a little-known country in an easily digestible form should not be overlooked; for long they were a sine qua non for British travellers.
Private collection. Although fifty years previously the Rev.
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There is a detailed account of the interiors of the Dormition and St Michael cathedrals in the Moscow Kremlin; the emphasis is less on the icons as paintings but on their gold and silver covers, which Maskell and until quite recently, many others, considered to be a comparatively recent development.
He was also aware that distinctive styles of icon-painting were associated with Moscow, Novgorod and the Stroganov family and was even familiar with the work of Semen Ushakov.
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A highly pertinent factor is that only from the middle of the century, and as a by-product of the Slavophile movemement, was there a burgeoning of interest within Russia itself in the preservation and study of ancient church art in general and icons Byzantine as well as Russian in particular. A key moment was the founding in of the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, which in the following decades amassed large and important holdings of icons, a process which accelerated after Outside St Petersburg and Moscow local archaeological societies were formed and regional museums established.
Either the painted surfaces were largely hidden by the oklads, rizas and other embellishments or, as Captain Frankland and Beavington Atkinson noted, they had become opaque as their linseed oil varnish darkened, or were concealed beneath later layers of painting. From the middle of the 19th century new methods evolved for cleaning and removing repainted layers to reveal the original. Both the old regime and the Orthodox Church were accused by the new Soviet government of neglecting and misusing its artistic treasures and from the outset church buildings, together with their valuable and historic contents, were subject to nationalisation.