See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sacred Icons From Yaroslavl, Russia

A little bit of heaven at The Museum of Russian Art.
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Saturday I finally visited The Museum of Russian Art. It has been opened since 2002 and is only about four blocks from my house. The Museum is housed in a completely renovated Spanish Colonial style former church. It is an amazing space, beautifully restored and updated with state of the art lighting, the second level of gallery space being a suspended glass enclosed balcony surrounding the open interior.
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I finally made my pilgrimage in order to view the collection of icons from Yaroslavl. The exhibition happens to be the one and only show outside of Russia of this particular school of Russian iconography. The collection arrived in Minneapolis directly from Russia, and will return there after the exhibit closes.
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Writing or painting?
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I once prided myself as an iconographer. I painted icons. I objected to saying one writes icons as opposed to painting them. I felt it was pretentious. As it was, Orthodox believers told me a non-Orthodox (a person not a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church) could not paint, much less write icons. Our "icons" were simply paintings. That said - I continued to believe I painted icons. Eventually I tired of the "snob-ism" associated with the art and turned to my own style of painting, influenced by Spanish Colonial style religious art. I even sold many of my antique icons from Russia (18th - 19th century) - indeed, they were "real" icons, yet none bigger than 12" x 15".
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Yesterday, coming face to face with these "real" icons from Yaroslavl - icons of great size - some measuring at least 6' x 4' - I was stunned.
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Heaven on earth.
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The icons glistened like jewels, shimmering in the dramatic darkness of the museum. Being a former church only enhanced the sense of the sacred, walking amongst the living pages of the Bible and the company of saints, dramatically depicted in the iconography. I looked at the images quite in awe, at times feeling a sense of rapture. I understood what it was like to be an illiterate peasant, standing for the Divine Liturgy in a darkened temple... reading the icons... conversing with the saints.... enveloped by heaven; standing in the presence of the Most Holy Trinity, beseeching the Most Holy Mother of God, Joy of all who sorrow, and experiencing the grace of God surrounded by angelic choirs and "sharing the lot of the saints in light".
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Do yourself a favor, and visit the museum for the Christmas season. I can think of no other excursion more spiritually and aesthetically gratifying in this special season of Advent and Christmas. Visit the museums website for more details - they have an incredible gift shop as well. Go to: Russian Museum - location and information.
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Image: "Mother of God, Joy of all who sorrow" from "Transcendent Art: Icons from Yaroslavl, Russia."
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Russian Museum website: http://www.tmora.org/index.html
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Visit another icon museum here: Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA
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[By the way, I realized I have never painted or written an icon - I just naively tried to paint in that style. How good it is to be humbled.]

3 comments:

  1. Ter: I visited that museum not long after they opened with a Ukranian Orthodox friend. I observed her response to the Sacred Icons. She was a talkative person but she was silent during the entire visit. In fact, she asked me not to speak to her. She told me later she felt like she was in a sacred place.

    Now, this museum is in a former church but I know she meant it was the Russian art that moved her.

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  2. I dont know that its snobism. Iconographers spend years studying and learning ... most are religious, very pious and they have to receive a special blessing and have their hands annointed by a bishop to write true icons. Icons are mostly written in total silence, with natural light only and the writer fasts the entire time.

    So in a sense, the orthodox are correct when they say we only paint.

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  3. Kat - I agree with you completely - the snob-ism I have met with is with the non-Orthodox who paint icons - not the Orthodox, who indeed record the scripture in pictorial writing.

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