1. Thank you for this overview of a most interesting show. I especially appreciate Archbishop Pankraty’s idea that icons are not only art, but perhaps the best art now made. I have often had the same thought myself. It is worthwhile to consider how contemporary icons displayed in a gallery setting can help to heal the sick and broken world of modern art, and to show the secular public that the Church is a font of truth and beauty.

    It is remarkable to see some of the more obscure and archaic styles and techniques displayed in this show – micro mosaics, for instance, and Fr. Zenon painting in Imperial-Roman style.

    1. Thank you very much for the note, dear Andrew!,
      I also have to say that I am really sorry for the quality of the photographs, – the lighting was so terribly fluorescent, that I just did not know how to capture the real colors.
      Hope that the readers may at least use the links provided at the bottom of the text to see other versions of them.
      Next exhibition of a similar kind is coming hopefully in June 2017 in Saint Petersburg…
      I believe we will have a better light! 🙂

  2. Baker Galloway

    Philip and Olga, thank you for this show review.

    Curious if the gallerists and/or docents prohibit visitors from venerating (kissing/touching) the icons on display? I would hope not.

    I would actually welcome a shift in the secular culture’s boundaries with fine and contemporary art that they may be touched lightly with fingertips by viewers / visitors to the museum and gallery.

    1. Dear Baker,
      Thank you for the comment and for the considerations!
      From what I saw when I was at the show, the guards did not bother those, who wanted to pray and kiss the icons.

      From the other hand the very kissing of a surface of an icon may cause an extended destruction process, if performed repeatedly. Some priests complained that icons get worn out in course of a year or two if exposed for kissing in the middle of the church, so they used to cover them with glass or plexiglass for protection.

      And my personal opinion is, that icons are first of all made as images, – something we are supposed to communicate with visually. We pray to Our Lord Jesus Christ with help of a particular icon, but touching this particular icon does not mean touching Christ. Icon is not the Communion, transforming us through it’s material consumption, it’s rather appealing to our senses and feelings, and works through them.

      If we read the deeds of the church fathers at the Council in Nicaea, we will see they spoke about the power of impression and miracles, but did not discuss the technique and material side.

  3. Cherie

    Beautiful show! Spectacular talent. I would not in any way call these traditional icons. They were executed beautifully, drawn well, expertise gilding, but then we stretch into an other area that leaves the world of traditional iconography and moves into more private interpretation, or expression, more artistic. The fluid figures, the non traditional use of colors. The last Pantocrator imparticular. I have nothing against art. I am a fine artist by education. My BFA is from Montserrat, in Beverly MA. Later on I converted into the Orthodox Church 17 years ago. After 11 years of training I was finally anointed as an iconographer. I was trained however, to study the masters, and also not to deviat from them. I do not sign my work. I have been approached several times to put my icons in Charleston art galleries and I refused. Icons to me, personally are not first art. I believe the can be art. But primarily they are spiritual teaching tools. Written with fasting and prayer. Also we believe that the real presence of the Saint and Holy Spirit is guiding the hand during the creation of the icon, so that as an iconographer we are humbled with the finished creation. Because of this especially because of this, I could never hang the work in an art gallery. They are meant to be prayer with, in church or in are homes. Now if folks wish to create art that is icon like or icon style, all the more power to then. We live in a free country, I just would call it something else. I do wonder if any discussion has ever taken place about regulating iconography colors, style to a point for the church works and portables. It seems like any one who wants to write icons, non-orthodox, un-annoited, and all are calling them selves Iconographers these days. Humbly, in Christ, Cherie

  4. Dear Cherie,
    Thank you very much for your attention to the article and to the contemporary iconography (in this case – of Russia)!

    And first of all I am sure that all those, who wrote icons exhibited in Tsarskaya Tower would totally agree with you about the main goals of an iconographer – to make “spiritual teaching tools”.

    I also do share your concerns about the icons being exhibited in a totally alien space of a secular gallery (I personally thought that the lighting was really, – really bad there), but I am sure, that after dozens of Soviet Communist years when the church art was completely forbidden and after the first 20 years after perestroika when iconographers just started to learn this profession from zero, this was an exhibition showing, that in this learning process those who paint icons may have very different understanding of what their works should be…

    And – I have to say that I really like the questions you put in such an straight way, – I will try to answer from what I I think is to be appropriate, and I will be happy if the discussion may continue so we all may learn from it a lot.

    First, – about signing the icons, – this a contemporary Greek tradition, not Russian. None of the icons, painted by my compatriots would be signed and this is right because of the reasons you mention in your comment, – the iconographer has to by humble enough to recognize that his (or her) work is just a continuation of a long chain of the predecessors, and this particular icon is not purely his (or her) “personal message”, but it has to be made on behalf of the whole church.

    From the other hand, speaking about the tradition and the changes, I think we may probably have our ideas of it very wrong, since we can’t really understand their world, – world of people who lived 1500 or 500 years ago. They did have some great churches and talented skillful masters in capitals like Constantinople, but they also had lots of provincial masters who may have never had any access to the academical studies. So, their method of teaching and learning was mostly based on learning from their particular teachers, who in turn would have learned from their and those from their et cetera et cetera. So, if we start overlooking at the huge heredity of the icons and frescoes, mosaics and illuminated manuscripts we have now available in some clicks of a mouse, we may probably see, that some of these old masters were really great in what they were doing, but not all of them can be called literal followers of their teachers. Icons of the 14th century are different from those of the 12th and we would never have any Duccio’s or Andrey Rublev’s name if in the icons there would be no personalities at all. We know saint Gregory the Great was indeed very different from Basil the Great and their writings are not echoing each other in anything, but in main.

    So, I would say, – yes – the tradition of iconography has been lost, and even the Greeks who have maybe the most intermediate contact with their past, are now doing their job differently, then the old Greek masters used to do. From the other hand, our task is to follow our teachers in their values, but not in every single letter they write, this probably is the main issue for the contemporary iconography.

    Yes, the new icons are new, but we should rather be judging them not by their form (which inevitably is different since the humans are not painting xerox machines), but by their main values, – the main goals they are trying to achieve. And here I would agree with you one more time – we all have to learn how to glorify Christ and his saints, because now we are just very helpless beginners who try to find the new paths to the people since the people live differently and used to act in a different context ….

    With gratitude for your constructive approach,


  5. […] have been featured on the NLM to great interest) for drawing my attention to this write-up in the Orthodox Arts Journal of an exhibition that took place in Moscow earlier this year, a presentation of contemporary […]

  6. Cherie LeClair

    Dearest Philip, May God Be with you. I agree with all of your very good points. All of the masters you mentioned were training and excelling at very different points in history, with almost no reference other than what they had been exposed to unless another church, or master was nearby. of course, those were the dark ages and iconography was developing greatly during those 1000 year period. i was taught at this point to respect that. as you say each one from that period varies. and of course now we have new icons being developed, “Holy Family”, images of “God the Father”, “Joseph with Christ”.

    Thank you for listening. In Christ, Cherie

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