Saturday, October 18, 2014

Encountering the Icon

‘Encountering the Icon’ is a new exhibition, taking place on Wednesday 5th November at 8.00 p.m. A public presentation will be given by Sergei Brun, Museum of the Russian Icon, Moscow. The event will take place at St John’s Church, Lansdowne Crescent, London W11 2NN. For more information for this even please email:

The Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as ‘the image (in Greek – ‘icon’) of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature’ (Col. 1:15). The catacombs of Rome and the remnants of the early Christian Churches 0 scattered from the Middle East to Britain – bear the first samples of the art that gradually spread from Italy to the Caucasus, from Syria and Egypt to the Balkans, from Constantinople to Russia. At the turn of the 20th century, after almost two centuries of formal veneration and utter neglect, Russian icons began to be uncovered from layers of darkened linseed varnish and later day paintwork – it was a discovery that fascinated theologians, philosophers, academics, art-lovers, pious faithful and the general public all over the world. Instead of smoke-darkened boards one could finally see a brilliant radiance of colour and artistic expression: instead of local religious custom came the encounter with a deep philosophic and theological reflection.
It is noteworthy that the first two private museums, dedicated to the Russian icon, were opened at this time period, both – in Moscow, in 1909. These private museums, founded by S. Riabushinsky and I. Ostroukhov respectively, served as a central base for both – the art-historians’ and theologians’ – study and rediscovery of Russian iconography.

During one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century – the communist persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union – hundreds of churches were desecrated, millions of people were repressed. Thousands of icons were either destroyed or sold abroad. Yet private collections and museum workers in Russian managed to rescue and preserve numerous iconographic masterpieces, often with their own freedom or even life at stake. Now, at the dawn of the new century and a new millennium, we come to a new era – an era of preserving, reclaiming, studying and exhibiting treasures of Russian Iconography. Among numerous and various efforts made in this direction, one notable example is the Museum of the Russian Icon, founded in Moscow by the benefactor Mikhail Abramov in 2006. During the course of just eight years, the museum managed to acquire over 4.500 pieces of Russian, Byzantine, post-Byzantine Greek and Ethiopian art. Over 400 icons were returned to Russia from abroad. The Museum also managed to find, buy and return to state museums over 19 masterpieces of Russian religious art, masterpieces which have previously been stolen or lost. Moreover, the funding of the museum is provided exclusively by its founder – M. Abramov, making the admissions, tours, public lectures and courses, concerts and exhibitions exclusively free to the public.  

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