One of the greatest art “discoveries” of the 20th century was the icon. For some it represents the precious inheritance of a distant past, for others it is an object of aesthetic delight, and still others perceive its spiritual light. Icons are considered an integral part of the spiritual fabric of old Russia, and they have long adorned monasteries, churches, and homes.
However, interest in medieval icons is a relatively recent development. In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, many ancient icons were cleaned of layers of over-painting, and the process re-introduced the world to the startling beauty of Russia’s medieval era.
Scott Ruby, associate curator of Russian and Eastern European art at Hillwood Museum, examines how the appreciation and understanding of medieval icons developed, as well as some of the aspects of medieval iconography that differentiate it from the work of later centuries. Focusing on the great treasures of the period, Ruby looks at some of the superlative icons of Andre Rublev, a Russian monk who some consider the greatest icon painter. He also discusses how icons function in the context of public and private devotions.
The Hillwood Museum’s collection of Russian decorative art is complemented by an equally impressive collection of icons and liturgical objects. A newly designed Russian Sacred Arts Gallery is set to open on October 1, highlighting both the superb Russian Orthodox ecclesiastical holdings of Hillwood and focusing on the private use of icons in the home. The second-floor gallery will feature a rotating selection of liturgical objects, vestments, textiles, and antique Russian Easter eggs. Take a look at some of the treasures now on view in Hillwood’s Icon Room.