The Holy Art of Imperial Russia

November 6 - December 12, 2004

From November 6 to December 12, the Gallery will present an acclaimed collection of Romanov era icons. The 125 sacred images on view in "The Holy Art of Imperial Russia" are of a kind once readily found in cathedrals, public shrines, and in the homes of Russian peasants. The exhibit includes painted panels, carved items and pieces cast in brass and silver. Centuries old Byzantine artistic conventions are juxtaposed with new, westernized formal elements and vernacular interpretations of the Christian story. Romanov era icons reveal a variety of conflicting styles and ideas that point the way to a society about to undergo dramatic transformation.

For Orthodox Russians, icons, referred to as "windows into heaven," are directly linked to the holy figures they depict. In their liturgical setting, icons are hung from an iconostasis, or wooden screen, that divides the nave from the sanctuary in an Orthodox cathedral or church. In a home, icons are displayed in a place of honor in a krasniy ugol, ("beautiful corner"). During the Romanov era, icons were seen as comforters, powerful guardians that could bring rain, cure diseased cattle, ward off fires, and heal physical ailments.

The earliest known icons appeared in 6th century Constantinople, the capitol of Byzantium. Since the 11th century, Russian icons remained remarkably unchanged, their stylized form and vivid colors prescribed by Byzantine tradition. In the 18th Century, with the ascension of the Romanov tsar, Peter the Great, and his creation of St. Petersburg as a "window to the West," some icons began to show the influence of western European renaissance painting from earlier centuries. Russian artists learned of the painting style through Bible illustrations carried by traveling peddlers and by the works of European masters in St. Petersburg.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, many Russians destroyed their icons or gave them to government officials to destroy or sell on the Western market. Many were hidden by those who fled Russia for Western Europe and the United States, taking their icons and their Orthodox religious roots with them. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country allowed the foreign sale and export of Romanov era icons.

The icons on view in "The Holy Art of Imperial Russia" are part of a collection assembled over several decades by Gary Hollingsworth, an art restorer based in Florida.

Among the special events planned during the exhibition are a lecture by icon writer and restorer Vladimir Krassovsky on Sunday, Nov. 7, at 3 p.m. in Claeys Lounge, a discussion with renowned contemporary iconographer William McNichols, S.J. on Wednesday, Nov. 17, and a performance by Slavyanka, the acclaimed men's chorus, presented by the College's Committee for Lectures, Art and Music, on Saturday evening, December 11, in the College Chapel. Please call the C.L.A.M. office at (925) 631-4670 for ticket information.

Brother Robert Smith, F.S.C., has just translated Light From the East: Icons in Liturgy and Prayer, by Father Michael Evdokimov, a Russian Orthodox priest. The publication also includes an introduction, afterword, and extensive notes on the text written by Brother Robert. The Library and the Gallery each have a copy that can be viewed.

Gallery Hours: Wednesday - Sunday, 11 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Admission Donation: $2, free parking
Main Desk: (925) 631-4379

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Contact: Heidi Donner (925) 631-4069 or