National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 26, 1975

Annual Index
Author & Subject

"Christ with Saints Alexandra and Agatha"
A Russian Icon in the National Gallery

by George Galavaris

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7 


*This article is offered to Maria and Popi as a birthday present.

I should like to express my thanks to Professor Victor Grebenschikov, Carleton University, Ottawa, for helping with the reading of the inscriptions and for his suggestions on questions of Russian palaeography; and to Mr Nikolai Schelechoff: iconographer, Montreal, for deciphering the inscription over the saint to the left of Christ. The kindnesses of Dr Josepha Weitzmann-Fiedler, Princeton, and of my colleagues at McGill University, Dr Rosemarie Bergmann and Dr Thomas Glen, are gratefully acknowledged. Sincere thanks are also due to Mr J. McGregor Grant and to the conservation department and Dr Myron Laskin, Jr., Research Curator of European Art at the National Gallery, for facilitating in every way my work on the icon.

1 Normally the term basma should be used for the metal cover of the frame. If the cover is extended to the contours of the represented figures the applicable term is risa. When only the faces and hands are left uncovered, one speaks of an oklad. In practice this strict usage has not been followed. In this article the term basma is being used for the metal sheet that covers the frame and part of the background of the panel. For the use of terms see H. P. Gerhard, Welt der Ikonen (3rd ed.; Recklinghausen: A. Bongers, 1970), p. 215; an English translation of this book has appeared under the title The World of the Icons (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).

2 Examples of metal crowns decorated with precious or semiprecious stones exist in all major collections. We may cite another one here, a seventeenth-century icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir attributed to central Russia, now in Munich (see Festival der Ikonen, exhibition catalogue [Munich: Galerie Ilas Neufert, 1975], no. 15).

3 For the development and technique of icons see G. Galavaris, Icons from the Elvehjem Center (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1973), pp. 1-5 with bibliography. A useful drawing illustrating the technique is found in K. Onasch, Icônes (Geneva: R. Kister, 1961, also English and German editions), p. 33. For the use of canvas in general see some important remarks in Gerhard, Welt der Ikonen, p. 213.

4 For examples demonstrating similar methods see V. I. Antonova, Drevnerrusskoe iskusstvo sobranii Pavla Korina (Moscow: "Iskusstvo," 1966), figs 49, 52, 58, 93. (Hereafter cited as Korina.)

5 See Galavaris, op. cit., pp. 27, 28, no. 19.

6 S. Eustratiades, Agiologion tes orthodoxou ekklesias (Athens: Apostolike Diakonia, n.d.), pp. 23, 24; E. Kirschbaum SJ et al eds, Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie (Rome, Freiburg, Basel, Vienna: Herder, 1968), vol. v ( 1973), cols 89-90. (Hereafter cited as LcI.)

7 One can see the same head-covering, for instance, in images of St Paraskeve (H. Skrobucha, Ikonen, Haus der Kunst, München, exhibition catalogue [Munich: Haus der Kunst, 1969], no.188). Queen-saints wear this "veil" under their crown; see, for example, the empress Helena in a seventeenth-century icon reproduced in colour in Jubil-äumsaustellung 1974, Ikonen (Munich: Galerie Ilas Neufert, 1974), no. 39. For the way saints are represented in Russian art see H. Skrobucha, "Zur Darstellung russischer Heiliger in der Ikonenmalerei," Kirche im Osten, Studien zur osteuropäischen Kirchengeschichte und Kirchenkunde, vol. IV (1964), pp. 9-32.

8 See Lcl, vol. VI (1974), cols 366-373, esp. col. 372.

9 See frescoes in the monastery of St George at Harlau, Church of Humor, and Church of St Nicholas popauti, in
I. D. Stefãnescu, L'évolution de la peinture religieuse en Bucovine et en Moldavie (Paris: P. Geuthner, 1928, 1929), vol. I, pp. 15, 23, pl. XLIX; idem, L'art byzantin et l'art Lombard en Transylvanie (Paris : P. Geuthner, 1938), p. 87.

10 Cf. A. Hatzinikolaou, "Heilige," Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, ed. by K. Wessel, M. Restle (Stuttgart: A. Hiersemann, 1966-), vol. II (1971), cols 1084-1090.

11 The examples are cited here: a fourteenth-century icon of Mary and Child in the centre with martyrs on the borders, Alexandra is grouped with Catherine of Alexandria and Onouphrios; a mid-sixteenth-century icon of Mary and Child in centre, Alexandra and Catherine on the sides; an icon from the end of the sixteenth century depicting St George fighting the Dragon and the Martyrdom of Alexandra; a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century icon with St George and Alexandra. See V. I. Antonova and N. E. Mneva, Gosudarstvennaia Tret' iakoskaia gallereia. Katalog drevenerusskoi zhivopisi XI-nachala XVIIIV.V., 2 vols (Moscow: "Iskusstvo," 1963), vol. I, p. 259, no.218; vol. II, p. 170, no. 566, p. 202, no. 614, p. 219, no. 640. (Hereafter cited as Antonova and Mneva.)

12 Other examples: an early sixteenth-century hagiographical icon with the life of Saint George now in the Rublyov Museum of Old Russian Art, Moscow, includes a small scene depicting Alexandra and St George; for a good colour repr. see V. N. Lazarev, Moscow School of Icon Painting, in Russian and English (Moscow: "Iskusstvo," 1971), pIs 83, 84. In a late nineteenth-century icon, Alexandra, placed on the side, is related to the venerable liarion; repr. in Ikonen, Frühjahrskatalog 1973 (Munich: Galerie lias Neufert, 1973), no.290. We may add two seventeenth-century Bulgarian icons now in Sofia (only one has been published) with Saint George and scenes of his life which include Alexandra (see Kunstschätze in Bulgarischen Museen und Klöstern, exhibition catalogue [Villa Hügel-Essen: 1964], nos 320, 322).

13 Eustratiades, op. cit., p. 5.

14 Hatzinikolaou, op. cit., cols 1034-1093, esp. col. 1088 with earlier relevant bibliography.

15 G. and M. Sotiriou, Icônes du Mont Sinai, vol. I (plates), vol. Il (text), in Greek with French summary (Athens: Institut Français d'Athènes, no.102, 1956, 1958), pp. 117, 124, pls 126, 144.

16 See Lcl, vol. v (1974), cols 44-48.

17 See Antonova and Mneva, vol. II, pp. 113, 114, no. 502, p. 259, no. 692.

18 M. Chatzidakis et al, Les icônes dans les collections Suisses (Bern: Benteli, 1968), no. 188.

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