The exhibition “Star Most Bright…” (the image of the Virgin of the 18th – 19th centuries from the tempera painting collection of the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve) was held in the Treasury Chamber in 2014.

It presented icons of the Virgin in her numerous iconographies. Created in the modern age, they reflected not only new artistic solutions that appeared in the Russian painting under the influence of the West-European art, but also centuries-old traditions of Russian icon-painting of the previous centuries.

The iconography of the Virgin was formed on the base of the main sources: the Gospels, the works of the Church Fathers and the Teachers of the Church, the lives of saints, and the Biblical apocrypha.

The image of the Virgin is of exceptional importance in the Orthodox spirituality and Christian iconography evidencing her significance in the life of the Church and people. There were icons of the Virgin in every church, chapel, house, tsar’s palace, public office and educational institution. Over 1000 venerated and miracle-working icons were painted in Russia within 11 centuries of the Christian culture. Many generations of icon-painters created millions of the Virgin’s images of different names and versions of depiction after Russia had been converted into Christianity. Such a great number of icons evidence great veneration of the Virgin in the Russian Church. Plenty of churches in the cities, villages and monasteries were dedicated to the Mother of God. Not only Orthodox dogmas, but also specific historical events were reflected in the icons of Russian saints with scenes from their lives and in the legends about the venerated icons of the Virgin. The history of the country was conceived in them. People prayed to the Virgin in difficult times. In 1170, the icon “The Virgin of the Sign” saved Novgorod during the attacks of the people from Suzdal. In 1395, “The Virgin of Vladimir” saved Moscow from the Tatar hordes. “The Virgin of Kazan” was the main icon of Russia during the Time of Troubles. The Virgin appeared to monks pointing them the way for the foundation of new cloisters. “The Virgin of Bogolyubovo” pointed Great Prince Andrey Bogolubsky the place for the construction of the monastery and the city that he called Bogolyubovo. “The Virgin Hodegetria” pointed St. Kirill Belozersky the way for the foundation of the cloister in 1397. As time went by, people started to believe that they should pray before certain icons of the Virgin asking for help in different life circumstances. A special genre – writings about the icons of the Virgin and the miracles they worked – was introduced. Real evidences about the miracles alternated with half-legendary stories in them. It was the first research of the icons of the Virgin and comprehension of her numerous iconographies.

According to the Christian legend, the first icons of the Virgin were painted by the evangelist Luke. At least 10 icons attributed to him were venerated in Russia. “The Virgin of Vladimir” was the first Byzantine icon that became famous later as a national sacred object. This great work was brought to Russia in the 12th century and served as a model for plenty of copies. The miracle-working icons “The Virgin of the Sign”, “The Virgin of Tikhvin”, “The Virgin of St. Theodore”, “The Virgin of Smolensk”, “The Virgin of Kazan”, “The Virgin of Korsun”, and others became famous in the 12th - 16th centuries. Russian icon-painters created numerous copies of them. They strictly followed the canons, but never copied the images literally.

In the late 17th century and in the 18th centuries, a lot of churches were constructed in the cities and villages. It was necessary to paint a great number of icons for them. If earlier icons were usually painted in special workshops, people of different estates – peasants, merchants, craftsmen – became icon-painters at that time. The art of icon-painting became more democratic and widespread.

Icon-painting in the Vologda region had its own traditions. But with the beginning of the modern age, artistic quality of the icons was seldom supervised. As a result, they varied in the character of painting and amazed with plenty of manners and styles.

Icon-painting of the 18th – 19th centuries was dissimilar. It is often difficult to date and to attribute the later icons according to visual characteristics. Works of some masters were still close to the 17th-century icon-painting (“The Virgin of Bogolyubovo” with the selected saints and Moscow’s metropolitans is one of the variants of the icon “Intercession for People” of the 17th century that was venerated in Moscow).

The other painters used West-European schemes and artistic techniques combining the traditional features with the new profane art. Saints were depicted from more complicated angles against the splendid architectural background. The earth looked like a realistic landscape. In spite of the traditional iconographic scheme, the genre element was introduced in the composition (“Ascension” of the 18th century, “Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles” of the 18th century, “Intercession of the Virgin” of the 18th century). They started to depict the Virgin in a blue enveloping robe and often bare-headed (“Nativity of Christ” of the 18th century).

The iconography of the Nativity of Christ had two variants: condensed and detailed. The detailed variant included not only the Journey of the Magi, but also the Adoration of the Magi. Sometimes the last scene was depicted in a separate icon. For example, “Adoration of the Magi” is depicted in the displayed icon with the inscription “Nativity of Christ” made by the painter.

The icons of the 18th – 19th centuries were underestimated for a long time. They were not considered to be real works of art that deserved detailed study and displaying. But they are certainly interesting to modern viewers as they give them a chance to get to the social, historical and cultural milieu of the Russian society of the modern age.

The museum collection has been replenished with the restored tempera painting works of the 18th – 19th centuries over the last years. Thus, it is possible to introduce them into scientific use and to exhibit for wide audience.

Almost all icons were displayed for the first time.

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