Russian Art from the Hulmer Collection
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Russian, Nineteenth Century
Enamel on Brass
4064mm x 1714.5mm (extended)
Allegheny College Collection No. 535
Provenance: Hulmer Estate No. 526

This portable icon is of a type that is commonly found in Orthodox homes even today. It is in four sections which are hinged and may be folded up for easy travel. It is an "all purpose" icon, having scenes for the most important feast days of the Russian Orthodox calendar. This icon shows signs of the so-called "decadence" of nineteenth-century work. It is clearly mass produced, and some of the inscriptions are incomplete because of uneven pressure on the die when the inscription was stamped. Even so, less expensive methods of production made it possible for less wealthy families to acquire icons for personal use. It is not uncommon to find sections of such icons as the were often broken up to be given as wedding gifts to the children of the family.

The iconography depicted in the scenes within this festival icon are typical of larger icons although, typical of nineteenth-century, some scenes show the influence of western models. The scenes within this icon are thematically arranged, rather than chronologically. The far left panel depicts the early life of Christ, the left center panel reveals the divine nature of God, the right center panel shows relationships between heaven and earth, and the far right panel is devoted to images of the Virgin.

In the far left panel is representative of the early life of Christ. Here are grouped scenes of the early life of Mary and Christ, leading to the Incarnation, in which Christ takes on Mary's human flesh in order to be fit for the sacrifice.

  • The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated on September 8, is the first of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox calendar, which begins on September 1. The birth of the Virgin is a celebration filled with intense joy since, as Gregory Kroug states, "the Birth of the Theotokos is the final preparation of humanity to receive the Divinity."
  • The second of the Great Feasts, The Presentation of Mary in the Temple, is celebrated on November 21. Mary is the first and only woman ever to have been in the "Holy of Holies." She is shown being invited to ascend the steps to the altar by the High Priest Zacharias.
  • The Feast of the Annunciation is the third of the Great Feasts and occurs on March 25. It is celebrated at the time of the Vernal Equinox because the light of the sun returns to the Northern Hemisphere after the winter, just as the Incarnation of Christ brings light into the world.
  • The Feast of The Nativity of Christ is fifth in the feast cycle and is celebrated on December 25. Christ is shown being born in a black grotto that represents the darkness of Man's unfaithfulness. Christ, therefore, is the Light shining out of the darkness.
  • These images are surmounted by the Crucifixion, the moment in which Christ dies and the meaning of the Incarnation is made clear.

In the panel just left of the center are images that reveal the divine nature of God and demonstrate how Christ fulfilled prophecy. Back to top

  • The sixth feast in the cycle is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple or the Meeting of the Old and New Testament, which is celebrated on the second of February. In this scene the Elder Simeon first meets the Christ child. The expression of Simeon suggests a sense of joy at the meeting of the Messiah.
  • The feast of The Baptism of Jesus, also known as The Theophany (Manifestation of God), is celebrated on January 6, and is the seventh of the Great Feasts. Like the Nativity, the Baptism is Theophanic, in other words, all three persons of the Holy Trinity participate. This is also the Feast of Illumination because the apparition of God is accompanied by Divine Light.
  • August 6 is the date of the eighth of the Great Feasts, the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is seen as "the road to the image and the summit of the universal Transfiguration," according to Monk Gregory.
  • The Entry into Jerusalem or Palm Sunday is the ninth in the feast cycle and is a moveable feast. (Its date is determined by the date of Easter that year.) Christ is shown triumphantly entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. This scene foreshadows His crucifixion. On Palm Sunday, Christ is greeted as Messiah and fulfills numerous elements of Old Testament prophecy.
  • Surmounting these scenes is a depiction of the Trinity enthroned. This westernized version depicts the Father and Son framing the orb of the earth, over which hovers the Holy Spirit. Contrary to No. 456 which depicts the Trinity as foreshadowed in Genesis, here the Trinity is manifest in its Christian form.

On the center right panel are grouped events which reveal the relationships between heaven and earth, particularly after Christ's death. Back to top

  • The most important feast of the Orthodox Church, indeed of Christianity as a whole, is the Resurrection of Christ. In the Orthodox church this feast takes on the form of The Descent into Hell or the Resurrection, which is a moveable feast. In The Descent into Hell (Anastasis in Greek), Christ is shown breaking the gates of Hades to redeem Adam and Eve and the holy personages of the Old Testament. The "Feast of Feasts," the Resurrection, is central to all of Christian belief. It is with Christ's resurrection that all are brought out of the bondage of death and hell. As Paul puts it, "If Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." (I Cor 15:14-19) Another version of this scene can be found on No. 454, the Easter Egg.
  • The feast of The Ascension is a moveable feast and the tenth of the Great Feast cycle. The whole composition of the image is a symbolic representation of the Church that Christ leaves on earth as he ascends into heaven.
  • Pentecost, another moveable feast, is the eleventh of the Great Feasts. Here the Apostles are gathered in a semi-circle around Christ's empty throne and "there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each of them" (Acts 2:3).
  • The Dormition of the Mother of God is celebrated on August 15. At the end of Mary's earthly sojourn, conceptualized as a "falling asleep," Christ bears her soul to heaven. This image can also be seen as the apotheosis of all humanity, as it shows the Resurrection and Transfiguration to which all Christians, through Christ, are destined. Although probably depicted on this panel because of its subject matter, the Dormition is considered the fourth feast of the Great Feast cycle.
  • The twelfth and last of the Great Feasts is The Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14 which is shown here surmounting the other four. This feast does not derive from the Gospels. The Bishop of Jerusalem is shown presenting the cross for veneration in front of the Church of the Resurrection. The cross symbolizes the means through which Christ freed the world from sin and darkness.

Within the far right panel are five scenes devoted to the Virgin. Above, she is enthroned with her hands raised in the attitude of prayer, a pose sometimes known as the Madonna of the Sign. Below are four similar scenes in which figures stand below celestial images of icons of the Madonna and Child. In Russia, during the centuries of devotion, miraculous visions and interventions were attributed to particular icons, many of which are remembered on annual feast days. These scenes, which cannot be identified completely due to the size and condition of the icon, certainly allude to those widely venerated miracles. For example, in the lower right section is the Virgin of the Sign, from the Palladium of Novgorod, who saved the city from attack in 1169 and was often thereafter invoked for protection.

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These icons and their respective images and information belong to Allegheny College, located in Meadville, PA. Neither the images nor the information concerning them shall be used for any reasons other than private, non-commercial viewing purposes. Please contact us if you wish to use the images for any other reason.

This page has been researched and compiled by Brian Ayer, with additional research provided by the original exhibition catalog text by David Bell.

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