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Russia, ca. 19th c. CE. A fine depiction of Saint Alexander Nevskii (1220-1263), a legendary prince who heroically fought for the freedom of Holy Russia and epitomized the ideal of military prowess sought by Russian princes, in egg tempera and gesso on wood. Surrounding the icon is a lovely gilded wood frame carved in a sinuous, meandering form and signed in the interior border, though the signature is difficult to decipher. Size: 21" L x 17.125" W (53.3 cm x 43.5 cm); framed 23.5" L x 19.875" W (59.7 cm x 50.5 cm)
Alexander stands dressed in royal/warrior garb; however, he sets his shield down and we see no weapon indicating a renunciation of violence. Instead his left hand is raised upward to the heavens, his steadfast gaze directed toward the celestial realm as well, as his haloed head signifies his spiritual pursuits. Despite the fact that he battled the Tatars, the Swedes, and the Teutonic knights, in this image his identity embraces an aspiration for peace.
The skills demonstrated by the artist are stellar conveying a serious study of anatomy as the body is in wonderful proportion, and the head and hands display immense naturalism, akin to the ideals sought by Greek and Renaissance artists. The columnar arcade in the background suggests the artist’s admiration for Renaissance architecture. Furthermore, the checkered floor pattern and landscape beyond the arcade indicate a strong interest in using linear perspective, another hallmark of the Renaissance.
Exhibited in "Windows Into Heaven: Russian Icons from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art" at the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina (December 20, 2003 through February 22, 2004) which presented highlights of one of the world's great artistic traditions through an extraordinary group of sixty-five 18th and 19th century Russian icons on loan from the private collection of Lilly and Francis Robicsek.
Icons (icon means "image" in Greek) are sacred objects within the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition. Found in homes as well as churches, these painted images depict holy persons and saints as well as illustrate scenes from the Scriptures. Some icons are encased in precious metal covers (oklads) adorned with pearls and semi-precious stones or glass-fronted wooden cases (kiots). Icons are not worshiped, but are instead venerated for their ability to focus the power of an individual's prayer to God. As such they are truly "windows into heaven."
The “Windows Into Heaven” exhibition profiled a magnificent chapter of Russian artistry, the embrace of the Russian Orthodox faith of religious icons during the Romanov centuries. The Russian religious faith was an offshoot of Byzantine Christianity, which in 1054 parted ways from Roman Catholicism. Icons were and continue to be religious images created for veneration. As a focus for prayers and meditation for believers, icons serve as “windows into heaven.”
Provenance: Ex-Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art, Charlotte, NC; exhibited at Mint Museum of Art "Windows Into Heaven", Charlotte, North Carolina (December 20, 2003 through February 22, 2004)
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