Russia, ca. late 19th century CE. A grand icon delineated in egg tempera and gilt on wood, depicting Saint Matthew the Evangelist in full view writing his Gospel. The arched form and large size suggests it would have been part of an ensemble of four evangelists featured on an iconostasis. The contrapposto stance, heavily modeled features, and presence of shadows and chiaroscuro demonstrate the influence of Western art traditions, especially those of the Renaissance. The relatively flat gold leaf background and Russian strapwork border make for a rich contrast. Size: 17.5" W x 28.25" H (44.4 cm x 71.8 cm)
The writings of Matthew are typically shown to be inspired by an angel, or after the 14th century, by Sophia Wisdom, the wingless female figure with a scepter and crowned by a double star halo. The Church Fathers assigned each evangelist one of the four living creatures of the Apocalypse, and Matthew’s symbol was the “son of man” since his writings begin with the human genealogy of Christ. According to Irenaeus of Lyon, “The Word of God made its home among men and became the Son of Man to accustom man to understanding God, and to accustom God to making His home among men.” Matthew became one of the twelve apostles (known as Levi) as well as an evangelist. He held the distinction of being the first to write a Gospel, and while in Palestine, he first wrote his Gospel in Hebrew.
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) and the North Carolina Museum of History (October 4, 2013 through March 5, 2014) 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. 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-Francis & Lilly Robicsek Collection, Charlotte, NC, part of the Museum Exhibition, Windows into Heaven - Russian Icons from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art, North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC.
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