BOULDER, Colo. – The 2003-4 “Windows Into Heaven” exhibition held at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, N.C., celebrated a period that was the zenith of Russian art’s long and illustrious history. The stellar exhibition that drew international media attention featured 18th- and 19th-century Russian icons on loan from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek collection. It would be another 10 years before the fabled icons were exhibited again, at the North Carolina Museum of History. Now a select grouping of icons from those two exhibitions has been chosen to headline Artemis Gallery’s March 23 auction, with absentee and Internet live bidding through LiveAuctioneers.
“Russian icons of this caliber are regarded as being at the pinnacle of devotional art, along with the great works of Italian masters,” said Teresa Dodge, executive director of Artemis Gallery. “Collectors can be assured that any piece with provenance from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek collection is of premier quality. We are enormously proud to be able to offer this very special art to our bidders.”
The 177-lot auction will reverently reopen “Windows Into Heaven” with a pair of circa-1890 arched, gold leaf Royal Door wing panels (shown at top) from a Russian Orthodox iconostasis (icon screen). Ornately incised and decorated, the panels bear images of an Annunciation scene and the Four Evangelists. “The central doors of an iconostasis are called the ‘Royal Doors.’ They were regarded as holy and remained closed except during the Divine Liturgy, when the priest would open them to consecrate the bread and wine,” Dodge explained. Highly important and with provenance from the Robicsek collection, the Royal Door panels are estimated at $60,000-$90,000.
Shown above, a 19th-century Russian calendar icon of grand scale (35- by 42.5-inches) – known as a “minyela” – is quite literally a pictorial timetable of sainthood, with each figure identified, and depictions of the feasts of the entire liturgical year. With its breathtaking medley of jewel-tone colors against soft gold leaf, this treasured artwork formerly in the Robicsek collection is expected to make $70,000-$100,000 at auction.
Yet another masterpiece from the Robicsek collection is a monumental late 19th-century CE Theotokos, or Mother of God icon, depicting the Virgin Mary as mother of Jesus Christ. Measuring 56.25 by 34.5 inches, the sacred painting (shown below) presents the Virgin in a flowing scarlet cloak discreetly adorned with gold stars, with the swaddled Christ Child holding up a gold cross. Museum-exhibited with provenance from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek collection, the Theotokos is estimated at $20,000-$30,000.
From a Ventura County, Calif., collection comes an 18th-century CE Russian painted-wood iconostasis with brass oklads surrounding a central panel and 14 hinged side panels. Its uppermost register is finely painted with half-length portrayals of patriarchs and prophets surrounding God the Father and the Son. Other images show full-length saints engaged in intercessionary prayer and other religious depictions. The striking, richly colorful artwork is offered with a $20,000-$30,000 estimate.
Other Russian icons of note in the auction include depictions of The Virgin of the Sweet Kiss (shown below), The Virgin enthroned with Christ Emmanuel, Edessa (considered to be the first icon), and numerous saints, monks, archangels and other holy figures. The range of estimates is broad, allowing beginning and intermediate-level collectors to acquire icons with impeccable provenance at prices they can afford.
Sharing the auction spotlight is a selection of beautiful Spanish Colonial Mexican santos, also with provenance from the Robicsek collection. Teresa Dodge explained what santos represent: “Santos played an important role in bringing the Catholic Church to the New World with the Spanish colonists. These religious figures were hand-carved and often furnished with crowns, jewels, and other accessories. They were usually funded by religious devotees and used as visual representations of the major figures – Mary, Christ, and the saints – in teaching new, indigenous converts. Likewise, they served as a connection to the Old World for Spanish colonists far from home. Many of them were lovingly cared for over the years, with repairs and paint added as they aged. They played an active part for a long time in the religious life of their communities.”
A prime example of the New World religious art form is a 19th-century CE hand-carved and polychrome-painted figure of San Blas (St. Blaise). The Armenia-born saint devoted his life to medicine until his election to the episcopal diocese of Sebaste. He then withdrew to a cave on Mt. Argeus to cure sick people and animals who came to him. The 34.25-inch-high santo depicts San Blas in traditional fashion as a bishop with a silver-handled crosier, with two sheep at his feet. Estimate: $4,000-$5,000.
Another compelling artwork, a circa 18th-19th century CE hand-carved and polychrome painted santo of ‘La Purisima Concepcion’ or ‘La Inmaculada’ depicts the praying saint atop a globe and crescent moon, wearing a golden tin crown encircled by 12 blue, glass-centered stars. Highly symbolic in its detail, the Spanish Colonial santo from either Mexico or Guatemala is estimated at $6,000-$9,000.
Created specifically for religious processions, a circa-15th-century CE gilt copper cross exemplifies the elite and uncompromising level of artistry achieved by Italian metalsmiths of that period. Made in Tuscany during the High Renaissance, this remarkable work of art was executed in repousse fashion with images of the Virgin and Child on the niello roundels of each of the arms. With a long line of provenance that includes owners in France and the United States, and previous sale at Sotheby’s, the cross will open for bidding at $22,000. Its pre-sale estimate is $35,000-$45,000.
The March 23, 2017 auction also includes Spanish Colonial retablos, oil paintings and other sacred art, as well as Russian jewelry and other religious objects. All items are unconditionally guaranteed to be authentic, as described in the auction catalog, and legal to acquire per federal guidelines. The sale begins at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. View the catalog and bid absentee or live via the Internet through LiveAuctioneers. For additional information on any item, call Teresa Dodge at 720-890-7700 or email email@example.com.