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"WINDOWS TO HEAVEN: RUSSIAN ICONS FROM THE COLLECTION OF DANIEL BIBB AND THE NEW ORLEANS MUSEUM OF ART"
2000-06-13 until 2000-08-27
Telfair Museum of Art
Savannah, GA, USA

The word icon conjures up images of medieval Russian churches illuminated by candles and decorated with paintings of the Madonna, Jesus Christ and saints. Created for liturgical use in churches and for personal prayers at home or while traveling, icons are often described as visual prayers and windows to heaven. The faithful kissed and touched the icons, or holy images, as acts of devotion. These intimate interactions were intended to transport worshippers to an infinite time and space.

Russian icons have a long history. The earliest Russian icons appeared in Kiev in the 10th or 11th centuries; the icons in this exhibition range in date from the late 17th to 20th centuries. In the Middle Ages, monks, who are largely unidentified today, painted icons after several days of praying and fasting to purify themselves before beginning their task.

Icons were usually painted on small wooden panels. They depicted events and people from the Old and New Testaments to share religious messages with the largely illiterate congregation. The Orthodox Church prescribed each subjects format and symbolism so that icons have changed little over the course of many centuries. Colors, for example, had particular meanings. Gold signified sanctity and omniscience; red represented the passion of Christ and black stood for hell and perdition.

One of the most popular icon subjects is the Madonna of Kazan. The original version was found in the 16th century in Kazan, Russia. Now in the possession of New York Citys Russian Orthodox Church, the icon is historically important because Russian Prince Pozharsky carried it with him into battle against Polish troops. In this exhibition, Mother of God of Kazan (pictured here), in the Collections of Daniel Bibb, dates to the 19th century and shows that the subject continued to be relevant three centuries later.

Four icons in this exhibition depict St. Nicholas, the patron saint of Russia. The saint is represented with his traditional full white beard, although his demeanor is more serious than the jolly personality associated with Christmas.

The icons in the Telfairs exhibition come from a number of collections. Daniel Bibb is an avid collector of Russian icons, and he began pursuing this interest twenty-five years ago when he received his first icon as a gift. Complementing his collection are twenty-four icons from the New Orleans Museum of Art and a number from Ira Bourgeois and Dr. Daniel J. Shirley.


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