Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archibishop of MyraSecond half of the 14th century, Rostov (Poonezhsk lands), formerly inKalovanga village chapel. Courtesy@ The Museum of Russian Icon

On June, 28-29,  the international academic conference St Nicolas, Bari and Russian Icons’  took place in the medieval Italian city of Bari, thus, concluding the exhibition “The Russian Icon: Prayer and Charity” / “L`Icona russa: Preghiera e Misericordia” – a joint project run by The Museum of the Russian Icon and the Andrei Rublev Museum


Visitors to the exhibition in Bari had a chance to see some rare masterpieced of the Russian icon painting displayed alongside the works of the Russian avant-garde. The XIV century icon of the patron saint of the city – St. Nicholas the Wonderworker  from the collection of the Moscow Museum of the Russian Icon – became the symbol of this ongoing scholarly and exhibition project.


An international team of scholars and clergy from Russia, Italy and the United States presented their research at the conference that ended up being not only international but interdisciplinary in its scope.   Among the key speakers were art historians Engelina Smirnova, Gennady Popov, Alexander Preobrazhensky and Yulia Buzikina, Italian slavists Marcello Garzaniti and Stefano Garzonio,  father Gerardo Cioffari, the senior priest at St.Nicolas Basilica in Bari , Rector of the Russicum Papal College Germano Marani, Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy Hegumen Dionisy (Shlenov), as well as the contemporary Russian artist Dmitry Gutov, author of the 3D metal sculpture Our Lady, the Great Panhagia (Oranta) unveiledat the exhibition.


Francesco Cacucci, Archbishop of Bari, and Dr. Gennady Popov

The scholarly forum was lead, organised and chaired by the famous Russian Byzantinist and art historian   Dr. Alexei Lidov,  who has introduced the concept of Hierotopy (creating and transferring of sacred spaces) into the history of art. The conference was opened by the speech of the Archbishop of Bari, Francesco Cacucci, followed by the paper presented by the American scholar,  Dr Nancy Patterson-Sevcenko,  author of the fundamental monograph on the iconography of St. Nicholas.


Throughout the two days of the conference the discussions revolved around  St. Nicholas and theological as well as artistic and historical aspects concerning this major figure in Christian tradition.  Gennady Popov, deputy director for research at the Andrey Rublev Museum, talked about the icon of St. Nicholas of Zaraisk, the Moscow State University professor Engelina Smirnova spoke about the vita icons of Nikola Zaraisky. Another Moscow State University specialist,  professor Alexander Preobrazhensky presented his research on the images of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Mozhaisk churches, while the head of the research and educational department at the private  Museum of Russian Icon,  Yulia Buzikina spoke about the image of the city of Bari in Russian icons and in travellers’ diaries.


Prof. Engelina Smirnova, Prof. Alexey Lidov and Dr. Nancy Petterson- Sevcenko

The Keeper of St.Nicolas Basilica in Bari and a recognised authority on St. Nicholas father Gerardo Choffari, provided in his presentation the analysis of the oldest Latin, Greek and Russian written sources on Christ and the Virgin frequently used in St Nicholas icons. The Rector of the Papal College Russikum, Germano Marani reflected on the paths of St. Nicholas and Diakonia today. Of great interest was the paper given by Hegumen Dionisy (Shlonov),  focussing on the title thaumatourgos, or the “miracle worker”, bestowed upon St. Nicholas in the Byzantine literary tradition. The speaker traced the development of the whole thaumatourgos tradition and the way it came to be associated with St. Nicholas the Wonderworker.  Dr. Alexey Lidov spoke about the tradition of veneration of St. Nicholas and its specific features in Ancient Rus.


Concluding the conference were two papers by Marcello Gardzaniti, professor of the Florence University, who spoke on Italian Culture and Russian Iconography, and by Stefano Garzigno,  professor at the University of Pisa who concentrated on such themes as the icon and the Madonna in Russian poetry, mostly on the example of Pushkin’s and Boratynsky’s poetry. The final presentation by the artist Dmitry Gutov  was about the Icon and the Avant-Garde. It worked as a bridge bewtween the worlds of scholarship and the world of art, thus, paving the way to the closing ceremony of the exhibition “Russian Icon: Prayer and Mercy”, which took place at the Castello Svevo di Bari. the same evening.


At the end of the conference, the keeper of the basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari, Fr. Gerardo Choffari remarked that the conference that had brought together  art historians, philologists, clergy and artists served as an excellent example of the future interdisciplinary conference dedicated to the figure of a single saint, and demonstrated how approaching the same object from different perspectives could enrich and deepen our knowledge.


The exhibition Russian Icon: Prayer and Mercy / L`Icona russa: Preghiera e Misericordia was carried out under the patronage of the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Holy See, and endorsed by the Sovereign Order of Malta, and the Archdiocese of Bari and Bitonto within the framework of the international festival Russian Seasons.