After its great success at the Museum of Rome in Palazzo Braschi (October — December 2017), the exhibition Russian Icon: Prayer and Mercy is now on display at the Castello Svevo di Bari.
The concept of the exhibition is founded on age-long existential ideals shared by the Christians of both, the East and the West, to whom prayer and mercy are extremely important manifestations of serving to God and an integral part of daily life. These common ideals of Christianity are expressed through the Russian icon.
The exhibition is curated by Liliya Evseeva, research and cataloguing director at the Andrey Rublev Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art, and Julia Buzykina, director of research and educational department at the Museum of Russian Icon.
The choice of the city hosting the third edition of the exhibition Russian Icon – Bari – is symbolic, for it is known to be the city guarding the relics of St. Nicholas. Indeed, it is to the very city of Bari that Saint Nicholas, the bishop of Myra in Lycia, had hoped that his remains would be transferred after his death, as testified in the ancient Russian text “History of the Transfer”. This fact has made Bari and its basilica into a favourite pilgrimage destination among all Christians, and a favourite centre of the Orthodox Christianity in the West. As a result, Bari became an important interfaith centre and a meeting point between the Orthodox and Catholic Christians. It is precisely to celebrate this bond that the exhibition has been launched, now in a more expanded, fuller version, compared to the previous editions. Russian Icon: Prayer and Mercy is the first exhibition hosted by the Museum after the recent reconstruction and museification of the castle’s (Castello Svevo ) piano nobile (noble floor). This is the first inaugural exhibition in the series of future international art shows organised by Polo Museale della Puglia.
The exhibition “The Russian Icon: Prayer and Mercy” features 37 icons dating between the 17th and 18th centuries from the collections of two Russian museums: the Andrey Rublev Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art and the Private Museum of Russian Icon. The old icons are displayed side by side with the work by Vladimir Tatlin Composition with Transparent Surfaces (1916), and a contemporary sculpture, Theotokos, the Great Panagia (Orans) (2012) by Dmitry Gutov, both from private collections. Thus, the central subject of the exhibition – prayer and mercy – is not, therefore, limited to medieval artworks, but continues through the ages into the periods of Russian avant-garde and contemporary art.
The icons presented at the exhibition were produced in well- known workshops, such as the Moscow Armory (e.g. the icon Transfiguration ) or in the regions of Volga, Kargopol ‘ and the Kama river basin – areas historically known for their local icon-painting schools and styles developed during the 17th and 18th centuries. Among the highlights of the exhibition are the 17th-century Virgin Hodegetria of Šuja and Virgin Hodegetria of Tichvin, Mother of God of the Passion (dating to the period from the late-17th century to the first third of the 18th century), a Christological cycle (17th-century Transfiguration,18th-century Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem and 18th-century Resurrection of Christ), and also the Archangel Michael, Saint Nicholas Thaumaturgus (fromZaraysk), the Miracle of Saint George and the Dragon, the Martyrs Cyricus and Julitta, the Great Martyr Paraskeva. There are also icons featuring most revered Russian saints, such as St Sergius of Radonezh, Sts Zosima and Savvaty, Saint Macary of Unza, Saint Nil of Stolbny and Sts Evfimy and Chariton of Sjamžem.
Throughout the centuries of its history, the icon continued to maintain its meaning and value, expanding its artistic language and taking in influences from Western art. The new elements did not overshadow the art of the icon, but in some cases strengthened its message. The icon went beyond a religious illustration, representing the mystical aspects of Russian reality. The Russian icon continued well into the 20thcentury, when the artistic Russian avant-garde focused on the icon as the means of expressing the transcendent. Contemporary artists also hark back to the icon in their attempt to create iconic images. All these phenomena related to the Russian icon are represented in the exhibition.
The project is run under the aegis of the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Holy See, and endorsed by the Sovereign Order of Malta, the Embassy of the Sovereign Order of Malta to the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Bari and Bitonto. The project is also personally supervised by His Excellency Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Dicastery for International Church Relations at the Moscow Patriarchate. This curated art project is viewed as an opportunity to improve international interchurch and interconfessional friendly relations between the Eastern and Western Christians.
The exhibition was made possible owing to the unyielding support of the Puglia Region, the Municipality of Bari, the patron and founder of the Russian Icon Museum Mikhail Abramov. Special thanks also go toApulia Film Commission, Teatro Pubblico Pugliese, Puglia Promozione, Puglia 365 and PiiiL Cultura in Puglia. It is organized by the Association“CheLovekMaKak” (for the Bari edition) and MondoMostre (general support).