Holy and historical – Russian icons at MacDougall’s
All holy icons are regarded as windows onto a divine world, but in the case of many Russian icons, they are also windows into modern Russian history. This sacred and secular duality is clearly represented in several icons being offered at auction on 5th June by MacDougall’s.
The top icon lot, The Holy Prince St Vsevolod (estimate £70,000 – 100,000) is a rare icon by the master iconographer, Vasily Guryanov. In this exquisitely detailed image, the romance of a 12th century Medieval Russian warrior prince can be directly linked to a hero of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). It is thought that this icon was commissioned and officially presented to Rear Admiral Vsevolod Rudnev, under whose command the cruiser Varyag was defeated at the Battle of Chemulpo (1904). The unusual choice of subject (Rudnev’s name saint), the valuable oklad by A. I. Kuzmichev, the high-quality brocade ‘shirt’ covering from the Olovyanishnikov factory along with the icon’s provenance all indicate its unique historical context.
A dramatic moment in the Imperial Russian family’s history is commemorated in the late 19th century icon of The Pokrov with St Andrew of Crete and the Prophet Hosea (estimate £40,000 – 60,000). A silver plaque on the icon’s reverse explains that the image was presented to Alexander III by the Kiev Pechersk Lavra in thanksgiving for what was regarded as the miraculous deliverance of the Emperor and his family from the Borki train disaster of 1888, and event which occurred on the feast day of St Andrew of Crete and the Prophet Hosea. Most unusually for an icon, the Imperial family are also depicted on the icon (in silhouette).
Both the aforementioned ‘Borki’ icon and The Righteous St Anna (estimate £20,000 – 30,000) have a more recent historical context in that they were officially exported to the west as part of a Soviet fund-raising programme in the 1920s-30s. The charming icon of St Anna also has imperial connections and bears a plaque commemorating its presentation to Empress Maria Fyodorovna in 1893 by the Russian Afonsky Monastery of St. Panteleimon. The sale of these three icons is especially topical as 2013 marks the quatercentenary of the House of Romanov and the centenary of Rear Admiral Rudnev’s death.
Amongst the other icons offered by MacDougall’s are some fine examples of the Yaroslavl, Mstera, Moscow and OldBelieverSchools and some highly collectable Art Noveau influenced icons. All of these icons, through the vicissitudes of history, have not only informed, but also inspired a new generation of collectors and iconophiles in Europe.
By Helen McIldowie-Jenkins, Icons Department, MacDougall Auctions