MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 8-9 June 2011

8 June 2011

Artist Index / Full Catalogue


35,000-50,000 GBP

37 by 31 cm.

This unique and historic example of Russian icon painting of around 1700 is a striking example of the Kremlin Armoury School, possibly by the outstanding icon painter, Kirill Ivanov Ulanov (d. 1731).

The Jerusalem Mother of God is a Hodegetria type, characterised by the pose of the infant Christ, half-turned towards the Mother of God holding him on her right arm. He makes a blessing gesture with his right hand and holds a scroll in his left.

The ancient icon of the Jerusalem Mother of God, brought from Novgorod by Ivan the Terrible, was greatly revered at the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow until 1812, when it vanished without trace during the Napoleonic invasion.

In spite of the lost ancient relic, we can reconstruct its distinctive iconography thanks to a detailed description preserved in the 1701 Cathedral Inventory which matches our icon exactly. Around the same time, 1701, the icon was restored and a large replica made by the master craftsmen of the Kremlin Armoury, which eventually replaced the lost original.

An exceptional feature of the ancient image, reproduced on the replica and our icon, are the figures of apostles and evangelists on the borders. Peter, John, Luke, Andrew, Simon and Philip are on the left, with Paul, Matthew, Mark, James, Bartholomew and Thomas on the right and the warrior martyrs, Procopius, George, Demetrius and Mercurius on the lower border. These saints are depicted in the same order on our replica; only George and Procopius have changed places, the apostles on the side borders have earth beneath their feet (a detail absent in the Kremlin replica) and inscriptions with elements of Greek have been replaced by Russian.

Thus, our historic artefact is beyond any doubt a smaller replica of the ancient miracle-working icon of the Jerusalem Mother of God.

Researchers have suggested that the restoration of the ancient image and the large replica (circa 1701) was directed by the leading Kremlin Armoury master, Kirill Ulanov. Several years later, he expressed his attachment to the Jerusalem Mother of God by painting two more replicas that we have to this day, as well as four that have not survived.

Therefore, there are grounds to suppose that our icon was painted by Ulanov and that in iconographic terms it was an exact copy of the ancient relic, probably produced at the same time as the large replica, circa 1701.

It is noteworthy that a fragmentary inscription survives on the lower left-hand border: “...holy image according to a promise...” A feature of Ulanov’s works is that they were commissioned “according to a promise” and these words are very close to those on an icon by him of the Vladimir Mother of God: “This holy image was painted according to a promise of Irina Klementieva Obukhova”.

The obvious similarity between the icon painting techniques used on our icon and those in other works by Ulanov may provide further grounds for its suggested attribution. It is relevant that the faces are rendered in the long-standing Ushakov tradition – smoothly, with no abrupt separation of light and shade and a striking softness. Neither is it difficult to detect the similarity in the modelling of the lips, shape of the ear and almost almond eyes.

The artefact presented at auction is one of two exact replicas known today copied from the lost ancient miracle-working icon of the Jerusalem Mother of God. Painted around 1701, it is a striking piece, characteristic of the Armoury Chamber School at its height. With a fair degree of justification it may be attributed to the eminent Russian icon painter, Kirill Ulanov.

The subsequent veneration paid to the image is evident from its late 18th century rich silver oklad. This very rare artefact is of exceptional artistic, historical and spiritual value.

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.