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Tsarevich's Icon Offered For Sale

St Aleksei, Metropolitan of Moscow, Russia, Mount Athos. Presented to Tsarevich Aleksei and dated 1904 on the reverse. 35.8 x 31 cm. Collection: Jan Morsink Ikonen, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Exhibition preview

AN exceptional exhibition of sixty important Russian and Greek Icons will be staged by Jan Morsink Ikonen of Amsterdam, one of the leading international specialists in the field, at the Willow Gallery from November 23 to November 29, 2013 as part of Russian Art Week, a bi-annual event launched in 2012 by the online arts magazine Russian Art and Culture.

The exhibition, the majority of which comes from private collections, will offer a rare overview of icons from the orthodox world dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Key styles of icon painting will be represented such as the Moscow, Kostroma, Stroganov and Palekh schools.

The exhibition comprises small icons made for private devotion, large iconostasis panels from Russian orthodox churches and a complete travelling iconostasis (a wall or screen of icons and religious paintings separating the nave from the sanctuary in an orthodox church).

Simon Morsink says: “During the last twenty years the market for icons has changed dramatically, mainly due to the emergence of new collectors from Russia. This is the first time that we have staged such an exhibition in London, and Russian Art Week provides an excellent platform for us to meet old and new clients and introduce collectors to the rich history and powerful presence of these extraordinary works.”

A Russian icon presented to Tsarevich Aleksei (1904-1918) on his first name day, October 5, 1904, a few weeks after the discovery that he suffered from haemophilia, has a particular poignancy. The silver plaque inscribed in Cyrillic on the reverse reads:

‘This icon is presented on the first saint’s day to His Imperial Highness, the Heir Tsarevich and Grand Duke Aleksei Nicholaevich, and to commemorate the blessed foundation on this day of a church named for St Aleksei, Metropolitan of Moscow, in the Andrew Skete on Mount Athos, October 5th, 1904, St Petersburg – Painted and blessed on the Holy Mount Athos.’

The young Tsarevich was murdered with the rest of the Imperial family by the Bolsheviks when he was only fourteen years old. The icon, reportedly in the private apartments of the Tsarevich Aleksei at Tsarskoe Selo, was acquired by the American industrialist Armand Hammer, a descendant of Jewish refugees from Russia, who was in the USSR from 1921 to 1930.

In need of foreign currency, the Soviet government sold works of art from Russian museums and Imperial palaces and Hammer bought a large number which he took back to the United States.

A 16th century Russian icon from Moscow shows the Mother of God Tikhvinskaya, which is associated with a remarkable legend: in 1383, seventy years before the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the prototype of the Tikhvinskaya disappeared from Constantinople. Taken by angels, it miraculously appeared in Russia, over Lake Ladoga later that year. From there it floated to the village of Tikhvin up to the banks of the river Tikhvinka. On this site, the inhabitants of the town built a simple wooden church where the icon was kept.

In 1547, Tsar Ivan the Terrible came to Tikhvin to venerate the icon and, in 1560, had a monastery built next to the church where the icon was kept. This particular example was intended for private devotion. Domestic icons were venerated in the ‘beautiful’ or ‘red corner’ of the home which formed the focal point of the house.

A 17th century Russian icon of the Annunciation, formerly in the Fekula Collection, comes from the feast-day row of an iconostasis. Its style of painting indicates that it originates from the Volga region. To the left, the Archangel Gabriel makes a gesture of blessing towards the Virgin Mary who, startled by the archangel’s sudden appearance, has stood up to greet the unexpected visitor.

She is holding a thread of wool, a detail which alludes to a passage from the apocryphal Proto-Evangelium of James which relates how Mary spun purple thread for the new curtain for the Temple in Jerusalem, which had to be made by eight virgins from the house of David. Many years later, during Christ’s Crucifixion when the earth shook, the Temple curtain for which Mary had spun thread was torn in two.

Another 17th century Russian icon, from the Kostroma region and originally part of an iconostasis of an orthodox church, is Christ Enthroned as High Priest. Measuring 98 × 85 cm, this large icon depicts Christ combining the attributes of King and High Priest, dressed in the ceremonial robes of a Byzantine emperor. The Enthroned Christ Pantocrator is one of the most important subjects in Russian religious art but this variant, of Christ Enthroned as High Priest, is rare in Russia and is connected with Byzantine-Slav iconography.

The selection of fifteen Greek icons includes a number of Veneto-Cretan examples, renowned for their refined technique and interesting fusion of Byzantine and Italian styles, as well as icons from the Greek islands, Northern Greece and the Balkans. The various periods and styles offer a fine impression of the richness of post-Byzantine icon painting in the Greek Orthodox world.

Particularly glorious and complex is The Last Judgement from the Greek Islands dating from the 17th century. This icon incorporates all the elements of the parable from Matthew 25:31-46 which begins: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats”. Christ appears in the upper part while the Last Judgement is depicted below.

Jan Morsink Ikonen is one of the leading international specialists in Russian and Greek icons from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Established in 1977 by Jan Morsink (1933-1994) in Amsterdam, it is now run by his sons Simon and Hugo who share their father’s passion. They exhibit regularly at TEFAF Maastricht, the world’s leading international art fair.

There will be an online catalogue at www.morsink.com.

Prices: All works are for sale with prices ranging from £3,000 to £150,000.

Opening hours: Saturday and Sunday: 2pm – 6pm, Monday to Friday: 11am – 6pm.

Willow Gallery, 40 Duke Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y 6DF