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Huge / Grand 19th C. Russian Minyeaia Icon, ex-Museum

Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. 19th century CE. An enormous minyeaia or calendar icon, a veritable timetable of sainthood with each figure identified, displaying the feasts of the entire liturgical year, skillfully painted in brilliant jewel tone reds, blues, and greens, more unusual whites, pinks, and aquas, as well as browns and ochres of the monks, martyrs, virgins, deacons, and bishops against a glimmering gold leaf ground. Not one color dominates; instead they coexist in breathtaking harmony, a visual reflection of heavenly splendor. Size: 35" W x 42.5" H (88.9 cm x 108 cm)

Icons of this grand scale called minyeia depicting the calendar year were very popular in Russia during the 18th and 19th centuries. A minyeia like this example would have hung in a home or a church as worshippers used them to celebrate the feast days. Note that this calendar begins in September, because the Orthodox church calendar begins in September with a celebration of the Nativity of Mary, mother of God, referred to in Orthodox Christianity as the Theotokos. An excerpt of the text opposite the page featuring this Minyeia or Calendar icon in the "Windows of Heaven" exhibition catalogue reads as follows, "Minyeia usually show 12 reserves representing the months of the year. Each reserve portrays the events and saints celebrated on each day of that month. In the center, scenes of the Resurrection and descent into Hades are featured, bordered by Paschal (or Easter) scenes. The outer frame is painted with 96 miraculous images of the Mother of God as celebrated on the church calendar." (Jeanne Marie Warzeski, "Windows into Heaven: Russian Icons from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art")

Calendar icons portray the feast days of the saints in chronological order, usually alternating with movable liturgical feasts, as dictated by the Orthodox calendar, which begins on the first of September. Calendar icons may be referred to as menologia (annual) or synaxaria (monthly), and their many panels are modeled on miniatures featured in manuscript collections of saints' lives. Sometimes the artist has elected to depict saints who are celebrated the same day together, and other times only the first saint celebrated is depicted. Most often saints are depicted standing; however, martyred saints are typically shown at the moment of their martyrdom. The background color for the icon is oftentimes significant, chosen to distinguish various categories of saints. Menologion icons are exhibited in the church on a special lectern called the analogion.

Exhibited in "Windows Into Heaven: Russian Icons from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art" at the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina (December 20, 2003 through February 22, 2004) which presented highlights of one of the world's great artistic traditions through an extraordinary group of sixty-five 18th and 19th century Russian icons on loan from the private collection of Lilly and Francis Robicsek. Also featured in an exhibition of the same name at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, North Carolina October 4, 2013 through March 5, 2014. Published in the catalogue accompanying the North Carolina Museum of History written and compiled by curator Jeanne Marie Warzeski.

Icons (icon means "image" in Greek) are sacred objects within the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition. Found in homes as well as churches, these painted images depict holy persons and saints as well as illustrate scenes from the Scriptures. Some icons are encased in precious metal covers (oklads) adorned with pearls and semi-precious stones or glass-fronted wooden cases (kiots). Icons are not worshiped, but are instead venerated for their ability to focus the power of an individual's prayer to God. As such they are truly "windows into heaven."

The “Windows Into Heaven” exhibition profiled a magnificent chapter of Russian artistry, the embrace of the Russian Orthodox faith of religious icons during the Romanov centuries. The Russian religious faith was an offshoot of Byzantine Christianity, which in 1054 parted ways from Roman Catholicism. Icons were and continue to be religious images created for veneration. As a focus for prayers and meditation for believers, icons serve as “windows into heaven.”

Condition: This icon was created from three large pieces of wood; over time the seams have become visible. Otherwise, expected losses to pigment and gold leaf. Brown gesso border, which was probably added later, has some reattached areas and losses as shown. A few large but stable vertical fissures to pigment along obverse side.

Provenance: Ex-Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art, Charlotte, NC; exhibited at Mint Museum of Art "Windows Into Heaven", Charlotte, North Carolina (December 20, 2003 through February 22, 2004) and North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, North Carolina October 4, 2013 through March 5, 2014

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