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19th C. Russian Icon Jesus Descending Mount Olives

Russia, ca. 19th century CE. Skillfully delineated in egg tempera on wood, an icon depicting Jesus astride a donkey descending the Mount of Olives, the city of Jerusalem before him, followed by a group of apostles while children lay cloaks at their feet and a few palm branches they have gathered lie on the ground. Note the Procession of the Palms is at once a triumphant and paradoxical scene, for those who hail Christ as king will soon turn and Jesus will be crucified. Size: 17.75" W x 24" H (45.1 cm x 61 cm)

This festal icon was used for the feast celebrated on the Sunday before Pascha (Easter) and is known as Palm Sunday by Westerners. In Russia, this holiday is called Willow Sunday, as Russia has no palm trees. Curator Jeanne Marie Warzeski makes the following interesting observation, "The donkey's hooves seem to float above the earth, inferring a divine quality to its rider and foretelling his fate. City dwellers greet Christ with green branches, while a child spreads his garments on the ground in honor." Scholar Alfredo Tradigo notes, "Christ dominates matter (his mount) and enters his city in triumph, while feeling the hostility of those who hail him today and will crucify him tomorrow." (Tradigo, Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, p. 130). He then quotes the following passage from Romanos the Melodist, 'Now I enter in the city and, casting you out, I shall reject your - not that I hate you, but because I discovered that you hate me and mine." (Romanos the Melodist, Kontakia from Tradigo, p. 130)

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 as well as the exhibition of the same name at the North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, North Carolina (October 4, 2013 through March 5, 2014).

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. 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: Several areas of loss and two small punctures to top center of composition as shown. Surface shows losses to pigment and nice craquelure.

Provenance: Ex-Francis & Lilly Robicsek Collection, Charlotte, NC, part of the Museum Exhibition, Windows into Heaven - Russian Icons from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art, North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC

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