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Greek Orthodox religious paintings

or Orthodox Russia it is difficult to overestimate the role icons have always played. For many they are the most memorable symbols of Russian Christianity, from whole walls of icons, called iconostases, which separate the nave from the sanctuary in a church, to miniature icons inside cars, purses or pockets.

Different theories exist as to how icons came about. Icons are paintings on flat panels of wood, not statues or frescoes. Some historians state that early Russian priests fought against paganism and idols so much that any form of statues depicting a holy being would not be acceptable. Others say that it was easier to save icons from fire if they were small and transportable. Most early Russian churches were constructed exclusively out of wood, unlike in Europe where stone was used. Be this as it may, the Byzantine tradition of depicting Jesus, Mary or the Saints, and venerating images as holy beings, took deep root. The current exhibition at the Private Collections department of the Pushkin museum features Greek religious paintings from the 15th to the 20th centuries.

Since the 15th century Mount Athos, its monasteries and sketes, have been the destination for pilgrimages and the source of inspiration for religious painters. As a result, the Russian icon school actually developed simultaneously with the Greek school and Cretan schools.

Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Private Collections department
August 1-September 26
Open: 11:00 – 19:00, every day except Tuesday

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