Handover of thirteen icons recovered from smugglers to the Russian Museum
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Handover of thirteen icons recovered from smugglers to the Russian Museum

Sergey Bulavsky and Yuri Korolev
Yuri Korolev and Sergey Bulavsky

9 November 2017 a handover ceremony of thirteen icons recovered from smugglers by the officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) as a result of actions combating illicit cross-border movement of cultural property at the Russian customs was held in the Russian Museum at the Mikhailovsky Palace. The art expertise detected icons of historical, cultural and artistic importance. Thirteen icons selected by the experts represent paintings of XVII-XIX centuries created at various artistic centres in Russia.

Irina Solovyova demonstrates Mother of God Prayer for People
Irina Solovyova demonstrates the Mother of God "Prayer for People"

Sergey Bulavsky, the Head of the Department of the Ministry of culture of Russia in SZFO and the Director a.i. of the Russian Museum Yuri Korolev took part in the ceremony. This ceremony has been the second handover of the icons to the Russian Museum. In December 2015 the officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) handed over 19 icons to the Russian museum, which were intercepted on the way to Israel and Germany.

Irina Solovyova, the Head of the Department of the Art of Old Russia at the Russian Museum, told about these valuable artefacts of Old Russian art.

"Among all the icons the most interesting and preserved is the Mother of God "Prayer for People". It is a great luck the icon preserved its original oklad. Oklads were made in various artistic centres and often had marks, which allow to identify the place where the oklads, and sometimes the icons were made. Usually oklads were made of metals, and unfortunately often scrapped.

Old Believer icon of St. Nicholas
Old Believer icon of St. Nicholas “against-the-gate”

I also would like to distinguish the artefact of Old Believer icon pinting. With no doubt it is Saint Nicholas who was worshiped in Old Russia, and received the name “against-the-gate” because it repeated the over-the-gate icon of the patron. Other paintings include some iconography of the Mother of God, such as Hodegitria, Of The Tree Hands, Pecherskaya (with Venerable Anthony and Theodosius of Kiev), The Unburnt Bush. It is certain, the icons were stored at home, as they are small in size. Some of them are obviously commissioned. The traditions of use of icons were diverse; it was often that the icon was left at church after commemoration or dedicated to monastery after some events.

The tradition of icon collecting emerged in Russia as early as XIX century when first private collections appeared. Icons lost their owners and origin information, and therefore all our pre-Revolutionary collections are unfortunately anonymous. We try to do a thorough research on every icon and that is why it takes us quite a long time. We would like to be objective in evaluation of their artistic and historical importance.

All icons require tremendous restoration works. It is necessary to start strenghthening the ground and paint layers of these artefacts as soon as possible, and subsequently they will be actively used in science and exhibition projects".