The true place of the icon is in the church or in the red corner of the upper chamber [part of the house of the Russian Orthodox specially designated for prayer. Trans. note]. But no less decent a place does it take at the museums and exhibitions which you can make sure of by visiting the exhibition of the contemporary Russian icon that opened the other day at the Museum of the History of Moscow.
"God-painter" is an ancient word and today may seem bizarre. An icon-painter is more habitual and closer but again is perceived as a profession of times past. The XV century, XVI, Dionysius, Rublev, Theophanes the Greek… The Pskov school, that of Novgorod, Vladimir, Moscow…
In the XX century when it was not merchants but priests that they began to expel from churches icon-painting almost ceased. And icons themselves embedded in which is also a piece of an artist's soul and qualities that are still beyond the power of material sciences have sacrilegiously become a commodity. How many of them are detained at the customs is known to customs services and how many have irrevocably gone abroad - is known to God alone.
And here is an heartwarming appearance of icons before people - on the bright Orthodox feast of the Transfiguration of Christ at the Museum of the History of Moscow opened the exhibition, "The Russian Icon at the end of the XX century", to the anniversary of our city.
To paint an icon and for it to become namely an icon instead of a temper painting brush mastery is not enough. Unless an icon-painter gets imbued with the meaning and holiness he will remain but an artist maybe even a very good or brilliant one. It was not without reason that before getting about their work icon-painters would confess, fast and ask a blessing for both themselves and their paints, brushes, levkas, board… The same is performed by the icon-painters of the late XX century.
The story goes that admirers dropped by at the studio of just very much a brilliant artist, Aivazovsky, and seeing three grounded canvases asked what he planned to paint on them. "This one I plan for 5 thousand, - replied the master, and the two others - for 3 and a half."
I admit, purely hypothetically, the same is possible also in icon-painting, for man is weak, but looking at the icons presented at the exhibition, you feel like brushing aside this hypothesis.
Here one finds copies of well-known canonical icons, for instance, Rublev's Trinity and also original interpretations of motifs… There are very delicately and laboriously executed icons of golden and facial embroidery of Mikhail Mchedpishvili, there are carved unpainted ones - of the Azbukhanovys' workshop- just as well of refined delicacy. But almost all icons hide not their age not only by the dates - 1994, 1995,1997, but also by their condition: none of the painters aged artificially his/her works, applied time patina to keep up with fashion. Indeed our philistine snobbery is often drawn not to an icon as such but to its antiquity. "You know, I have two icons at home and both are of the XVI century", "You don't' say so! And mine is only of the XVIII century, "The Beheading of John the Baptist". But a real thing too, I will tell you!"
And what actually will he tell? Complain that there used to be masters, schools and all are gone?…
-Traditions, in my view, were not lost, - explained Elena Knyazeva, art director of the Moscow icon-painting center "Russian Icon", - there was simply a period in the history of Russian Orthodox icon-painting that can be compared to a person who was in a lethargic sleep. Then the awakening came and , putting it in the words of Alexander Sergeevich, "again have risen both the deity, and inspiration…" We conducted training in the icon-painting technique and technology for two years. Our students were people from 14 to well above the pension age. Among theme there were professional artists as well.
On the one hand, it is good, since the academic school is there, brush mastery… But there was another set of qualities required by an artist but contraindicated to an icon-painter: it is emotionality and expression… A layman, if he doesn't' have what it takes, doesn't have, figuratively speaking, a good ear had better, of course, not even start doing this. But then some of them were so spiritually infused with icon-painting and untouched by secular painting schools that there were no problems with mutual understanding.
The end of the XX century from the Nativity of Christ… Computers, pagers, dockings, landing on Mars, transplant surgery, cloning… Everything has changed in man's surroundings and nothing has changed in man. The same gestation of 9 months, the same way Cain kills Abel, the same fratricidal wars, covetousness, cupidity, envy… If only, all this has become faster, on a larger scale, tougher and more technical.
And against this almost apocalyptical background (and maybe, not almost) - the revival of Russian Orthodox icon-painting as a signal "save at least our souls", if one can't be saved from being taken hostage.
Someone holds firm in faith, someone does not so much, someone does not have faith in anything at all.. But the icon, even if you look at it and don't feel the Divine sign, is all the same beautiful.
But you had better feel it.