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Ancient icons on display at Vatican Museum, mixing Orthodox and Catholic styles

2016-07-24

According to St. John of Damascus, "the whole Earth is a living icon of the face of God.” As such, this particularly powerful presence of icons has come to the Vatican museums with 33 individual works of art. Through the Belarus icon paintings from the 17th-21st centuries, one can find not only the face of God, but also a merging of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. 

ANDREI ZHAROV
Iconographer
"It is very important for us because we tell about Belarus tradition and about our Christian tradition, which is very important for all people. And this tradition unites us.” 

It is a unity that is displayed in Andrei's paintings, two of which are shown at the exhibit with Roman saints, "Saints Cosmas and Damien” and also "The Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God.”  

This Belarusian style began in the 17th century and has absorbed influences from the western and eastern cultures, giving it a uniqueness not found elsewhere. The early paintings portray spirituality though this unified structure and restrained color range, while more recent icons use a more distinctive form and bright colors.  

VLADIMIR I. PROKOPTSOV
Director General of National Art Museum of Belarus 
"There is a difference between the Byzantine and Russian styles. For example, there are faces not as stringent, while you can see that other faces are smiling. We have many landscapes. There are pictures in which landscapes are not usually seen, and yet here they are. There are many everyday items not used by Belarusians and they are present in these icons.”

Biblical stories and characters are featured throughout the exhibition, like this icon of the "Kissing of Joachim and Anne” from the 17th century and this 18th century icon of "Michael the Archangel.” Gold is especially displayed throughout the background and framing, which reflects the historical tradition of metal crafting together with various forms of art.

VLADIMIR I. PROKOPTSOV
Director General of National Art Museum of Belarus
"The initial idea for this exhibit was born nine years ago, but when we prepared this exhibition we had to change everything. We had hundreds of large pieces, some two meters, but you see what's here, such small display windows. There was no room for hundreds of icons and so we had to reduce it. They have exhibited 33 icons. They have brought only those that fit in the display cases. The height of the windows has influenced the choice of pieces.”

The exhibition is on display until July 25, and creators hope the ancient traditions and spiritual context will be evident in the eyes of all who witness this event. 


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