Russian Treasures in Paris

The iconostasis in the Monastery of St. Cyril of the White Lake (1497)

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Like many exhibits that set out to be blockbusters, "Sainte Russie" at the Louvre may be just too much of a good thing. With more than 400 icons, paintings, sculptures, architectural elements, textiles, costumes, jewels, coins and illuminated manuscripts, the show covers some 800 years of the history of "Holy Russia," from the baptism of Prince Vladimir in 988 until Peter the Great's resolute turn toward Western-style modernity at the turn of the 18th century.

Kicking off the "Year of Russia" in France, the monumental enterprise packs in so many riches, gathered from museums, Orthodox monasteries, churches and libraries throughout Russia, that it's impossible to take it all in without returning for a second, or even third, visit. There is gleaming gold everywhere, from the splendid icon honoring the early saints Boris and Gleb, cloaked in scarlet and armed with swords, to an embossed 11th-century gilded chalice and a filigreed Byzantine necklace studded with precious stones. Turn a corner and you're stunned by the massive, 13th-century gilded double doors from Nativity of the Virgin cathedral in Suzdal. Turn again and there are 12 panels from the magnificent iconostasis, or rood screen, of the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow.

Oklads, embossed gold or silver plates used to cover precious icons, have cutouts to reveal the faces and often the hands of the painted saints beneath, including a bejeweled one that usually covers the "Trinity" icon, one of Russia's most revered treasures, by medieval painter Andrei Roublev. The icon itself, in Moscow's State Tretyakov Gallery, is too fragile to travel; its oklad here was commissioned as a gift to the Trinity church by Tsar Boris Godunov in 1599-1600. Many of the works in the show are on loan outside of Russia for the first time, and it's all only in Paris for a scant couple of weeks, so, if you can, rush to the Louvre -- maybe two or three times -- before it's too late to see this wondrous golden hoard.

Wall Street Journal
by Judy Fayard
9 April, 2010

Visit the Official Exhibition Web Site;

Holy Russia Exhibition at the Louvre, Paris