Russian Cathedral Recreated in Norway

Sacral Treasures from the Moscow Kremlin Museums at the National Museum of Art, Oslo till January 16, 2011

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A “Russian cathedral” has opened at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo. This is the name of an exhibition of orthodox art treasures from the Moscow Kremlin, on display in Norway from 23 September 2010 to 16 January 2011. More than half of the exhibits will be shown overseas for the first time.

The organizers of the Oslo exhibit tasked themselves with recreating a Russian orthodox cathedral from the Middle Ages. An imitation iconostasis, without which there an orthodox cathedral is unfathomable, was recreated using ancient icons – painted, woven, embroidered with gold, encrusted with jewels. A visitor immediately finds himself at the centre of the religious service, at the Holy Gates in the altar section, decorated with icons and images from the XV-XVII centuries, depicting evangelical events. But it isn’t just church history that was reflected in religious art objects – civil society also finds its place. A late 17th century icon, “Holy Mother at the Altar”, depicts Virgin Mary surrounded by patron saints of family members of the tsar’s family. In the words of Museum keeper for the Moscow Kremlin Natalia Bushueva, the depiction of patron saints of tsars and their relatives was common practice.

The Kremlin attracted the best masters in their respective fields – iconographers, jewelers, carvers, armory smiths, weavers and embroiderers – who worked exclusively for the tsar’s family and the aristocracy. For example, the edge of a Holy water chalice made in 1629 is engraved with an inscription, which says that it was made at the direction of Tsar Mikhail Romanov. A silver container for the delivery of a special church bread was made for Patriarch Nikon. The composition is very similar to another such container made in Novgorod in 1435. This is no accident, insists the exhibit’s curator Irina Bobrovnitskaya, as old Russian masters often recreated admired works of the past.

Yet warnings from professional art dealers are often ignored, as many tourists are not serious collectors.

In the 17th century, this container closely resembled a famous predecessor from the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod, which was created in the first quarter of the 15th century, typically characteristic of the western European aesthetic of that period.

Religious services in a cathedral of the Middle Ages were characterized by very rich robing for the priests, particularly for senior members of the clergy. Robes worn for celebratory services were oftentimes compared with jewels, says Natalia Bushueva.

The fabrics that were used were very expensive, often imported, and the craftsmanship was of the highest quality and of great artistic value. An orthodox vestment included the sakkos (the robe itself), a palitsa, or club, two special vases or amphoras (one large and one small), a set of cuffs decorated with jewels and pearls and headpieces. Another interesting detail is the epitrachelion – a stole worn around the neck, which falls at the sides of the wearer like a scarf.

The Norwegian public will be especially interested to see a golden chalice and communion plate made in 1795 by Iver Winfield Buch, a court jeweler to Catherine the Second. Norwegian-born Buch settled in Russia, where he was held in high esteem. The 32 cm-tall chalice was decorated with diamonds and jewels from the empress’s personal collection. The exhibition is consummated by the “Resurrection” icon dating back to the 17th century, which was restored especially for the exhibition at the expense of the Norwegian side. This is the continuation of a long-standing tradition of art patronage, which has been an inextricable part of the Russia-Norway relationship.

Source: The Voice of Russia
1 October, 2010