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HOME : Russian Icons : Masterpieces : The Resurrection and Descent into Hell
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The Resurrection and Descent into Hell - PF.5979
Origin: Russia
Circa: 18 th Century AD to 19 th Century AD
Dimensions: 14" (35.6cm) high
Collection: Russian Icons
Medium: Tempera on Wood

Location: United States
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Russians inherited the tradition of icon painting from Byzantium, where it began as an offshoot of the mosaic and fresco tradition. During the 8th and 9th centuries, the iconoclastic controversy in the Orthodox Church called into question whether religious images were a legitimate practice or sacrilegious idolatry. Although the use of images was in the end permitted, a thorough distinction between profane art intended to depict reality and sacred art designed for spiritual contemplation was established. Certain kinds of balance and harmony became established as reflections of divinity, and as such they invited careful reproduction and subtle refinement rather than striking novelty. Although this philosophy resulted in a comparatively slow evolution of style, icon painting evolved considerably over the centuries. Icons are images intended to aid in contemplative prayer, and in that sense, are more concerned with conveying meditative harmony than with laying out a realistic scene.

The central panel depicts the Resurrection of Christ and the Descent into Hell. These scenes are surrounded by twelve smaller panels depicting events honored by major church festivals. They are as follows, starting from the upper left and moving clockwise: the Nativity of the Virgin, the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple, the Annunciation, the Nativity of Christ, The Baptism of Christ, the Transfiguration of Christ, the Dormition of the Virgin, the Elevation of the Cross, the Old Testament Trinity, The Assumption of the Virgin, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, and the Presentation of Christ at the Temple. Representations of the four gospel writers fill the corners along the engraved border. Together, this spectacular icon represents the central theme of Christianity. Most impressive is how much iconography the painter managed to squeeze into such a limited space. Painted with stunning detail and minute ascents throughout, this icon is a true work of beauty that glows when the light shines against its luminous gold leaf background.
- (PF.5979)


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