Icons of the Solovetsky Monastery

Tatiana Koltsova

Article: 
MUSEUMS OF RUSSIA
Magazine issue: 
#3 2006 (12)

The Solovetsky Monastery collection of icons is one of the largest in the Russian North. Today the icon-painting legacy of the monastery is dispersed between several museum collections of the country, including Moscow’s Historical Museum, Tretyakov Gallery, the “Moscow Kremlin” Historical and Cultural Complex, St. Petersburg’s Russian Museum, and the Kolomenskoe Museum Reserve, the Museum of History of Religion, the Regional Museum of the Arkhangelsk Region, the Solovetsky Museum Reserve and the Arkhangelsk Fine Arts Museum. The literature on the subject of the Solovetsky iconpainting legacy is considerable indeed, including catalogues, monographs and articles.[1] Icons from the museums of the Arkhangelsk region, however, have never really been researched and very rarely displayed. Thus, the public has little knowledge of them.

From the moment the monastery was founded icons were received as gifts. They included works by the famous Moscow icon-painters Nazari Istomin and Karp Zolotarev, and the Solovetsky vestry was one of the richest in Russia. The large and more important iconostasis and monumental painting in the churches and cathedrals of the Solovetsky Monastery was created by professional teams of visiting icon-painters. The iconostasis of the Preobrazhensky (Transfiguration) Cathedral was painted in the 16th century by artists from Novgorod the Great; the icons for the Blagoveshchensk (Annunciation) Church were done at the end of that same century by Fyodor Trofimov from Kargopol. The paintings of the Preobrazhensky Cathedral were done by Kholmogory icon-painters at the end of the 17th century, and by the St. Petersburg artist S.S. Snetkov (in 1863). The iconostasis for the Trinity Cathedral was painted in the 19th century by artists from the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius Lavra.

Judging from written sources there were 45 icon-painters working on the Solovetsky Islands in the 17th century alone. They included monks, monastery servants, labourers and icon-painters visiting from Vologda, Kostroma and Kholmogory. In 1710 the inventory of the monastery mentions seven icon-painters working there, among them Grigory Yaroslavets, Savva Nikiforov, Ivan Naumov, Potap Stefanov, Kozma Ignatiev, and Ivan Yakovlev.

For several centuries icon-painters of different artistic schools worked in the monastery. They came to the Solovetsky Islands from major art centres like Novgorod, Moscow, Vologda and other cities. Local masters from Sumsky Posad, the villages of Nyukhcha and Soroka, worked alongside them. The Solovetsky Monastery owned most of the White Sea coast and its lands spread from Arkhangelsk to the Kola Peninsula. The monastery had serious influence on the painting culture of the Pomorie region, and icon-painters from the Pomorie villages received commissions from the Solovetsky Monastery. The monastery provided them with paint and icon models, and icon-painting brought additional earnings to the peasants living off agriculture and the sea.

Thorough analysis of the icons from the Pomorie churches reaches the conclusion that the same masters painted icons for different churches. There is a unity of style in, for example, the festive icons originating from the Assumption Cathedral of Kemsky Posad, the Nikolskaya Church from the village of Maloshuika, and the Petropavlovskaya (Peter and Paul) Church from the village of Virma. The Pomorie artists responsible for these works were working at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries.

Each northern monastery had its own "handout icons”, depicting saints and miracle-workers whose relics were kept in the monasteries. Such icons were given as gifts and used to bless devotees. For centuries the Solovetsky Monastery regularly commissioned the so-called "icons of miracle-workers” with images of Solovetsky miracle-workers such as Zosima, Savvati, German and Eleazar both from the icon-painters of Pomorie patrimonies and from masters from major art centres, and such works were bought in lots. This factor could not but affect the nature of such works: many of them are painted in a rather dry manner At the end of the 17th century the Solovetsky Monastery started printing cheap engraved icons with images of the same celebrated saints.

In the 17th century painted icons, small portable diptychs and crosses created on the Solovetsky Islands and in the monastery patrimonies usually had the image of the Holy Face (Mandylion) of Edessa [The Saviour Not-Made-By- Human-Hands] or the Trinity at the top or in the nimbus. The main feast of the Solovetsky Monastery is the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the 17th-19th centuries the composition "The Transfiguration” graced many icons and engraved "handout” images. These icons were used for blessings and given as gifts to people of importance. After the British navy bombarded the monastery in 1854 the "Transfiguration” was joined in the nimbus by the image of the Virgin of the Sign who miraculously saved the monastery from enemy attack.

The Solovetsky icons have always been very diverse in style, and although there were many northern masters working in the monastery local iconpainting styles did not prevail there. The rich icon-painting legacy of the Solovetsky Monastery is a combination of works of "northern letters”, namely the Novgorod, Moscow and Rostov the Great- Suzdal schools.

In 1922-1923 after the monastery was closed a considerable part of its collection went to the Northern Regional Museum (today's Arkhangelsk Regional Museum). Many icons still have the paper stickers of those times with markings on their reverse sides. Most works brought from the Solovetsky Islands in the 1920s remain at the regional museum.

Almost all the icons taken from the Solovetsky Islands have very informative, effectively "talking” reverse sides. The reverses or covers of most icons have numbers written in saturnine red or black paint which correspond to the numbers of the Main Inventory of the Solovetsky Monastery of the end of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century. The numbers are accompanied by the letters "G” (corresponding to the section titled "head” (Russian "glava”) in the inventory), "D” or "DOP” (meaning "additional (from the Russian "dopolnitelnye”) inventory), "R” (inventory of the vestry (from the Russian "riznitsa”), "RA” (vestry of Anzer Island), "Anz.” (Anzer Island), and so on. These numerous paper stickers reveal the true biography of the icons. Stickers left by the commission of the Head Committee for Museums and Monument Protection which made an inventory of the vestry in 1922 and stickers placed by the Commission of the People's Commissariat of Education in 1923 should be regarded as the earliest. One example reads: "Head Committee for Museums and Monument Protection. The Solovetsky Monastery Vestry. #85/1386-110”. If these are followed by numbers from the Northern Regional Museum that means that the icon came to Arkhangelsk from the Solovetsky Islands in 1923. If, however, the reverse says: "Museum of the Solovetsky Society of Regional Studies. The historical and archaeological department”, that means that this particular icon was stored on the Solovetsky islands, in the museum of the Solovetsky Society of Regional Studies in the years 1923-1939 and then came to one of the Moscow museums (either the Historical Museum, Kolomenskoe, or the Church and Archaeological Museum).

The museums of Arkhangelsk have very considerable collection of Solovetsky icons, although far from all icons are on display or available for research. This collection was rather difficult to detect due to the confusion and lack of information in the museum documentation of the 1920s-1930s.

The group of Solovetsky icons shown at the exhibition covers the period from the 16th century to the early 20th century. Most are the so-called "pyadnichnye” (from their size of a "pyad” (palm-span sized icon) originating from the vestry of the Solovetsky Monastery, the Trinity Cathedral, and the Filippovskaya Church. There are only a few large icons from the iconostasis.

One of them, the "Transfiguration”, originates from the Svvatievsky Skete on the Bolshoi Solovetsky Island. The nature of the board, the iconographic image and the general scheme of the drawing allow us to date the painting on the icon to the 16th century. Another large icon, "The Fruits of the Sufferings of Christ”,[2] from 1689, originates from an iconostasis of the St. George Chapel of the Kirilovo village in the Kargopolsky District of the Arkhangel region. The bottom right corner of the icon, however, has an inscription: "PAINTED AT THE HOLY LAVRA OF THE SOLOVETSKY MONASTERY UNDER ARCHIMANDRITE THYRSUS (FIRS) IN THE YEAR OF 7198, THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER”. Thus, the inscription clearly states that the icon was painted in the Solovetsky Monastery in 1689. A unique silver iconsetting of the Evangel with the hammered composition of "The Fruits of the Sufferings of Christ” was also created on the Solovetsky Islands that year. This rare theme revealing Christ's atoning sacrifice appeared in Russian icon-painting only in the 17th century when icon-painters became familiar with Western European religious painting. Similar iconography is used in the engraving "The Crucifixion with Miracles” created by the artist Vasily Andreev in the 1680s; the theme can also be found quite often in Russian murals of the 17th-18th centuries.

The 17th century portable folding- box from the Preobrazhensky Cathedral is of considerable interest. Judging from old photographs it was part of the main iconostasis and was attached above the bottom row near the Royal Doors. The triptych-box with a keel top is decorated with silver gilt plates, laid-on nimbi and neck adornments decked with engravings, pearls or glass. The reverse is covered with brown leather and bonded with wrought iron plates. There is an inserted icon titled "The Holy Week with the Praying Zosima and Savvati Solovetsky” at the centre, the composition "The Holy Face” at the top, and the following religious feasts on the folds: "The Nativity of St. John the Baptist”, "The Exaltation of the Holy Cross”, "The Presentation of Our Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary into the Temple”, "The Beheading of St. John the Baptist”, "The Assumption” and the "Presentation of the Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir in Moscow”. Most of these subjects correspond with the feasts celebrating the saints of the Solovetsky Monastery.

The use of different materials in the creation of the folding icons, and the employment of a whole group of craftsmen, including an icon-painter, a silversmith, a blacksmith, a carpenter and a tanner, tells us that the monument was made in a major universal workshop. The Solovetsky Monastery would be the first candidate for such an attribution, although another major art centre of the north, Kholmogory, may also be responsible for the spread of triptychs similar in shape and material in the district of Pomorie.

"Pyadnichnye” icons devoted to reverends who became famous in the Russian North make up the most complete group: "Zosima and Savvati Solovetsky”, "Antoniy Siysky”, "Korniliy Komelsky”, "Dmitry Prilutsky”, "Dmitry and Ignaty Vologodsky”, "Kirill Belozersky”, "Ioann and Prokopiy Ustyuzhsky”. At the end of the 17th century people grew more and more interested in the acts of enthusiasts of the northern faith, especially after the establishment of the Velikoustyzhskaya, Kholmogorskaya and Vazhskaya eparchies in 1682. The end of the 17th century was a rather difficult time for the Russian Orthodox Church in the North. The official Church was struggling with dissent, and the resurrection and spread of the cult of local saints was aimed at bringing new strength to the official Orthodoxy. The rectors of the Solovetsky Monastery and especially Archbishop Afanasy of the Kholmogorsky and Vyazhsky regions supported the cult of northern saints. The iconography of northern saints was carefully stored in the Siysky exemplum to which northern artists referred for model icons.

The abundance of 17th century "pyadnichnye” icons with the image of the Holy Trinity in the vestry and the Trinity Cathedral is quite amazing, and many have preserved their precious settings. Most have the same iconographic model, very similar to the miracle-working "Trinity” icon painted, according to the legend, by Antoniy Siysky himself for the most important cathedral of the monastery he founded. This model icon is part of the Syisky exemplum,[3] with a traditional subject depicted against an architectural and mountain landscape background and the sprawling Oak of Mamre. Abraham and Sarah are depicted in full height with offerings, with an abundance of vessels and silverware on the table. The icon's margins are covered with wrought silver, and the top of the icons has silver in the "light”, meaning that it blocks part of the background which have no visual elements. The angels have two fingers extended just like on the model of the Syisky exemplum. It should be noted that the numerous crosses carved and painted in the Solovetsky Monastery in the 17th century have the image of either the Trinity or the Holy Face (Mandylion) at the top (cat. 326). We can assume that the subject of the Trinity became relevant for the Solovetsky Islands when the Anzersky Trinity Skete was built. The first wooden St. Trinity Church was dedicated there in 1621, replaced in 1645 by a stone church. In 1633 the Trinity Skete was granted independence by an order of the Tsar, maintained only until 1682 when it was made part of the Solovetsky Monastery again. Perhaps during the short period of its independence in the middle of the 17th century the image of the Trinity became the symbol of the Anzersky Trinity Skete and the icons and crosses with the image were made to be "handed out” to devotees.

The majority of "pyadnichnye” icons in the collections of northern museums can be traced to the monastery's vestry and the Trinity Cathedral. Many of them are adorned with a silver setting, while others clearly had such settings but lost them at some point. An inventory of the vestry treasury made under Archimandrite Firs in 1692 lists many of these icons. At the time they were kept in multi-part icon- cases near the columns of the Preobrazhensky Cathedral, close to the archbishop's place.[4] Since the archimandrite was officially established in the Solovetsky Monastery only in 1651 one can assume that the archbishop's place could have been organized in the second half of the 17th century. It is no wonder that many of the "pyadnichnye” icons belong to that period; in the 19th century most of them were moved to the reconstructed vestry and to the holy relics of the Trinity Cathedral.

There are several signed works among the Solovetsky icons of the 18th century, made by the Pomorie artist Vasily Chalkov. He came from a family of icon-painters who lived in Sumsky Posad, and the icon-painter's father Ivan Chalkov and his two brothers also painted icons. Vasily Chalkov began to learn to read and draw in the monastery school but from January 1740 until September 1742 he studied "the art of icon-painting” in Veliky Ustyug with the local artist Stepan Sokolov as his teacher. Vasily returned to the monastery because he was sent to Moscow for the winter in order to improve his skill. There are more than ten signed icons of this artist including a whole series of icons created in 1772 for the Voskresenskaya (Resurrection) Church on the Island of Anzer, the icons "Reverend Iraf (1784) and "The Resurrection of Lazarus” (1791).[5] Since Vasily Chalkov was signed up to serve as a soldier at the Solovetsky Monastery when he was a child some of his icons have the corresponding text: "Painted by the Solovetsky soldier Vasily Chalkov”. Chalkov's icons remind one of small secular pictures painted against a detailed landscape background. The figures of the saints are painted with the light-and- shadow technique, creating close-to- reality volume images.

The collection of Solovetsky icons in the museums of the Arkhangelsk region is indeed interesting, helping scholars to obtain a comprehensive idea of works originating from the monastery vestry and the Trinity Cathedral. There are several signed icons of the 17th- 18th centuries in the collection, which clearly state that they were created in the Solovetsky Monastery - itself a very important factor for researching northern icon-painting. A group of icons with the images of enthusiasts of the northern faith is of great iconographic interest, and their silver settings, nimbi and basmas are a sign of the high level of the silversmiths in the monastery. Overall, this collection is an important addition to the picture of the Solovetsky iconpainting legacy that has formed to date among researchers.

 

  1. V.P Nikolsky. Survey of the Department of Christian antiquities of the Museum of Solovetsky Society of Regional Studies. Section 1. Icons. The Solovetsky Islands, 1927; VV Skopin. Icon- painters on the Solovetsky Islands in the 16th-middle 18 th century// Ancient Russian art. Moscow, 1989. pp. 285-309; L.A. Shennikova. Researching the Solovetsky icons // Ancient Russian art: Artistic Monuments of the Russian North. Moscow, 1989, pp. 261-275; TM. Koltsova. Northern icon-painters. Arkhangelsk, 1998: Khoteenkova I.A. Three Hagiographic Icons of the 16 th century of the Venerable Zosima and Savvaty from the Solovetsky Monastery // The art of the Christian world. Issue VI: Collection of articles. Moscow, 2002, pp. 154-174; O.A. Polyakova. On the Solovetsky icons from the collection of the Museum Reserve Kolomenskoe. // The art of the Christian world. Issue VI: Collection of articles. Moscow, 2003, pp. 196-204.
  2. T.M. Koltsova. The icon titled "The Fruits of the Sufferings of Christ", 1689, from the collection of the Arkhangelsk Regional Museum of Visual Art // Readings on the research and restoration of monuments of the art culture of Northern Russia dedicated to the memory of the artist and restorer Nikolai Vasilievich Pertsev: Collection of articles. Arkhangelsk, 1992, pp.103-115.
  3. Russian State Library. Department of manuscripts. F-88. L. 265 (reverse) - 266.
  4. The St. Petersburg Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Science. Collection 2. D. 144.
  5. T.M. Koltsova. The Chalkovs, icon-painters of Pomorie // Popular Culture of the Russian North: Collection of articles / Compiled by TM. Koltsova. Arkhangelsk, 1997. pp. 183-192.

Illustrations

Trinity. Second half of the 17th century
Trinity. Second half of the 17th century
Russian North. Pomorie. From the vestry of the Solovetsky Monastery. Came into the Northern Regional Museum in 1923.
Single board, with two counter spleens, with a double cut-back centre. Levkas (chalk ground), tempera. Silver. Lettering, gold-plating (basma), engraving (metal adornments covering the halo). 32.5 by 27.3 cm
Dypitch Fold: The Abode of Zosima and Savvati, The Calvary Cross. Second half of the 16th century
Dypitch Fold: The Abode of Zosima and Savvati, The Calvary Cross. Second half of the 16th century
Came into the Regional Museum of the Arkhangelsk Region before 1929. Single board, with cut-back centre. Levkas (chalk ground), tempera, vermeil. Copper, silver. Lettering (basma, metal adornments, covering the halo). Metal. Hammer-work. 29 by 23 cm
The Holy Face The Saviour Not-Made-By-Human-Hands. Second half of the 17th century
The Holy Face The Saviour Not-Made-By-Human-Hands. Second half of the 17th century.
Russian North. Pomorie. From the Trinity Cathedral of the Solovetsky Monastery. Came into the Northern Regional Museum in 1923. Single board, double cut-back centre, two counter spleens. Pavoloka (canvas support), levkas (chalk ground), tempera. Silver. Lettering, gold-plating, engraving. 33 by 27.5 cm
The Menology. November. 16th century
The Menology. November. 16th century
Originates from the Chapel of the Nativity of Christ of the Malaya Muksalma Island of the Solovetsky Archipelago. Three-section board, with no cut-back centre, with two counter spleens. Pavoloka (canvas support), levkas (chalk ground), tempera, vermeil. 77 by 70 cm
Venerable Dimitriy and Ignatiy. Last third of the 17th century
Venerable Dimitriy and Ignatiy. Last third of the 17th century.
From the vestry of the Solovetsky Monastery. Single board, double cut-back centre. Pavoloka (canvas support), levkas (chalk ground), tempera. Silver. Lettering, gold-plating (basma), engraving (metal adornments covering the halo). 31 by 27 cm
Nikon, Patriarch of Moscow. Second half of the 18th century
Nikon, Patriarch of Moscow. Second half of the 18th century
Oil on canvas. 68.5 by 58 cm
Book of Psalms. 1791
Book of Psalms. 1791
Suprasl. Paper, wood, leather, metal. Print, xylography, lettering
Navicula. 1616
Navicula. 1916
Russia. Silver, chiseling, casting, engraving, goldplating. 9.7 by 14.1 cm; chain length, 36 cm
Chalice. 1751
Chalice. 1751
Moscow. Silver. Chiseling, casting, carving, minting, gold-plating. 27 by 16.8 cm
Labis (Communion Spoon). Before 1741, Moscow
Labis (Communion Spoon). Before 1741, Moscow.
Silver. Stamping, carving, gold-plating. 18 by 3.9 cm

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