THE ICON COLLECTION OF THE YAROSLAVL ART MUSEUM

Olga Kuznetsova, Alexei Fedorchuk

Article: 
RUSSIA’S GOLDEN MAP
Magazine issue: 
#4 2007 (17)

The Yaroslavl Art Museum is the successor to the art gallery that existed in the city from 1919 to 1924. After several administrative transformations the gallery was renamed the Yaroslavl Museum of Arts and became part of various museum associations. Only in 1969 did the museum gain independence from the organisation known as the Yaroslavl-Rostov Museum-Preserve. When first opened the Yaroslavl Art Museum housed an icon collection of about 1,400 items, with the majority of the collection formed in the late 1920s and 1930s.

Yaroslavl's icon collection began with the establishment of the Yaroslavl Restoration Commission in 1918 (from 1924 this became the Yaroslavl division of the TsGRM, the Russian acronym for the Central State Restoration Workshops). One of the main aims of the Commission was to repair the destruction wrought by the White Guard uprising in the summer of 1918. During the suppression of the uprising, artillery was fired point-blank in the city and many architectural monuments were ruined or severely damaged. The TsGRM body in Yaroslavl was headed by Pyotr Dmitrievich Baranovsky, while Nikolai Ivanovich Bryagin led the work on restoring icon paintings. Alexander Ivanovich Anisimov, a TsGRM research supervisor and professor at both Moscow and Yaroslavl Universities, played a major role in the preservation of Yaroslavl's historic relics. It was Anisimov who insisted on removing the most valuable examples of "easel painting” and storing them in Yaroslavl's restoration workshop for protection. At the time this was the only reliable way to prevent hundreds of icons from being lost to posterity.

Remarkable achievements were made by this small group of restoration workshops. Despite insufficient funding workers at the TsGRM's Yaroslavl branch quickly repaired icons in imminent danger and transferred to their own repositories Old Russian art works kept in churches either slated for demolition or adapted to other more practical purposes. Due to the limited time available for transportation from these churches, the cramped conditions of the repositories and the inadequate numbers of staff, some of the icons unfortunately could not be provided with their necessary documentation, and information on their origins was lost.

At the same time work began on removing later over-painting and darkened drying oil from ancient icons. More than 30 works of art were restored at the Yaroslavl TsGRM, including some that became the pride of the museum collection: the 13th-century "Christ the Almighty” and the "Mother of God of Tolga” dating from 1314. In 1926 Yaroslavl's first exhibition of restored icons was a great success.

Nonetheless, in 1931 the Yaroslavl branch of the TsGRM was abolished and icons from the restoration workshop were transferred to the museum collection. The majority came from the Transfiguration of Christ the Saviour (Spaso-Preobrazhensky) Monastery, the Tolga and Kazan Monasteries, the Assumption (Uspensky) Cathedral in Yaroslavl, and the city's various parish churches.

During the Second World War the museum's icon collection suffered another blow: the fund was closed and sealed. For the next four years the icons were housed in damp, unaired premises and consequently many were affected by fungal growth. At a review of the Old Russian fund in 1946 the condition of the majority of items was deemed critical. Workers at the Grabar State Central Art Restoration Workshops again came to the aid of Yaroslavl. Restorers from Moscow visited the museum for a period of several years and managed to rescue a considerable proportion of the fund from what had been a critical condition. Obviously it was essential to reopen a restoration workshop in Yaroslavl itself, and finally, in 1952, work was resumed. Nikolai Pertsev, Vera Bryusova and Viktor Filatov actively participated in the renewed restoration work on Yaroslavl's icons.

In the next decade an especially important role in the conservation and study of Yaroslavl icon painting was played by Vladimir Petrovich Mitrofanov and Yelena Pavlovna Yudina.

Mitrofanov (1904-1994) - in his youth a Komsomol activist who had participated in the militant atheist movement - came to the museum in later years and was remarkably energetic in his campaign to save the icons of Yaroslavl. Lacking any special education, he was hungry for the knowledge he derived from scholarly works and from his association with Moscow restorers and museum workers Viktor Filatov and Natalia Demina. During Mitrofanov's activities, first as museum director (1952-1959), and subsequently as head of the Old Russian Art departmerit (1959-1968), some 40 icons were restored at the Grabar Centre in Moscow, including the following works from the 14th to 15th centuries: "The Prophet Elijah in the Wilderness”, the "Deisis” from the Church of St. Paraskeva Friday at Vspolye, and several masterpieces of 17th-century icon painting by Semyon Spiridonov Kholmogorets.

Yudina (1926-1992) was instrumental in the revival of Yaroslavl icon restoration in the city itself. She received her first lessons in the art of restoration from Viktor Filatov, who often visited Yaroslavl. Later, Yudina headed the local tempera painting restoration workshop and led extensive operations to uncover icons from the Churches of the Prophet Elijah, the Fyodorov Mother of God and the Hierarch St. John Chrysostom in Korovniki.

In the 1960s the collection of icon painting continued to expand. The museum received more than 300 works from USSR Ministry of Culture expeditions to churches in the Rostov, Borisogleb, Gavrilov-Yamsky, Bolsheselsky, Prechistensky, Uglich and Poshekhonsky districts of the Yaroslavl region. Icons were also brought here after the closure of the Yaroslavl Anti-Religious Museum and the Tutayev Local History Museum.

The "Catalogue of the State Yaroslavl-Rostov        Historical, Architectural and Art Museum-Preserve” compiled by Mitrofanov and Yudina was published in 1964. The section on Old Russian Painting from the 13th to early 18th centuries was small and reflected only the Yaroslavl part of the icon collection in the Yaroslavl-Rostov Museum. This was the first attempt to catalogue the Yaroslavl icon paintings and the starting point for subsequent systematic studies.

In 1969 a decision was taken to divide the Yaroslavl-Rostov Museum-Preserve into three independent institutions: the Yaroslavl Art Museum, the Yaroslavl Historical, Architectural and Art Museum-Preserve, and the Museum-Preserve in Rostov Veliky (Rostov the Great). As a result this unique collection of Yaroslavl icon painting from shared sources was broken into two parts. Icons from ruined city churches and surviving churches that were not converted into museums were transferred to the Art Museum. In addition the Art Museum collection received works from expeditions in the Yaroslavl region.

From the 1970s to 1980s the museum's chief curator Tatiana Vasilyeva made a considerable contribution to acquisitions for the icon-painting funds. With her active involvement the Yaroslavl Art Museum collection was augmented with icons from the Danilov, Lyubim, Gavrilov-Yamsky and Nekrasov districts. The remarkable number of restored works of art once again attracted the attention of researchers involved in Yaroslavl iconography. The 1970s saw the publication of studies by Viktor Filatov, Sergei Maslenitsyn, VG Bryusova and Tatiana Kazakevich on the art monuments of Yaroslavl.

In 1977 a restoration department was opened in the Yaroslavl Art Museum - the first of its kind in the province, headed by Yudina. In a short time she succeeded not only in organising restoration work, but also in educating an abundance of professional restorers, and her pupils continue their prolific work to this day.

In the same year the 17th-century Metropolitan's Chambers were given to the Yaroslavl Art Museum as a venue for exhibiting Old Russian art. This unique monument, the Yaroslavl residence of the Rostov Metropolitan Iona Sysoyevich, was restored in the 1920s by PD. Baranovsky. After restoration the building was occupied by the art gallery. Symbolically, during inspection of the Metropolitan's Chambers in 1977 prior to installation of the Old Russian exhibits, museum workers discovered more than 80 icons that had been carefully hidden under layers of earth in the attic of the building. The icons were so carefully positioned that damage to the painted surfaces was minimal. Museum chief curator Tatiana Vasilyeva consulted with Pyotr Baranovsky, who determined that the icons originated from the Cathedral of the Assumption and the Church of St. John Chrysostom, both of which had stood beside the Chambers and were later demolished.

Throughout the 1920s the restoration workshop repositories were overflowing, and consequently the number of icons that could be taken from each church was limited - in many cases only the most ancient could be removed. In their bid to save the church decorations of ancient Yaroslavl the restorers hid the icons in the Chambers, which were closed at the time. Now, on the eve of the city's millennium celebrations, the museum is preparing an exhibit entitled "Discovery” (Obreteniye), where the restored icons found in 1977 will be shown for the very first time. Cultural monuments of the 17th to 18th centuries predominate among them, but there are also more ancient images. One of these, the icon of "The Resurrection - Descent into Hell”, features a rare iconographic type. Also of interest are 19th-century works that were probably excluded from the museum collection when they were painted.

An Old Russian art section headed by Irina Bolotseva (1944-1995) was opened in 1980 in the Chambers, based on the existing exhibition. Bolotseva was devoted to her city and to the preservation and study of Yaroslavl icons.

Maintaining friendly relations with N.V. Pertsev and direct communication with the pioneers of Yaroslavl icon painting, she was guided by their experience.

It was Bolotseva who first set the task of studying church complexes in their entirety. She began systematic work to determine the origin of icons according to archive information. This was particularly important for the Yaroslavl Art Museum, since when the collection of Yaroslavl icons was divided the Art Museum received works without any information on their origins. Clarification of an item's connection with a specific church in many cases enabled experts to define the date of execution, interpret the iconographic particularities more fully and give a more precise hypothesis of the icon painter's identity.

She considered not only the study, but also the propaganda of medieval Yaroslavl's cultural heritage to be her life's work. In 1980 together with the Moscow art expert and restorer Savely Yamshchikov she organised a large-scale exhibition entitled "Yaroslavl Icon Painting of the 13th to Early 18th Centuries”, which was well received in both Yaroslavl and Leningrad. The first exhibitions abroad were also due to her hard work, giving the French and German public an opportunity to learn about Yaroslavl art.

Bolotseva selected from the archives and sent for restoration in Moscow a large number of icons which, in her view, would provide a new understanding of stages in the development of Yaroslavl iconography. Unfortunately her untimely death prevented the realisation of all her many plans and wide-ranging projects; her work is continued by her colleagues in the department she herself created.

Extensive research is now taking place there. The first volume of a catalogue listing the museum's collection of icon painting from the 13th to 16th centuries has already been published, and a second volume covering the period up to the early 18th century is now ready for printing. Staff working in the department have prepared over 300 scholarly publications on icons in the museum's collection. A conference in honour of Bolotseva is held in the Chambers every year, gathering together leading researchers in Old Russian culture. Articles by participating scholars are published at the conclusion of each conference.

The Yaroslavl Art Museum now pays particular attention to icon restoration. Works from Yaroslavl are cleaned of later over-painting not only in the restoration department of the museum in Yaroslavl, but also at the Grabar All-Russian Scientific Restoration Centre of Fine Art, the Inter-Regional Scientific Fine Art Restoration Agency in Moscow, and the Rerikh Restoration Institute in St. Petersburg. Sponsors assist the museum's restoration work, with more than half of the 50 icons restored at the museum in the last decade financed by private donations.

Intensive restoration activities have allowed the museum to considerably expand the exhibitions and set up an exhibition fund. The exhibitions "In Praise of the Mother of God”, "Protectors of the People” and "Small Masterpieces by Great Masters” were initially intended for those Russian cities where the icon painting collection was, for various reasons, not as rich and diverse as in Yaroslavl. Successful exhibitions of Yaroslavl icons have been held in Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, Ivanov, Kaliningrad, Novosibirsk, Samara and Saratov.

The exhibition "101 Icons from Yaroslavl” is the result of study and restoration work on the museum collection. Never before has such a large number of 17th- to 18th-century masterpieces been shown outside the city. Most of the icons are being exhibited for the first time after restoration. It allows us a new understanding of the origins and flowering of Yaroslavl icon painting in the 17th century, and the continuation and development of local artistic traditions in the following century.

Of course, organising such a comprehensive exhibition would have been impossible without many years of painstaking toil by several generations of Yaroslavl Museum workers, and restorers in Yaroslavl, St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Illustrations

“In Thee Rejoiceth”. First half of the 17th century
“In Thee Rejoiceth”. First half of the 17th century
Iosif Vladimirov's circle (?) The Nativity of Christ. Mid-17th century
Iosif Vladimirov's circle (?) The Nativity of Christ. Mid-17th century
Gurii Nikitin’s circle. The Festival Tier. The Nativity of the Virgin Mary. 1680s
Gurii Nikitin’s circle. The Festival Tier. The Nativity of the Virgin Mary. 1680s
Fyodor Evtikhiev ZUBOV. The Prophet Elijah in the Wilderness. 1672
Fyodor Evtikhiev ZUBOV. The Prophet Elijah in the Wilderness. 1672
St. Simeon the God-Receiver. Late 17th century
St. Simeon the God-Receiver. Late 17th century
The Paternity. Third quarter of the 17th century
The Paternity. Third quarter of the 17th century
Christ and the Woman of Samaria (The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman). 1698
Christ and the Woman of Samaria (The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman). 1698
St. Princes Theodore, David and Konstantin; St. Princes Vasily and Konstantin; miracleworkers from Yaroslavl and St. Makarius of Unzha praying before the icon of the Mother of God of Tolga. Late 17th – early 18th century
St. Princes Theodore, David and Konstantin; St. Princes Vasily and Konstantin; miracleworkers from Yaroslavl and St. Makarius of Unzha praying before the icon of the Mother of God of Tolga. Late 17th – early 18th century
The Archangel Michael. First half of the 18th century
The Archangel Michael. First half of the 18th century
The Assembly of the Archangel Michael. Early 18th century
The Assembly of the Archangel Michael. Early 18th century
The Mother of God Enthroned, with the “Joys” of the Mother of God. Second half of the 18th century
The Mother of God Enthroned, with the “Joys” of the Mother of God. Second half of the 18th century
Ivan SMIRNOV. Our Lady of Yaroslavl. First half of the 16th century
Ivan SMIRNOV. Our Lady of Yaroslavl. First half of the 16th century
Frame with the images of St. Princes Vasily and Konstantin and miracleworkers from Yaroslavl, and with icon border scenes depicting The Mother of God’s miracles and with scenes from miracle-working icons of the Mother of God. 1803

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