March 20, 2020

This Icon was painted in the 19th century in Russia. There are no records of how this icon got into this country, but we can learn some things just from looking at it. For example, we know what it is called based on how Mary and infant Jesus are depicted. It is the Kazan icon of the Mother of God. The most common icon-painting medium is tempera on wood, and this icon is no exception. Tempera is a mixture of color pigments and egg yolk. The finely worked cover of the icon is made of silver. It was a widespread practice in the 19th century to cover icons with metal or other decorative covers.

Russian icons usually have a prototype. The prototype is an icon that was so remarkable in some way (for example working a miracle) that many more icons were painted after it. The first Kazan icon appeared in the city of Kazan on the Volga River in 1579 after a devastating fire. For one reason or another, it became extremely popular and thousands and thousands of Kazan icons were painted over the course of centuries.

The Museum of Russian Art received this Kazan icon from Cynthia Lyman in 2015. This is how most museum collections grow – through donations of private collectors when they decide to find a permanent home for their art and to share it with other people. There are few other things in the world that are as generously shared as art. Imagine a person collecting precious paintings or sculptures all of their life, spending enormous amounts of money, hoping it’s a good investment…realizing in the end that it would be impossible to send it back where it came from – to the market…that it needs to be shared. Thus, the cherished art from well-appointed homes ends up in a public museum.

– Dr. Masha Zavialova, Chief Curator & Head of Collections, The Museum of Russian Art