Icons of the Late Empire: Story and Art

Collection of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library

TMORA presents an exhibition of religious icons drawn from the collection of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Collegeville, MN.

In 2021, HMML received a large donation of Russian icons from the estate of Edmund Gronkiewicz, a polyglot, a deacon, and a Knight of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta.

Icons are religious objects used in prayer. They depict divine beings and saints, bringing the participants of the heavenly drama to life for an Orthodox believer. Traditionally, icons are painted with egg tempera on wooden panels. The art of icon painting arrived in Eastern Europe from the Byzantine Empire and, for a millennium, lived up to its purpose– to spread and teach the Christian faith. In Byzantium, ever since Christianity was legalized in 313 C.E., religious images were created in mosaic, metal, paint, and other media, but came to the brink of extinction in the 8th and 9th centuries, during the era of iconoclasm, a
state-approved war on icons.

In the Russian Empire, icons could be found not only in churches but also in every Orthodox household, accompanying believers on their life’s journey from birth to death. Several distinct icon painting traditions emerged in Novgorod, Pskov, Suzdal, Moscow, and other icon painting centers in the 15th and 16th centuries, considered the Golden Age of Russian icon painting.

Icons are the visual language of Eastern Christianity. Their rich vocabulary of symbols is familiar to an Orthodox believer. Through icons, the faithful can visualize the other world inhabited by saints, angels, and divine beings. During the religious service, icons create a sense of divine presence: parishioners stand in prayer side-by-side with angels and saints whose images look at them from every nook and corner of the church.

Of all the treasures of Russian religious art, 19th century icons are the least explored. Considered an afterthought of the ancient art by many art lovers, collectors, and art historians of the period, 19th century icons are emerging into the contemporary art scene as artworks of great interest to collectors and museums.

July 22 – November 26, 2023

Mezzanine Gallery

Nativity of the Mother of God, 1890-1900
Tempera and gilding on wood
Collection of Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), Collegeville, Minnesota

St. Catherine of Alexandria, 19th century
Tempera and gilding on wood with pearl and glass beading and metal foil cover with paste stones
Collection of Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), Collegeville, Minnesota