It is a great shame that the British Museum has so few icons in its collection, but those that it does have are of major significance, and can now be viewed in the online catalogue of the Museum of Russian Icons in collaboration with the British Museum and curated by the world renowned Professor Robin Cormack with Professor Maria Vassilaki.
You can view the British Museum contribution here.
The Museum of Russian Icons (MoRI) has been selected by The British Museum to host their online catalogue for Byzantine and Greek icons, featuring 32 historically significant works created between the 13th and 19th centuries. The catalogue (www.museumofrussianicons.org/british-museum-catalogue/) features photos and object entries generated directly from the collection database, reflecting the most current research and study of these important works.
The only museum in the U.S. dedicated to Russian icons, MoRI holds the largest collection of icons outside of Russia; and serves as a leading international centre for research and scholarship through the Center for Icon Studies (CIS). This partnership is the result of a long-term relationship which started in 2010 with the collaborative exhibition Saints and Dragons: Icons from Byzantium to Russia, that featured works from the British Museum’s and MoRI’s collections.
According to MoRI CEO and Curator Kent Russell, “The Museum of Russian Icons, while only a decade old, has forged this amazing partnership with the renowned British Museum in record time. We have secured our own international reputation as a research center for the study of icons-representing the Russian, Slavonic, Greek and Byzantine cultures-with this cataloguing joint venture.”
The British Museum’s entire collection of icons, numbering just over 100 items, constitutes the largest public collection of icons in the United Kingdom. The collection falls into three discrete areas: Byzantine icons, dating from between the mid-13th to the late 14th century and Greek (mainly Cretan) icons, ranging in date from the 14th through to the 19th century; and Russian icons. Their subjects show the narratives of the Christian story, of the saints and predominantly of the images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, Mother of God.
Well represented in the collections is art created in Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire (330-1453 AD); and important icons produced by the artists of the island of Crete, distinctive for their synthesis of traditional Byzantine forms with the new ideas of painting in Renaissance Italy, which was under Venetian control from the early 13th century up to 1669.
The majority of the icons in the British Museum are gifts or bequests, and in this respect, they reflect the tastes and interests of the various donors. One, the icon with St. Jerome, has a fascinating modern history. It was acquired by the famous Victorian connoisseur John Ruskin (1819-1900) in the 19th century, was later donated to the National Gallery in 1922, and subsequently was transferred to the British Museum in 1994. It has only recently been identified as a work by a 15th-century Cretan-trained artist, who may have painted it in Venice.
The curators of the web catalogue are Professor Robin Cormack; Professor Maria Vassilaki; Dr. Eleni Dimitriadou; and (in one entry) Dr. Dimitra Kotoula; with contributions from Christopher Entwistle, and special thanks to Professor Wendy Salmond (editor, Journal of Icons Studies, Chapman University).
Learn more about Museum of Russian Icons here.