From Russia, With Love

A few years ago, my husband took a business trip to Russia. He was able to do some exploring, and came back with some pretty wonderful souvenirs. In addition to a wonderful hand painted matryoshka doll set and some lacquerware, he also brought back two very different Russian icons.

Although I've admired my fair share of icons at museums and churches, I really didn't know much about them. So, I turned to Solrunn Nes' THE MYSTICAL LANGUAGE OF ICONS to see if I could learn more about our icons.

SONY DSCIt turns out that traditional icon painting is a pretty time-consuming and standardized form of art. There are rules about composition and certain motifs that are copied.

The wood panels go through multiple processing steps before the primer and gold foil can even be applied. Then, the egg tempera paint is layered on until the final image is attained. If you're interested in reading a nice introduction to icons, how they are constructed, and why, I highly suggest checking Solrunn Nes' book out.

This egg-shaped icon is the more modern of the two my husband brought home. This motif is referred to as Our Lady of Tenderness. Although they're hard to see, the Greek letters "MP" to the left and "ΘV" to the right are abbreviations for Mother of God.

SONY DSCThe second Russian icon is older and on the traditional wood panel, although this one is slightly convex. Most of the gilding is faded, and the colors aren't nearly as bright as the icon above, but this piece clearly has history, which makes it cool to look at.

SONY DSCIt's been through a lot since it was painted, including an insect infestation that we treated with cold temperature and Scott's Liquid Gold applied with a Pasteur pipette.

SONY DSCAnd, unfortunately, some of the wear on the paint has effected the name of the Saint along the bottom. This icon isn't one of the motifs detailed in Nes' book, and I was having some trouble making out the Cyrillic letters, so it was tricky identifying the subject. I even tried going a little amateur-CSI on it, enhancing a photo to see if I can spot a few clues. Turns out, I'm no good with figuring out foreign alphabets.

SONY DSCSo, I used a slower method of looking up icons until I came to a matching motif. It was like a Internet scavenger hunt, and lo, and behold...I came across an icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Ding, ding, ding. I think we have a match. I found a great site here that helped me figure it out.

What do you think?