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Russian icon painters have cultivated a consistent style that has remained relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. As sacred objects endowed with spiritual power and created by artists ordained for the task, their function is markedly different than a Roman Catholic altarpiece. How does iconic consistency of style and symbolism stand in contrast to the practice of creativity and innovation that are the hallmark of most Western art movements from the Renaissance forward? How does the function and nature of the icon affect the style and creation of the object?

Russian Icon Nativity and Adoration of the Magi

Gift of Richard B. and Nadene Oliver


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Many of the Western movements represented elsewhere in this exhibition privilege creativity and innovation, bringing credit to the individual artist (often heralded as a genius) who came up with this idea. On the other hand, the Russian icon painters act as servants of God and do not take individual credit for their creations. (Notice that the artist is not identified in the Russian icon within the MOA collection.)

The fact that the work is meant to help transport the viewer to an otherworldly dimension is a marked departure from the Renaissance attempt to make the sacred more familiar by placing it in secular settings.