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Saints and Dragons

Icons from Byzantium to Russia

NORFOLK, VA. (September 17, 2015)—Look through more than 150 "windows onto heaven" with the Chrysler Museum of Art's fall keynote exhibition, Saints and Dragons: Icons from Byzantium to Russia.

Organized by the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass., in cooperation with The British Museum in London, Saints and Dragons comprises scores of rare icons and artifacts, each an extraordinary work of religious, historical, and artistic significance. Through these compelling works, visitors can explore the sacred art of the Orthodox Church from its Greek origins in ancient Byzantium and through the storied history of Christianity in Russia and beyond.

The exhibition breaks new ground in that it marks the first time that The British Museum has loaned two of its most spectacular icons to any American museum. The opportunity to view its Saint John the Forerunner (Constantinople, ca. 1300) and the famous Miracle of Saint George and the Dragon (also known as the Black Saint George (Russia, late-14th century) makes Saints and Dragons a must-see exhibition. They are two of the oldest and finest icons in existence.

"The Chrysler Museum of Art is very fortunate to have these rare and beautiful works of art on loan," says Director Erik Neil. "You'd have to travel quite a ways to have the opportunity to see such stunning and significant icons again."

Susan Leidy, the Chrysler's Deputy Director and project manager for the exhibition, agrees. "We've been working for a number of years with our colleagues in New England and London to bring these exceptional works of art and devotion to audiences in Norfolk. We are proud that the Chrysler Museum of Art is one of the only two places in the United States where these works will be shown."

In fact, Saints and Dragons at the Chrysler will be the only American venue ever to display six ivory icons from the collection of The British Museum. Though The Museum of Russian Icons had requested these ancient works for the show's debut, government restrictions on the import of elephant ivory precluded their inclusion. With the help of officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chrysler was able to gain the approvals to secure them for our expanded version of the exhibition.

The icons in Saints and Dragons represent a wide variety of artistic mediums and techniques. Though many icons are painted in egg tempera on wood, visitors also will find carved stone, engraved gems, cast glass, metalwork, textiles, detailed mosaics, colorful enameling, and extensive gold and silver gilding. The beauty with which the icons present holy subjects and events conveys that they are wordless witnesses to glorious spiritual truths.

"Once you see these extraordinary objects, you'll be transfixed. The rich gilding, the fine details, the powerful message of faith—it's hard to look away," says the show's curator, Interpretation Manager Seth Feman. "These icons are designed to be like windows onto heaven. Our visitors will be delighted by what they discover."

Icons: Truth Beyond Beauty
The religious imagery in these beautiful icons is part of an artistic tradition that spans millennia. They are rich in biblical symbolism and sacred storytelling, but they follow careful compositions that are ages old. Newer icons draw their strength from reliance on Church- approved "originating icons" that have performed miracles such as healing the sick or saving a city from certain annihilation. Iconographers, literally "image writers," are no more likely, then, to change an accepted depiction than the devout would alter the words of a Bible verse.

Icons also are consecrated objects, sacred to Orthodox Christians. The faithful see them not just as a reminder of the sacrifices made by the holy saints depicted, but as a way communing with the divine. Icons are believed to convey the mystical presence of their subjects, be it Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, an angel, or a stalwart apostle, prophet, or martyr for the faith. When the devout look at an icon, they are said to gaze past the image and to peer into the spiritual realm—as if looking through a window onto heaven. As such, the Chrysler welcomes its visitors to Saints and Dragons to venerate the icons, provided that they do not touch these valuable, revered works.

Though many of the icons are rare and fragile, their power is unquestionable, and each has its own story to tell. Some are believed to have worked miracles and delivered the faithful from evil; others themselves have been rescued from iconoclasts who sought to destroy them, or were protected by the devout during times of political conflict. All are sacred works of art.

The Chrysler Museum of Art invites visitors to experience the icons in their fullness: examining them in this temporal, physical world and exploring how they illuminate both history and the divine.

Saints and Dragons: Icons from Byzantium to Russia is on view at the Chrysler Museum of Art from Oct. 2, 2015 through Jan.10, 2016. Admission is free.

Contact Kate Lewis
kate@themeridiangroup.com
(757) 340-7425

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