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Oct 2, 2015. - Jan 10, 2016.

Saints and Dragons

Icons from Byzantium to Russia

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DETAILED ABOVE: Icon in Multiple Registers,, Pskov, Russia. Egg tempera on wood, ca. 1550. Image courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons. Click detail to see full image enlarged.

This exhibition comprises 160 extraordinary works of religious, historical, and artistic importance—rare icons and extraordinary artifacts that rarely leave the collections of The British Museum, London, and the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, Mass.

An icon is an image of a holy person or event, created by an iconographer who follows the strict standards of the Orthodox Church. They are typically sanctified and blessed by a priest. To the Orthodox believer, icons are more than religious art. They are holy objects.

These icons of Orthodox Christianity have powerful stories to tell. Some are believed to have worked miracles—healing the sick or saving a city from annihilation—while others have themselves been saved by the faithful during times of political conflict. They tell stories of the past while illuminating the holy of today.

One term you'll see numerous times in this exhibition is "Mother of God," the name given to The Virgin Mary in the Orthodox Church. She is not a mother in the sense that she is older than God or the source of her Son's divinity. Think of it as a logical syllogism: If Mary is the mother of Jesus, and if Jesus is God, then Mary is the Mother of God.

If the Mother of God is the most common image in the exhbition, the most popular saint would be Saint George. He was a young Roman soldier who rose quickly through ranks and used his military travels to spread Christianity. This was illegal in the early 300s AD, and generals and the governor used both bribes and torture to get him to renounce his faith. Saint George's refusal—and subsequent execution—made him a venerated paragon of faith and strength for centuries. The legend of his slaying a dragon did not appear until centuries after his death.

Saints and Dragons: Icons from Byzantium to Russia is organized by The Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, Mass., in cooperation with The British Museum, London. The show runs from Oct. 2, 2015, to Jan. 10, 2016, and admission is free. For more information on the exhibition, click here.

The Miracle of Saint George and the Dragon, also called The Black George
Egg tempera on wood
Novgorod, Russia, early 1400s
Courtesy of the British Museum

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