A Review of the Collection by Natalia Komashko

A Review of the Collection by Natalia Komashko

We are honored to present a review of Oleg Kushnirkiy’s collection written by Natalia Komashko, a famous and internationally renowned expert in the field of icon painting!

A review of the collection by Natalia Komashko

During the long year of my interaction with icon collectors — an interaction brought about by my humble role as a leading expert and curator of museum exhibitions — I had the opportunity to see and sometimes explore many private collections. The collections, in fact, were quite diverse in their nature, and their owners often contrasted one another. Each of them, even if one could suspect a commercial interest in collecting, acquired only those items that were attractive to them personally. It was the personal factor that determined the face and character of each collection. Among them were huge collections, rivaling in number with some museum depositories. And the collectors who brought them together clearly had the ambition to create a museum, a museum that would exhibit the evolution of iconography, from antiquity to the beginning of the 20th century. Others were limited to a certain topic, and they had fewer items, but the collection was not a superficial review, but an in-depth study of the chosen topic. Such collectors, as practice has shown, are able to significantly influence modern-day research on icon painting. This is especially true of the Modern Era, the active study of which in icon painting has recently been largely inspired by private collections and their owners, who seek to establish friendship and cordial relationships with art historians.

Among such thematic collections, with which I had the opportunity to get personally acquainted, were the most diverse areas of icon-collecting. These include interest in medieval art, ending at the end of the 16th century, and works of art from the Armory Chamber, depictions of Russian saints, and large-format and miniature icons, and various icon-painting centers, mainly the ones established by the Old Believers. It would seem that I have seen everything. But, nevertheless, the collection of Oleg Kushnirskiy still managed to surprise me.

Oleg Kushnirkiy’s collection, by the standards of other collections, might seem small, however, it, if I may say so, it turned out to be a true revelation for an academic. The owner is clearly attracted by works hallmarked by miniature icon-painting, which can be seen in detail, as well as the late modern icon with its honed mastery of stylization of the ancient tradition and variations on the selected and hallowed themes. But that is not the main point. This is the first time I have come across such fidelity to a single iconography since the images of the Resurrection of Christ with the Feasts clearly prevail in the collection — numerically and purposefully. This scenario was, indeed, the most popular in the iconography of the New Modern, such icons were painted in large numbers in the largest icon-painting centers of the Vladimir province because of the great demand since all the main holidays of the Orthodox church calendar are represented on a single board. And it was very convenient. The people called them “polnitsa” or “full cycle”. Such icons can even be considered an independent genre.

Oleg Kushnirskiy’s collection does not have a very large chronological coverage. The icons of the 17th century serve rather as a starting point since the main part of the collection is mainly tied to the 19th century. Changes in the style of Russian icons of the 18th —19th centuries, with a marked passion for baroque, rococo, and classicism styles that coincided with a paradoxical return to tradition, can be traced here on the monuments of the “polnitsa” (full cycle) iconography beloved by the owners and commissioners, and the latest works can even be divided into groups according to the workshops where they were created.

Perhaps, for some, the very fact that the collection consists of pieces belonging to the Modern Period may cause skepticism in relation to this collection among lovers of “extreme” antiquity. But modern researchers have long come to the conclusion that there are no bad times for painting an icon. And in the later periods, we witnessed the birth of genuine masterpieces. Each era has contributed to the development of the art of icon painting, and the collection of Oleg Kushnirskiy confirms this thesis in a very special way.