Second quarter - middle of the XIXth century. Palekh

Experts on the Publication of Oleg Kushnirskiy’s Icon Collection Catalog

The Russian Icon Collection editorial team spoke with experts who have already familiarized themselves with the Oleg Kushnirskiy’s icon collection catalog. We asked them to share their opinion on the book, the icons presented, and the value of the catalog for specialists and the general public. We are pleased to share their professional perspectives with you.

Pavel Pavlinov

Head of the Department of Theory and History of Art at the V.I. Surikov Moscow State Academic Art Institute (MGAKI)

The release of these icon collection catalog is really important and exciting. I asked Oleg Kushnirskiy for a few copies to have in the MGAKI library. The catalog caught the attention of the faculty, including Evgeny Nikolaevich Maksimov, a well-known artist who leads the monumental painting workshop. I introduced the catalog to my art history students, and some of them have already chosen seminar topics based on the icons featured in it. I also want to mention that the catalog is of excellent quality, allowing us to examine the collection in detail.

Experts on the Oleg Kushnirsky's Icon Collection Catalog

Oleg Kushnirsky’s Icon Collection Catalog

Anna Sokolskaya

Cultural studies expert, host of art programs on “Radio Moscow”

I have been fond of the Mikhail Abramov Museum of Russian Icon for a long time. I invite their staff to the radio station, and I also visit their exhibitions. It’s wonderful that the book launch took place there. On one hand, it is a private institution, and on the other hand, it is a museum that holds great authority among iconography specialists both in Russia and abroad.

As someone who professionally studies the Synodal period of the Russian Church and New Time, I find the timeframe chosen by Oleg Kushnirskiy for his collection very interesting. While we are familiar with ancient Russian iconography, we often overlook the artistic merits of icons from the second half of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. We sometimes forget that icons are not just artworks but also sacred objects. To some extent, they express the aesthetic and cultural beliefs of the entire people, of course, within the church canon. In Kushnirskiy’s collection, a significant place is given to icons depicting the Harrowing of Hades. It is striking how the interest of iconographers in this theme correlates with the translation of the Bible into Russian in the second half of the 19th century.

I would also add that the fact that the collection was formed in America provides a fresh perspective on the words once spoken by Zinaida Gippius: “We are not exiled; we are messengers.”  It is remarkable that the collection has been assembled, reflected upon, and is now available for study.

Experts on the Publication of Oleg Kushnirsky's Icon Collection Catalog

The Yearly Menaion
(a set of 12 icons of saints commemorated every month). Second quarter – middle of the XIXth century. Palekh

Andrey Boldyrev

Collector and host of the YouTube channel “Russian Icons. Andrey Boldyrev Presents”

We must evaluate any collection from the perspective of its completeness and the extent to which it sheds light on a particular phenomenon. A collection is not just a set of artifacts: all the works within it are connected by a certain idea. It is very important that Oleg Kushnirskiy’s collection is a unity, where each element has significance. Thus, the collection as a whole turns out to be more valuable than just the sum of the works that make it up.

The collection, although unevenly, presents major icon painting centers of the 18th-19th centuries: Mstyora, Palekh, Kholui, Vetka, and Guslitsy. While I won’t delve into every work in detail, I’d like to highlight a particularly interesting piece – the yearly Menaion. This icon comprises twelve monthly Menaia, which encompass the entire annual cycle of worship. While such items are not that rare, they are usually found individually. A complete set of Menaia offers great material for study and analysis. Another noteworthy aspect of this artwork is that there are always more saints venerated on a particular day than those depicted on this or any other icon. So figuring out why the icon painter made a specific choice is a challenging yet rewarding task. 

Last but not least, I would like to emphasize the exceptional quality of the catalog, which showcases each icon from multiple angles.  In other publications, only selected monuments are shown in such detail. This makes the book a valuable resource for restorers and contemporary icon painters, who can use it as a reference. 

Experts on the Publication of Oleg Kushnirsky's Icon Collection Catalog

May Menaion. Second quarter – middle of the XIXth century. Palekh

Anastasia Likhenko

Staff member of the Department of Ancient Russian Art at the State Tretyakov Gallery

It is always a great joy when collectors choose to publish their collection rather than keep it hidden away. This is of great importance for the advancement of art history studies as the catalog brings forth a range of artifacts into scholarly discussions that were previously unknown to both specialists and the broader community of ancient Russian art enthusiasts. It was incredibly gratifying to witness the numerous colleagues at the book launch of Oleg Kushnirskiy’s collection catalog and to hear the warm words of appreciation with which they welcomed the publication.