Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ancient image of the Blessed Virgin




I went up to London yesterday and just happened to find this, which was, before you read further, dirt cheap, and is likely to increase in value. Eastern European art prices are projected to rise, even Communist era stuff.

It is a late 16th or early 17th Century image of the Mother of God, the panel is pine or spruce, extremely worm eaten, it has obviously been glued together a few times, there a holes that have been filled with bee’s wax. The panel is so light, I had to check it was wood rather than papier-mâché.
Its preservation is an indication of the devotion it had presumable for one family. It is one leaf of diptych, the other leaf would have been Christ, most probably it would have been a wedding gift. I think it is most probably Romanian, it could be Russian, though the style of painting could even suggest Northern Greece. If anyone has any expertise I would interested to know your thoughts about it. I am not sure that the photograph accurately records the depth of the colour.

Holding something this ancient makes one think of the prayers that would have been offered before it, the joys and tragedies it witnessed, newly weds, mothers giving birth, sons going off to war, famine and feasting, pestilence and plague, the state destruction of religion and its regained freedom. It presumably left its homeland with the coming of Communism.
Christianity is a religion of nostalgia, of looking back to Christ but through layers of history, having something like this in my hands reminds me of the simple handing on of faith from father to son, mother to daughter. The very fact it is here rather than in its homeland speaks of the faith’s fragility. But then somehow that is what the Incarnation is about the fragility of a child in the arms of his mother, in the arms of the Church.

8 comments:

Terry Nelson said...

Father - I know some things about icons, I have restored quite a few in the past. You may be correct, the icon does appear Romanian, but I wouldn't discount the Balkans or northern Greece, as you also mentioned. I see where the panel has split and has been reattached. (If you have a loop, a jewlers little magnifier, I would check to make certain the image is indeed painted and not a print. It looks to be original, but one never knows. You may have tested for this already.)

I'm impressed with the piece.

Mac McLernon said...

O wow. Beautiful. Now how is it that I never find stuff like this?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Terry,
Certainly not a print. It is light on dark in the Salonican manner,not much gradation of colour. I think it is possibly oil rather tempera, as it is actually quite thick. The layers of light colour are noticeably raised on the face and hands, as well as the jewels.

Mac, You most probably don't go to the right jumble sales, anyway everyone knows you always shop in Bluewater -is that the right name?

Michael Clifton said...

Does that mean you obtained the icon from a shop in Bluewater ? that place is right out near Gravesend. Perhaps you can enlighten us on exactly where such gems can be picked up cheaply ??

Fr Ray Blake said...

Fr Michael,
I am afraid I was being cruel to Mac who occassionally talks about shopping in Bluewater shopping expeditions to Bluewater, I have never been but I suspect icon hunting is not likely to be successful there.

Forgive my caginess about revealing my iconic source, I don't want prices to suddenly rise, but if you enjoy looking at icons find the websites for Iconastis in Piccadilly and The Temple Gallery in Holland Park, opccassionally tou can find bargains.

The icon of OL of Kazan, which you see on the sidebar, I brought from The Temple, in memory of mother.

Terry Nelson said...

Father - That is good - I wonder if it may be encaustic then if there is a noticeable thickness?

What an incredible find. Is there any pencil or crayon insciption on the back?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Terry there is nothing on the back, I don't kown what encaustic looks like.
I have an early 18th icon which is has paint which is almost as heavy. The viscousity of paint seems quite different at this period than later. Any thoughts on that?

The back has nothing on it except a few cracks the glued section interestingly isn't patched. There lots of worm holes and there are bits of beeswax that fill some of the larger holes so no clues there. The patination is quite dark.

Terry Nelson said...

Father, Encaustic is wax and pigment, sometimes mixed with oil, which may account for the thickness. I'm very impressed with the piece, especially the carving and how you saay the wood is so light. Since much seems to be mended by beeswax, I'm thinking the painting is encaustic.

What if you have a long lost treasure or something from St. Catherine's in Sinai? Congratulations on your find.