Gallery Director Gordon Morrison, who is curating EIKON: Icons of the Orthodox Christian World, exclusively for the Ballarat gallery, believes the exhibition will not only strike a chord with Christians of all denominations but appeal to those looking for a more profound and mystical understanding of spirituality.
“While on one level Icons are sacred portraits, in a deeper sense they represent the Divine Presence. They have been referred to as Windows on Heaven,” Mr Morrison said. “Icons are far more than two-dimensional images of Christ, the angels and saints. They are a powerful form of visual prayer that has been integral to the devotional practice of Eastern Christianity for 1,500 years.”
The exhibition will explain the origins of icons, exploring their meaning to communities who create and venerate them and their impact on cultures who have come in contact with them, giving the visitor insights into their extraordinary power to sustain and shape belief in different times and contexts, sometimes against significant odds.
Most of the icons in the show originate from Greece and Russia with examples as well from Cyprus, Syria and Palestine, and range in time from the twelfth to the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Viewing the exhibition will be a special event, with dramatic lighting and a soundscape incorporating traditional chanting, bells and other sounds of an Orthodox service, recreating the original setting of the works.
EIKON brings together many high quality works. “Visitors will see some really sumptuous examples of Orthodox art”, Mr Morrison added. “Work of this quality has hardly ever been shown in Australian art galleries”.
Among subjects are icons depicting Christ, the Crucifixion, St Nicholas, Saint George the Dragon, the Mother of God, the Nativity and the Fiery Ascent of Elijah. A highlight of the display is a group of late fifteenth century icons from Crete, which became a centre of icon painting after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
“Crete became a refuge for icon painters in this time, and the paintings produced there combined the grand traditions of Byzantium with subtle influences creeping in from Western Europe,” said Mr Morrison. “People familiar with the paintings of Cretan-born artist El Greco will see exactly what motivated his art when they see these images.”
The exhibition draws mainly from the magnificent private collection of former Australian diplomat John McCarthy, with additional loans from the National Gallery of Victoria, from the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology in Queensland and from Sir Richard Temple, whose Temple Gallery in London is a leading centre for the study, restoration and exhibition of ancient icons and sacred art.
EIKON: Icons of the Orthodox Christian World Art Gallery of Ballarat, 40 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat Exhibition continues to 26 January 2015 Entry fees apply
For more information, visit: www.artgalleryofballarat.com.au for details.
Image: Unknown Artist, Mother of God ‘Khorsunskaya’, Russia, 17th Century. Egg tempera, silver leaf and gesso on linen over wood. Private Collection, Sydney