Alter Icons

The Russian Icon and Modernity

Edited by Jefferson J. A. Gatrall, Douglas Greenfield

Hardback - £65.95

Publication date:

28 October 2010

Length of book:

304 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271036779

Passage into the modern world left the Russian icon profoundly altered. It fell into new hands, migrated to new homes, and acquired new forms and meanings. Icons were made in the factories of foreign industrialists and destroyed by iconoclasts of the proletariat. Even the icon’s traditional functions—whether in the feast days of the church or the pageantry of state power—were susceptible to the transformative forces of modernization. In Alter Icons: The Russian Icon and Modernity, eleven scholars of Russian history, art, literature, cinema, philosophy, and theology track key shifts in the production, circulation, and consumption of the Russian icon from Peter the Great’s Enlightenment to the post-Soviet revival of Orthodoxy. Alter Icons shows how the twin pressures of secular scholarship and secular art transformed the Russian icon from a sacred image in the church to a masterpiece in the museum, from a parochial craftwork to a template for the avant-garde, and from a medieval interface with the divine to a modernist prism for seeing the world anew.

In addition to the editors, the contributors are Robert Bird, Elena Boeck, Shirley A. Glade, John-Paul Himka, John Anthony McGuckin, Robert L. Nichols, Sarah Pratt, Wendy R. Salmond, and Vera Shevzov.

“This elegant volume, replete with full-color plates and multiple illustrations, demonstrates that far from falling into ‘decline,’ ‘decay,’ or ‘loss’ from its encounter with modern aesthetics, the Russian icon continues to serve its ‘intermedial,’ ‘liminal’ function, remaining a phenomenon of the paradoxical ‘living tradition’ that is Orthodoxy. By definition both material and spiritual, the icon finds a place in museum or poem as well as church, marketplace as well as film. And, as elucidated here, the obraz serves itself up as a subject for scholarly investigation as easily as an object of religious devotion. Kudos to the authors, editors, and publisher.”

—Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, University of Wisconsin–Madison