Item description for Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography by Irina Yazykova, Paul Greneir & Wendy R. Salmond...
Overview Irina Yazykova tells the dramatic history of Russian Orthodox icons in the 20th century. Despite persecution and the destruction of monasteries and much of religious life, a small group of iconographers kept the ancient story and practice alive. Here, she tells the saga of those iconographers who at great personal cost preserved the tradition from the time of the Bolshevik persecutions through to the present day, restoring and developing Russian iconography under the harshest of circumstances.
"A true story--told for the first time" This dramatic history recounts the story of an aspect of Russian culture that fought to survive throughout the 20th century: the icon. Russian iconography kept faith alive in Soviet Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. As monasteries and churches were ruined, icons destroyed, thousands of believers killed or sent to Soviet prisons and labor camps, a few courageous iconographers continued to paint holy images secretly, despite the ever-present threat of arrest. Others were forced to leave Russia altogether, and while living abroad, struggled to preserve their Orthodox traditions. Today we are witness to a renaissance of the Russian icon, made possible by the sacrifices of this previous generation of heroes.
Citations And Professional Reviews Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography by Irina Yazykova, Paul Greneir & Wendy R. Salmond has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Books & Culture - 09/01/2010 page 14
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Hidden and, "therefore," Triumphant May 21, 2010
One might read this 194-page book in translation about holy icons in Russia as (1) art history presented in chronology and schools, (2) Church-State relations during the Soviet era, (3) political and/or economic nationalism, and (4) literary or multi-disciplinary criticism. The author, Irina Yazykova, covers all of these topics.
In addition, Yazykova, an art historian with appointment to teach in a Russian theological seminary, depicts the triumph of icons as part of an endemic resilience of faith that she experiences as a Russian Christian. We might consider her historical lens of faith to be a "hidden" or latent component of her inquiry, in one of several senses of the word that appears in the book's title.
A hidden lens requires explanation. The author's opinion is that holy icons in Russia were themselves familiar items, having been widely distributed for centuries prior to the Bolsheviks consolidating power after the Revolution in 1917. However, familiarity alone by leaders of the state did not constitute understanding. Indeed, the Soviet leadership failed to recognize the power of reverence among average Russians toward icons. Illustrating their lack of understanding, Party leaders attributed superstition to reverence of icons, which prompted active programs of suppressing icons in favor of a Leninist philosophy about art. As the author demonstrates, the same leaders had been falsely optimistic about extinguishing this reverence. Thus, Yazykova contends, the reverence of icons had simply gone into hiding during the Soviet era.
Readers benefit from how well the author lifts the veil of hidenness so that we may view with understanding what the Soviet leaders failed to see. Yazykova's thesis emphasizes the congruence of a collective Russian mind and history of the Orthodox Christian faith in devotion to icons. Therefore, by entertaining iconographic streams across a millennium of Russian history, the author explores a transformative view provided by icons and reverence to them throughout seventy years of official suppression.
I recommend that readers with little or no familiarity with icons and Russian iconography carefully read and mark the Introduction ["Word and Image"] and first two chapters of this book [1-42]. The author provides a readable and sensitive theological overview of what icons mean to Orthodox Christians, in the Introduction, as well as the history of Christian icons in Byzantium, which appealed from the start to a collective sense of Beauty among Russian people [Chapter 1]. In my opinion, Chapter 2 ["Perfect artists and philosophers of highest wisdom: The iconographic tradition, 900-1900"] is arguably among the most concise and better constructed histories of the icon in Russia ever written.
Chapter 3 [43-65] engages a critical discussion of the so-called new iconoclasts: Soviet leaders and members of the Communist Party. Yazykova presents her discussion in terms of a shared fate that Soviet iconoclasts sealed between individual Russians and icons. New martyrs--likely far more than best estimates--rose in numbers as did tales of their resistance to despots. Because of the toll in life [not despite of, the author contends] and the popularity of repeating and perhaps embellishing stories of the Martyrs, the seeds of triumph for the icons were planted and nurtured in rich soil.
Chapters 4-6 provide the names and associations of Russian iconographers, by identifying teachers and students inside the Soviet Union and among émigrés exiled from Mother Russia in the years following 1920. These chapters read like a people's history, and should cause no one to stumble over polysyllabic names or obtuse piety. The author recounts personal sacrifice of iconographers by disdaining Soviet officials without honorific verbiage. For example, "Even far from Russia's shores, they and thousands of such people continued to consider themselves Russians and held to the faith that their country would someday shake off the Communist night and become hospitable once again to normal life" .
Midway in the monograph are 28 glossy-print photographs of icons and three photographs taken during the Soviet era. What I like about the selection is editorial attention to icons written during the Soviet era and their links to iconographic schools, which the author explores in earlier chapters. Photographic quality provides stunning resolution. For example, Ouspensky's "Carved Altar Cross" , housed in Holy Trinity Church, Vanves [Paris] shines with lustrous light akin to what I remember first-hand.
Three appendices conclude the text. The first, Appendix A: "New Russian Iconographers," offers an intimate portrait of iconographers by name and style along with contextual developments in the first decade of the 21st-Century. It is clear that the author writes from direct familiarity, which makes these 19 pages a critical supplement to extend her thesis. Appendix B: "Beauty Saving the World" maintains a steady hand at presenting the icon as visual text or sermon in relationship to the theme of Beauty in Russian hesychasm, literature and the arts. Finally Appendix C offers helpful suggestions for schools and workshops inside and outside Russia providing iconography training.
Translator Paul Grenier conveys an approachable style in contemporary English. A Foreword by Professor Wendy Salmond merits praise, too, because she invites readers to become active when observing and engaging holy icons, lest they miss all that which is hidden and triumphant in this superb book.