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Russian icons discovered in Egypt

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Russian-icons-discovered-in-Egypt/24256 Russian icons discovered in Egypt Conservators say Sinai’s climate helped
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2011
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      http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Russian-icons-discovered-in-Egypt/24256

      Russian icons discovered in Egypt
      Conservators say Sinai’s climate helped preserve art and artefacts

      By Sophia Kishkovsky | From issue 226, July-August 2011
      Published online 1 Aug 11 (Conservation)

      SINAI. Researchers attribute the unique climate of Egypt’s Sinai
      Peninsula as a leading factor in the preservation of a treasure trove of
      Russian icons and liturgical objects recently found in St Catherine’s
      Monastery. The discovery of around 100 Russian icons and decorative
      objects dating from the 16th to 19th century at the Unesco World
      Heritage Site was reported in Russia last month. Almost all of the works
      were unknown to scholars, according to Natalia Komashko, a research
      project manager at Moscow’s Andrei Rublev Museum of Early Russian Art
      and Culture.

      St Catherine’s Monastery is famous for its library, which houses one of
      the world’s largest collections of ancient manuscripts and codices, as
      well as for its sizable collection of sixth-century icons that survived
      the wave of Byzantine iconoclasm that destroyed most at that time.

      Condition and climate control

      Komashko said the climatic conditions at Sinai played a significant role
      in the preservation of the icons. “In order for an icon to [remain in
      good condition] for as long as possible, it must have stable temperature
      and humidity [levels]… There is no problem with this [at] Sinai, which
      has unique natural conditions for the preservation of icons.”

      She said that the icons, which were on view in the Chapel of the Burning
      Bush before being hidden away in the sacristy several decades ago,
      showed signs of light restoration. “They were cleaned of their slightly
      darkened original coating and re-coated with a very distinctive
      lacquer,” said Komashko. She noted that the icons kept in the sacristy
      remained in almost perfect condition, compared with those housed in the
      monk’s cells and used daily. These suffered from wear-and-tear and paint
      loss and were crudely restored in the 19th century.

      From Russia with love

      How did this ancient monastery come to be a repository for such a large
      number of Russian treasures? According to scholars who have traced the
      links between Russia and Sinai, the first recorded Russian pilgrim to
      the monastery was a 15th-century monk. He was subsequently followed by a
      stream of Russian merchants and officials, all of whom came bearing
      gifts. The monks also sent emissaries to Moscow from 1519, and continued
      to send envoys into the 17th and 18th centuries. These envoys returned
      to Sinai laden with gifts, some of which came from the tsars.

      The recent expedition to Sinai, headed by Komashko, included other
      researchers from Moscow including staff from the State Tretyakov Gallery
      as well as the State Research Institute for Restoration. Previous
      expeditions conducted by the Andrei Rublev Museum in 2004 and 2005
      sought to catalogue Russian works in the monastery’s churches and
      sacristy. Komashko said that there may be more Russian works yet to be
      discovered within the monastery’s walls as researchers are not allowed
      to enter the sacristy and the monks might not be able to distinguish
      Russian items from other works of art.

      The Russian Orthodox Church also participated in the most recent
      expedition and will be publishing a photographic book about its results.
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