The Temple Gallery
(The following is an extract from the catalogue 'MASTERPIECES OF EARLY CHRISTIAN ART AND ICONS')
6. Dormition of the Virgin
Russian, the region of the Russian North, with the influence of Rostov
(probably, the region of the Sheksna River).
Middle of the 15th century
Tempera and gesso on wood
Panel: 48.7 x 38.8 cm
Collection Einar Krane; New York private collection. It is probable that this icon was officially sold and exported abroad from USSR at the late 1920s or early in the '30s, along with many other works of art, at a time when the government was collecting money for "industrialization". For example there are many icons in Sweden which came into private collections by this way. [see footnote 1]
The paint surface was covered in a discoloured varnish which on closer examination under stereoscopic magnification appeared to be obscuring many old retouches. It was clear that the icon had suffered some damage to the lower part, and the feet of some of the figures as well as the green ground area had been repainted. The head of the bishop on the right hand side of the painting was also repainted. The outlines of the figures and architecture looked too strong and the original yellow ochre background had been removed.
All of this along with various washes of colour, which hid the luminosity of the original, tended to give the piece the look of a work of the the19th or even early 20th century. As soon as the varnish and washes began to be removed, the icon started to appear. The dirty yellow of the bier became a vibrant pink, the harshness of the outlines softened and the general monochromatic look was replaced with a light transparency. I decided to leave the repainted lower area and the head of the Bishop as they were well painted and did not distract the eye. The small lost areas where old and crude retouches had been removed were replaced with lighter ones to match the original.
The icon is first mentioned in a publication in 1950 [see footnote 2]. At that time it belonged to the collection of Einar Krane, Stockholm. One can see in this reproduction that the icon was repainted, especially in the outlines that define the contours. The icon was described as this work as of the 16th century Novgorod School, with later (19th century) repainting by a Palekh master.
The Dormition of the Virgin is one of the most popular and frequently represented subjects in Russian medieval art. The special veneration accorded to this event began to develop in Russia from the end of the 11th century, when the Church of the Dormition of the Cave (Pechersky) monastery in Kiev was built. This was the earliest and the most important monastery in Russia and the dedication of its church reflected that of the church at Blachernae in Constantinople from whence church builders and painters had come to Kiev.
The full article, by Engelina Smirnova, can be read in the published catalogue 'MASTERPIECES OF EARLY CHRISTIAN ART AND ICONS'.