In previous postings I have talked about the metal covers often found on icons. Such a cover is called a riza (“robe”) in traditional terminology, though since the Soviet period the word oklad is often used. I have also talked briefly about embroidered covers, which are considerably more delicate. Some covers were heavily ornamented with beadwork, fake pearls and fake “jewels,” such as this example of the “Kazan” Marian image type:
Today we will look at still another form of ornamental covering for icons, made primarily for those kept in the wooden case called a kiot, because this kind of cover is easily damaged. It is made of cut and embossed metal foil (фольга/фольга), often combined with fabric and beadwork. Making foil covers and ornamentation for icons was a kind of popular 19th and early 20th century folk art in Russia and Ukraine, and it is still practiced today. Embossing such thin metal foil was very easily done, though it took care and time.
Here is a look at some icons with ornamental foil.
First is an example of Gospod’ Vsederzhitel — “The Lord Almighty.” As you can see, it is a mixture of cut and embossed foil, artificial flowers, and even fabric and beads. It has a very Victorian look to it, with the kind of gaudy ornamentation so common in that period and later in the 1800s:
Here is an example of the Pribavlenie Uma type — the “Growth of Reason.” an icon popular with students:
It is again a mixture of cut and embossed foil, fabric, and various kinds of beads.
Finally, here is an example of foil work on an unusual image — a depiction of the chapel in the “Holy Sepulchre” in Jerusalem. Now as you might expect, given the inexpensive and popular nature of such foil-ornamented icons, the images themselves were often prints rather than painted icons:
If we look more closely, we can see the title label identifying the image:
БЛАГОСЛОВЕНИЕ ОТЪ ЖИВОНОСНАГО ГРОБА ГОСПОДНЯ
BLAGOSLOVENIE OT” ZHIVONOSNAGO GROBA GOSPODNYA
“A BLESSING FROM THE LIVE-GIVING GRAVE OF THE LORD.”
So we know that this image was probably brought from Jerusalem by a Russian pilgrim as a religious souvenir, and then was ornamented with foil in Russia when it was placed in a protective frame.
Here is a video — all Russian with no translation — but it gives a close-up look at foil work on an icon image, and helps to better understand the nature of such ornamentation: