A TANTALIZING QUESTION

Here is a photo I received of a very interesting icon:

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

And here is the title inscription — engraved on the vermeil (gilt silver) cover:

Translated, it reads:

“Moving of the Relics of Bishop Nicholas from Myra to Bari.”

The abbreviation C could also be translated as simply “Holy.”

So this is a ПРИНЕСЕНИЕ/PRINESENIE icon.  Prinesenie means “moving,” but commonly the fancy (and incomprehensible to most people) “church” term “translation” is used instead — but “translation” in such cases just means “moving.”  When you see an icon with a body of a saint being carried, it is often a Prinesenie/”Translation” icon.

You will find a long posting on Nicholas icons here:

ALL ABOUT NICHOLAS (WELL, NOT QUITE ALL)

In the outer border of the icon are images of (left) “Holy Kuzma” — i.e. Cosmas, and (right) “Holy Domian” — Damian.  The pair of “Unmercenary Physicians” often seen in icons.

At top is a small image of the “Sign” (Znamenie) Mother of God, associated historically with the city of Novgorod.

On receiving the photo, I noticed that the painting appears to be in a style much like that of the early 17th century.

Let’s brighten the image a bit:

preneseniemNikMaryhillMuseum

The gilt-silver cover looks to be from the latter half of the 19th century.

Now when the photos of this as yet unstudied icon were sent to me, I was particularly interested and surprised by an old label on the back of the panel:

It caught my attention because not only is the image the coat of arms of the noted Russian Stroganov family (remember the Stroganov Icon Painting Manual, and the so-called Stroganov “School” of icon painting — circa 1580 – 1680?) — but also below it are the words “Count Sergiy Stroganov.”  There were two Sergiy Stroganovs, and the latter — Sergiy/Sergei Grigor’evich Stroganov (1794-1882) was both an art historian and a collector.  So from the label, this icon had been in an important collection.

The next thing that drew my attention was a notation on the back:

It reads:  “Painting by Ioan Sobol'”

Now Ioan/Ivan Yakolev Sobol’ was an early icon painter from Novgorod who had studied under the famous painter Prokopiy Chirin in Novgorod.  Sobol’ went to Moscow in 1572 to paint there.  Both Chirin and Sobol’ did work for the Stroganov family.

Now what is even more interesting is that there is more writing on the reverse:

It is written in an old hand.

Now interestingly, there is an entry about Ioan/Ivan Sobol’ in the Dictionary of Russian Icon Painters 11th -17th Century, and in it we find this:

В собрании графа Строганова находилась икона «Перенесение мощей Николая чудотворца» («Фигуры в 6,5 голов, свет золотой. В лицах нос, подбородок, скулы. Лоб оживлены довольно резкими бликами. Травы писаны твореным золотом»), с подписью: “106 сий образ домовой в соб. храму благовещения святей богородицы у Соли Вычегодска на посаде… на Никиты сына Строганова. Писмо Ивана Соболя” (размер 59,8х51 см). (Ровинский 1903)

It says that in the collection of Count Stroganov was an icon “Translation of the Relics of Nicholas the Wonderworker.”  And it further tells us that this icon had an inscription on it:  “This house image in the Cathedral Church of the Annunciation to the Most Holy Mother of God in Soli Vuichegodska (Solvuichegodsk) in the village … for Nikita son of Stroganov.  Painting by Ivan Sobol'”

Well, when we look at the somewhat worn inscription on the back of the icon in the photos sent to me, we find the inscription also begins:

106  [сий?] образ домовой в соб. храму благовещения святей богородицы у …

“106 [This?] house image in the Cathedral Church of the Annunciation to the Most Holy Mother of God in ...”

We can add to that that a mention in the book History and Discovery of Medieval Russian Medieval Painting by Gerol’d I Vzdornov:

The earlier specimens in the Stroganov collections were icons by Ivan Sobol’, Semen Borozdin, Istoma Savin, Nikifor Savin, and Prokopiy Chirin, all of whom worked for Nikita Grigor’evich and Maksim Yakovlevich Stroganov around 1600 (Sobol’ did an icon, The Translation of the Holy Relics of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker form Myra of Lycia to the town of Bari that was dated 1598).

The icon is said to have once been owned by Ambassador Nicolae Petrescu-Comnen (1881-1958) — Romanian Envoy to the League of Nations and to Switzerland under the reign of King Ferdinand, as well as Foreign Minister in Romania under the disastrous reign of King Carol II (son of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie).

So is this unstudied icon, in the photos I received, by some odd coincidence the very icon from the collection of Count Stroganov described in the Russian text?  Well, the measurements given for that icon do not exactly match the icon pictured, but there have been changes in the Russian measuring systems over time and people do make errors.  The coincidences in label, title, inscription and origin, however, do seem to match very well.  In any case, further identification of this image will have to wait for verification from experts in “Stroganov” icons of the 16th-17th centuries.

It is the kind of thing that makes the study of icons interesting.

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