A catalogue of the Russian icons in the British Museum

By Yury Bobrov / Edited by Chris Entwistle

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The British Museum’s collection of icons, at present housed in the Department of Prehistory and Europe, numbers just over 100 items. This constitutes the largest public collection of icons in the United Kingdom. The collection falls into three discrete areas: Byzantine icons, dating from between the mid-13th to the late 14th century, Greek (mainly Cretan) icons, ranging in date from the 14th through to the 18th century, and finally, Russian icons. This catalogue is devoted to the 72 icons falling into the latter category. Arranged in chronological order, the catalogue covers a period from the 15th through to the early 20th century. The introductory essays, along with the catalogue entries themselves were researched and written in their entirety by Dr Yury Bobrov, of the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg. A further online catalogue, by Professors Robin Cormack and Maria Vassilaki, devoted to the remaining Byzantine and Greek icons, is scheduled for publication in 2012.

Although the Museum acquired its first icon as long ago as 1852, it was not until the 1980s that a policy of regular acquisition was initiated by the Trustees. This led to the purchase of four outstanding Byzantine icons between 1983 and 1988, as well as an early fifteenth-century Russian icon of great aesthetic and art historical importance, the so-called ‘Black George’. Although the Museum has not purchased an icon since 1988, it has greatly benefited over the last 20 years from a number of important gifts and bequests. In 1994 a bequest of seven icons by Guy Holford Dixon JP was the prelude to the transfer of the National Gallery’s five Cretan and Russian icons. Four years later Sir Frank Roberts GCMG GCVO, formerly Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Moscow, bequeathed 45 painted and 19 metal Eastern Orthodox icons dating from between 1600 and 1900. Finally, Miss E.W. Dyne Steel MBE either gave or bequeathed 17 icons between 1998 and 2002. A more detailed history of the Museum’s icon collection will appear in the volume devoted to the Byzantine and Greek icons.

Although the most important icons in the Museum’s collection are permanently on display, a large number of the secondary items are lodged in the reserve collection. The principal benefit, it is hoped, of this online catalogue will be to publicise better, and make more accessible to a wider audience, the Museum’s collection in its entirety. This is an acknowledgement of the great interest in icons today. The reserve collection has recently been re-housed making access for both scholars and members of the public much easier. Appointments to see the reserve collection are always welcomed and can be made through the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum.

Chris Entwistle 
July 2008


P&E = Department of Prehistory and Europe, the British Museum

Reg. no. = registration number

cm = centimetres

IC ΧC  =  ’Ιησους Χριστòς  (Jesus Christ)

ΜΡ ΘΥ = Μήτηρ θεού (Mother of God). The theta is often rendered on Russian icons as an O.


60. Icon of The Mother of God Tikhvinskaya

60. Icon of The Mother of God Tikhvinskaya