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Friday, June 24, 2016

On View: God Rested on the Seventh Day

If you have been in the early Renaissance painting gallery (Gallery 212) in the last week, you may have noticed a new guest from the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, one of the great repositories of Russian religious art outside of Russia itself.

The work is an icon, a religious object of critical importance in Orthodox Christianity. Rather than simply representing spiritual subjects, as Christian paintings do, icons are considered direct portals to the divine. Icons capture the essence of the figure represented and they serve as a direct intercessor for the worshipper. In other words, they are instruments for establishing contact with God and remain a central element of worship in the Orthodox church.

Most icons in common use depict well-known saints, Christ, or the Virgin Mary. The work on loan, in contrast, is a rare and unusual subject: God Rested on the Seventh Day, painted in Moscow around 1550. Because the subject is unconventional, the owner was probably a priest or a highly educated lay person who used the icon for private devotion, rather than an icon used in a more public church setting. It represents the Old Testament book of Genesis 2:3: “And he blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

We’re very grateful to the Museum of Russian Icons for sharing this work – and by extension the icon tradition – with our visitors, letting us tell a much more complete story about painting in Europe during the Renaissance.

God Rested on the Seventh Day, 1550s (restored 1700s)
Egg tempera on panel
Russia, Moscow
Lent by the Museum of Russian Icons, R2013.80

- Jon L. Seydl, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of European Art

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