In recent weeks, two major Russian museums have announced they will donate two of their most famous artefacts to the church in a sign of its growing influence with the Kremlin, which is counting on its support amid the conflict in Ukraine.
If the transfer of these national treasures to the church satisfies the faithful, art experts condemn a political approach that threatens the future of fragile and precious pieces. The shock came when the patriarch announced in mid-May President Vladimir Putin’s decision to commission the icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev, a true national symbol dating back to the 15th century.
The most mysterious of Russian icons, which has captivated people for a century at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, will go on display at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior near the Kremlin from June 4. The painting must be returned to its original monastery of Trinity-Saint-Serge in Seguyev Posat, the “Russian Vatican” located 70 km from Moscow.
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At about the same time, the famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (Northwest) announced that it would give up the tomb of Prince Alexander Nevsky, a true national hero who lived in the 13th century, to the monastery that housed him before the Bolsheviks. revolution “In this geopolitical moment (…), the sacred value of the monument is more important than its artistic value,” argues Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage.
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The presidential donations come in the wake of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Mr. By transferring these relics to the church, the president “wants to return Russia to its base,” reported AFP Leonid Kalinin, until recently in charge of religious art at the Patriarchate.
Centuries ago, religious symbols were actually part of the conflict. In April, during a trip to the Russian-occupied part of southern Ukraine, Mr.
In this context, Rublev’s Trinity, with its three angels seated at a table around a common cup, becomes a symbol of the country’s unity. “Rublevin’s thinking about the Trinity helped Russian princes overcome the paradox of the world,” Lev Lifshitz, 80, who has written several books on ancient Russian art, told AFP. Last July, the icon was already on display for three days at the Trinity Monastery of Saint Sergius.
But when faced with the art’s defenders, the Church can count on one key asset: Vladimir Putin, who is counting on the patriarch’s help to rally people amid a standoff with Kiev. The alliance between the Kremlin and the church in times of trouble is not new: in 1943, despite official atheism, Stalin “rehabilitates the Orthodox clergy and reopens 10,000 churches in the Soviet Union,” Mr. Kalinin mentions.
According to a widespread legend in Russia, Stalin flew over Moscow in a plane carrying a miraculous icon to unite the nation in the war against Nazi Germany. In this context, Mr. For Lifshitz, the transfer of The Trinity from the ruble to the church was “political”.
“This decision by the Kremlin is considered to be a very serious political situation there,” says Russian political scientist Georgy Povt. “There is no victory yet (over Ukraine), the army is not enough, all that is left for Putin is to ask God to help him”, he summarizes for AFP, like previous sovereigns.
But art experts are most alarmed by the danger hanging over works that have been moved to the church, where conservation conditions are less professional. Mr Lifshitz warns that moving Trinity away from Rublev “risks destroying it”. After the icon was displayed at the monastery in July, despite the protective capsule, experts noted 61 signs of decay. If she leaves her museum again, “next generations will not see her in her current form,” Liliya Evseeva, an expert at the Museum of Icons in Moscow, told AFP.
The return of the artifact to the church has provoked the mobilization of the Russian Academy of Sciences: last week, about twenty scholars condemned its “disastrous state”, calling the whole operation “impossible and unacceptable”. In a sign of the tension surrounding the debate, priest Leonid Kalinin was abruptly removed from his duties last week after suggesting that a copy of The Trinity be displayed in the cathedral, awaiting the creation of a powerful protective capsule.
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