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‘Always Ready and Courageous...’. Artist and image Outline drawings and icons of the 18th–19th centuries

The name of the exhibition was given by lines from prayer to Angel Grozny painted on a burnt paper of the 17th century with the outline drawing of archangel Mikhail the Voivode.

The VetkaMuseum has a unique collection of outline drawings that are unshaded drawings copied from the original icon. Their age covers the  history of the Old Believer center from the 17th to the 20th centuries, known as Vetka – Starodubye. The samples themselves could be older. Outline drawings were made with one or three colors: black outlines, red and ocher brash strokes made by white. Then, drawings were transferred to the levkas of the wooden panel and scratched with a needle. The collection of drawings is ‘original’. The ancient tradition was kept up by the Old Believers. From the 19th century collectors began to collect drawings (for example, Count Stroganov’s obverse original, 1869). The local original was inherited by icon painters and was never published. This one, as well as a unique manuscript that is the Gomel explanatory icon-painting original are presented next to the original icon-painting and the Vetka school icons at the exhibition. They present man’s images.

The two traditions of the Old Believer icon painting such as Vetka popovshchina and Pomors priestless sect present a difference in the ways of the embodiment of a revered piece. The paradox: the most famous Pomors artist Gavriil Frolov (1854–1930) comes from Mitkovka village of the Chernigov province, from this Old Believer center Vetka – Starodubye. No wonder, the master’s icons are in the museum’s collection. The dynastic history of the Frolovs became the subject of an expedition to Estonia.

In the 43rd chapter of ‘Stoglav’ (1551) it was proposed to ‘paint an icon in the image and semblance of the image by ancient painters’. The outline drawings included a permanent canonized iconographic image. However, the comparison of the outline drawings, Vetka icon painting and Pomors icon painting represents creative process internally: painting compositions develop canonical patterns in different ways and significantly.

The prosperity of Vetka was in the 18th century, and it was famous for its icon painters far beyond. It provided inspiration for other local icon-painting schools ‘throughout the Old Believer world’, where local masters migrated to, and where sacred art works were transported to.

The outline drawing as part of the technical process of making an icon is symbolic. It enables the master to create in view of that powerful centuries-long tradition which presents the image of the invisible mental world. The outline drawing featured an air contour, outlines that were covered with paint layer – and the Epiphany was carried out!