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George Costakis (1913 - 1990) was a collector of Russian art whose collection became the most representative body of Modern Russian avant-garde art anywhere in the world. In the years surrounding the 1917 revolution, artists in Russia produced the first non-figurative art, which was to become the defining art of the 20th century. Costakis by chance discovered some constructivist paintings in a Moscow studio in 1946, and he went on to search for the revolutionary art which might otherwise have been lost to the world. He became Head of Personnel for the Canadian Embassy. In the 1960s the apartment of George Costakis in Moscow had become a meeting place for international art collectors and art lovers in general: Russia's unofficial Museum of Modern Art. The 'détente' period following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 opened up Russia once again to international cultural exchanges the first of which was the showing of the Costakis Collection in Düsseldorf in 1977. The same year Costakis, with his family, left the Soviet Union and moved to Greece, but there was an agreement that he should leave 50 per cent of his collection in the State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow. In 1997 the Greek State bought the remaining 1275 works. They are now a part of the permanent collection of the State Museum of Contemporary Art, in Thessaloniki, Greece. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Costakis). An account of a visit to the collection in Costaki’s Moscow apartmemt in is in Henry E. Catto, Jr Ambassadors at Sea: The High and Low Adventures of a Diplomat p. 11.
The Cyrillic initials, 'А.Г', stamped onto the oklad indicate that it is from the workshop of the important 19th century Russian master silversmith Andrei Goryanov. Goryanov ran his own workshop and took over the workshop of Wilhelm Reimer in 1898, and was an 'occasional supplier' to Fabergé, following on from Reimer. The stamp to the right of these initials - with the 'horseman' emblem above the date of '1812' - tell us that it was made in Moscow. The '84' mark on the left indicates that the silver content is 84 zolotniks.
The icon portrays the legend of Saint George who saved Elisaba, the daughter of the pagan king of Selena in Libya. She had been chosen by lot as the ransom demanded by the Dragon who was blocking the town’s water supply. Saint George is dressed in armour and mounted on a charger. With a steadfast movement he thrusts his spear through the mouth of the Dragon. On the right we see Elisaba who, after taming the Dragon, led him peacefully through the city streets. Above the scenes in ovals on either side we have miniatures of Christ (left) and the Virgin (right), who look over the scene with arms outstretched, blessing Saint George.
Our version is part of an important Russian tradition of silver oklad icons. Master silversmiths either had workshops at large monasteries or their own workshops in major cities. The current example can be compared to other 19th century silverwork icons in the Hermitage in St Petersburg (see, for example, fig. a).