The iconographic design of The Entry to Jerusalem closely follows the scriptural accounts (Matt. 21:8, Mark 11: 1-10, Luke 19: 29-38, John 12: 12-13) and can be traced to early Byzantine icons. Already in the tenth century the main elements of the composition are present as early icons from Sinai and mosaics in Sicily illustrate. A palm tree is in the centre of the panel, with the Mount of Olives to our left and the city of Jerusalem (including the temple) to our right, Christ, looking back towards the apostles, sits on a horse advancing towards the city. His right hand is raised in blessing while his left holds a scroll. Small children lay garments on the ground under the horse’s hooves.
Russian icon painting continued among émigrés and in 1927 in Paris the Icon Association was founded. This was part of a larger post-1917 revival of the religious traditions of Orthodoxy and shows the endurance of Russian spiritual values amongst the exiles.1 It is important to note that this revival had begun in Russia in the late nineteenth century due to a new appreciation of the medieval icons which were for the first time being cleaned of centuries of grime and soot. Icons were produced emulating the older medieval tradition (fig. 1). Before this it was the Old Believers who had maintained the traditional style but mainly in an academic manner.
The shift, which began in pre-Revolution Russia, continued in Paris. These icons exemplify the movement away from the sentimental and westernised style that had become common in Russia from the late seventeenth century. This new style was a return to Byzantine models (fig. 2). One of the principal locations for this revival was l’Institut Saint-Serge. Among the key figures were Father Gregory Krug, Father Sergei Bulgakov and Sister Joanna Reitlinger. Krug was an émigré priest in France, Father Gregory was brought up Lutheran but his mother was a Russian Orthodox Christian. He belonged to the same group as Leonid Ouspensky, whose books, the Theology of the Icon and the Meaning of Icons are still classics. One can see in our Entry the same use of white reflexes that Fr. Gregory and Ouspensky employ on their icons (fig. 3). Indeed, when comparing their icons to ours we can see the visual links, indicating that our icon is likely to issue from this milieu.
When comparing the two Temple Gallery icons with the Paris group, we can see the stylistic similarities. A feature typical of Fr. Gregory’s, that can also be seen in our examples, is the overlaying of pure white highlights on uneven coloured backgrounds. These white highlights have their origin in more ancient Russian art.
We see on the mountains the sharp edges of rock have been depicted with fine delicate strokes: Лещадка (leshchadka) meaning 'split or bevelled rock', an old Russian technique.
The use of the horse, rather than a donkey as seen in Byzantine art2 and which had begun to appear in Russian icons, shows the historicising tendencies present and the inter-war period in Paris and the conscious attempt to emulate the most ancient of Russian icons, such as Andrei Rublev’s example in the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow (fig. 4).
Numbers 28 and 29 are almost unique in their high artistic quality, something not often found in modern times. They are free ‘of that unhealthy type of fear which so easily leads to lifeless copying’.3 Our painter succeeds in creating an original and vivid work of art while respecting the tradition. It is a true continuation of the Holy Tradition of icon painting.