New Museum of Russian Icons at Pitti
The new Museum of Russian Icons has just opened in the Palazzo Pitti. Housed in four large rooms previously inaccessible to the public, the 78 ancient pieces are the oldest collection of icons outside of Russia. Permanently exhibited, the icons, in a setting graced with 17th century frescoes on walls and ceilings, have captions in Italian, English and Cyrillic translating the wording.
The Medici and Lorraine ruling families, well known for patronizing artists and collecting pieces from the Renaissance era, also collected works from other cultures. These pieces, previously unexhibited and stored in the Medici Villa the Castello in the Tuscan countryside since the 18th century, were part of the great patrimony of the Medici and Lorraine dynasties.
The oldest examples in the collection, made between the 16th and 17th centuries, can be traced back to painters who worked for the Tsar’s court in the Kremlin Armory Palace in Moscow, the main center of reference for the art and production of this type of works before the founding of the new capital St. Petersburg.
Among the most valuable works of the collection, two panels that depict the Menologio, the calendar of Orthodox holidays, consist of twenty horizontal rows with sacred scenes and figures of saints. An icon of Saint Catherine of Alexandria can be dated to 1693-1694 with the martyr depicted with the palm and wheel of martyrdom as in Western art.
One of the oldest in the collection, an icon depicting the beheading of John the Baptist, was obtained by Grand Duke Ferdinand II de’Medici. As John the Baptist is the patron saint of Florence, this icon holds special significance to the city.
The director of the Uffizi Galleries Eike Schmidt states, “With the inauguration of the Museum of Russian Icons, which coincides with the daily and permanent accessibility of the Palatine Chapel . . . a great step forward is taken towards the opening to the public of all the frescoed rooms on the ground floor of Palazzo Pitti: wonderful environments, formerly inhabited by the Grand Dukes, unfortunately still used today largely as offices and service areas. The collection of Florentine icons is distinguished from the others by the fact that it is mainly composed of small and medium-sized specimens, intended for the private devotion of families and to be taken on trips. The proximity of the Russian icons to the Palatine Chapel becomes a metaphor for a confessional bridge between Orthodox and Catholics that recalls the common spiritual roots and the frequent cultural exchanges between Italy and Russia that took place over the centuries and still persist.”
Concurrent with the museum inauguration, the luxurious Palatine Chapel can be visited daily. Originally the summer apartment for Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici III and his wife, the central hall later transformed into the Palatine Chapel in 1766, features walls and ceilings decorated by Luigi Ademollo with splendid frescoes featuring biblical subjects.
For those wishing to enjoy the exhibit virtually, a virtual tour Sacred Light, curated by Daniela Parenti curator of medieval painting, can be seen on the Uffizi Galleries website. (www.uffizi.it/mostre-virtuale).
Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Italy Sergey Razov proclaims, “Russian icons represent a fundamental patrimony of Russian culture, they embody the spiritual experience of the Russian people and the Orthodox Church. Thanks to the collecting of the Grand Dukes of Florence, today for its inhabitants, as well as for the guests of the city from all over the world, there is a unique opportunity to get in touch with the brilliant examples of Russian iconographic art and to obtain the keys to reading of the spiritual and ethical roots of all Russian culture.” (rita kungel)
A Green Pass or equivalent certification of full vaccination for COVID-19 required for entrance. Inside the museum masks are mandatory.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 8:15 to 6:50. Entrance €10 with 50% discount offered with tickets purchased before 8:59 am. For further information, see website: www.uffizi.it/en/pitti-palace