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Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave in to “numerous requests from Orthodox worshippers” and donated the 15th-century “Trinity” icon to the Russian Orthodox Church. The icon is believed to be the work of religious artist Andrei Rublev and many experts and artists advised against the turnover claiming that the church did not have the ability to take care of such a fragile piece of art, voicing concerns that it would eventually be destroyed.
According to Natalya Komashko, former Scientific Secretary of the Andrei Rublev Museum the Trinity is not only a symbol of Russian icon painting but also one of the most well-known examples of ancient Russian art and the most coveted images of the Orthodox faith.
According to The Bell, the relic was originally housed at the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius until it was acquired in 1929 by the Tretyakov Gallery, which is the leading museum of Russian art, where it was displayed in Moscow after undergoing several years of restoration. The piece was removed from Moscow and taken to the opera house in Novosibirsk in Siberia during World War II to prevent it from being bombed and destroyed.
In recent times, the church has tried numerous times to return the icon and in the late 2000s, the Orthodox Church tried to return the religious relic to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius for a few days but ultimately failed. In July 2022 the Trinity icon was loaned to the monastery for the first time, but a second loan was denied by the Tretyakov Gallery after “61 significant changes” were noticed on the relic after the first loan. The icon needs to be preserved in strictly controlled temperature and humidity.
Numerous experts and specialists in ancient Russian culture and art criticized the return of the Trinity icon to the Church. Head of the Department of Ancient Russian Art at the State Institute of Art Studies, Lev Lifshitz, argued that the return of the piece would put its safety at risk. “We can assume that the ‘Trinity’ will be lost,” he said. Oleg Voskoboinikov said that authorities were using “the return of the icon to the church” as a talking point to “rally the nation” and “do away with soulless intellectuals and unbridled museums.” The handover was also criticized by Yelizaveta Likhacheva, the Director of the Pushkin Fine Art Museum in Moscow who said that she was afraid the relic might “fall apart.”
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Komashko also said that legally, Putin does not have the right to determine the fate of the “Trinity.”
“In Russia, a great deal is done on a nod and a wink, and not according to the law,” Komashko said.
The Ministry of Culture also recently handed over another significant piece to the Church. The tombstone and shrine of Alexander Nevsky, the saint, and prince who was the knight that defeated the Livonians in the battle on the ice at Lake Peipus in 1242. Prior to it being given to the Church, the shrine was kept in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Mikhail Piotrovsky who is the Director of the Hermitage and also a supporter of the war in Ukraine said, “in the current geopolitical situation, the sacred, symbolic significance of the shrine is greater than its artistic value.” The Director added the shrine should carry out its “symbolic function” and bring about “our victory.”
The timing of the handover of the “Trinity” to the Church is also of significance as the Russian Orthodox Church has supported the invasion of Ukraine since the beginning and appears to have been given the relic as a reward for its unyielding support of Putin’s war.
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