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The icon collection of the State Novgorod Museum, containing works by the main Novgorod icon-painters, could only be compared with the
Tretyakov Gallery's collection in Moscow and that of the
Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. The collection was formed in several stages.
The first, mostly late, icons became the museum's exhibits in 1865 when they were included in the church department of the Museum of Antiquities. In 1913 the Diocesan Storage of Antiquities was formed. At that time it contained 350 examples of the old Russian icon-painting of 14th -19th centuries. This step allowed to enrich the original collection with icons which are quite justly considered masterpieces of the Novgorod school of painting -- "The Battle of the Novgorod Troops with the Suzdalians" from the Church of Nikola Kochanov (15th century), "Praying Novgorod Citizens" from the chapel of Varlaam of Khutyn (1467), 18 double-sided tablets from
St.Sophia Cathedral (15th - 16th centuries), two icons depicting the Savior by Simeon Ushakov (1674) and master Euphemy (1685).
Since 1925 the icon collection has occupied the major part of the stocks of the Old and Modern Art Museum, especially since it significantly increased after the mass closing of Novgorod churches and monasteries. Among the icons which supplemented the collection in the 1920-1930s are such masterpieces as "Nikola Lipny" by master Alexey Petrov from the church of Nikola on the Lipna (1294), great works of the 14th century the "Pokrov" from the Zverin monastery, "Boris and Gleb" from the Church of Boris and Gleb in Plotniki, and several icons of the holiday rank, taken from the Church of the Assumption on the Volotovo field (15th century)
Before World War II the Department of Old Russian Art numbered 4678 items.
The collection was greatly damaged during the days of the war, and the major part of the icon collection was completely destroyed. Only a few icons were returned from Germany in 1948. About 80 icons were taken from icon-stands of the Novgorod churches, from the St. Sophia Cathedral ("Apostles Peter and Paul", 11th century), the Church of Peter and Paul in Kozhevniki (the whole complex), and the cathedral of the Virgin's Nativity in Antonov (the whole complex).
After the war the collection was enlarged mostly by means of historical and ethnographic expeditions (icon "Virgin Odigitria", 14th century), acquisition from private collections or sometimes gifts. Indeed, in 1988 Mrs. D. Rockefeller presented a double-sided "tablet" icon from the 15th - early 16th century to the collection of the Novgorod Museum. At the present time the collection numbers over 1500 exhibits from the 11th - early 20th centuries. The core of the collection consists of unique examples of Novgorod art dating back to the 11th - 15th centuries. Of especial variety are the works from the 16th - 17th centuries since they give us the possibility of understanding the art of icon-painting as the principle decorative system used in medieval Russian churches, and to trace the evolution of the high icon-stand. Besides the works of the Novgorod school of painting the collection also comprises icons from Pskov ("Deisus with Barbara and Paraskeva", 14th century; "Vsevolod-Gavriil", 17th century) and from Moscow ("Virgin of Tikhvin with Scenes from Life", 15th century), Yaroslavl ("Ioann the Theologian with Scenes from Life", 17th century).
Icons of the 18th - early 20th century form a special part of the collection, mostly because of an intent interest towards this period on the part of researches and museum visitors. They shall be included into the new exposition of icons in the nearest future. The collection of icons is displayed at the exposition of the Old Russian icon-painting of the 11th - 17th centuries exhibited in the building of the
former Public Offices in the Novgorod Kremlin.
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