Travel Icon on Silk I
An 18th-century Russian travel icon. Icons play an essential role in both Russian culture and Eastern Orthodox liturgy. Metal icons make up a significant area of this practice, despite their production being banned by Tsar Peter the Great (r. 1682–1725) during parts of the 18th century. Numerous explanations have been provided as to the reasoning behind this law, with the most likely one being Tsar Peter’s desire to retain metal for weapons production. As a result, many metal icons were produced in secret at the time, which may have been the case with this object. Travel specific icons were created to accompany a believer on the journeys they undertook. Metal was the preferred medium for travel icons, as small, lightweight items could be crafted from this material. A metal icon could also be easily hidden (an important factor in a period where their production was illegal, or if one were crossing through unfriendly territory), and could travel far distances without incurring any damage. This travel icon on silk is made of bronze, which was a unique choice for its time period. It depicts Jesus on the cross – a common subject matter for icons. The object has blue enamel detailing – a colour frequently used to enhance an item’s shine and visual appeal. Some areas of the icon are smooth, likely due to polishing over the years. The metal icon is fixed to a fine silk background and is framed. This is one of two available icons; the other depicts the Holy Mother of Kazan.
At this time in Russia, Peter the Great ordered the creation of a new capital city, named St. Petersburg. Legend has it that the location of the city was revealed to Peter by a flying eagle, which hovered in the air above it. Construction began in this marshy landscape in 1703, with architects from all over Europe directing the project. Thousands of labourers and prisoners would die from the harsh working conditions and physical stress over the next fifteen years. St. Petersburg was the capital city of the Russian Empire for over two hundred years (1712–1728, 1732–1918), until the Russian Revolution of 1917.