Icons hold a special place in Russian culture, reaching far beyond their significance as cult images in the Orthodox rite. In the cultural and socio-political debates of the 19th century, the Slavophiles saw icons as symbols of an original, uniquely Russian tradition, establishing a sacral pictorial tradition independent of Western European influences. In terms of technique, the icon is distinguished by the use of inverse perspective and internal light without a visible source, as well as the concept of collective authorship of artists working in a prescribed tradition, handed down through the centuries. Due to its position in an Orthodox sanctuary, the icon in the traditional understanding forms a point of transition from the earthly to the transcendental world.
According to this project's thesis, the icon lends itself to modern conceptions of visual and verbal art because, fundamentally - in its gesture of transcendence, as well as both in the techniques of its creation, as in its basic theological concept of the image, it challenges mimesis as a mode of depicting worldly reality. In this respect, discussions of the icon invariably also pertain to the status of art itself, its position in relation to existing reality, as well as to a higher or different, aspired reality. The icon is thus used to articulate a world view, which can extend to the political realm.
The project will trace the iconic gesture of transcendence from Romanticism (Puškin) to the art of the avant-garde (Malevič). Realism constitutes a second focus, in which the description of icon (and icon making) will be examined in relation to concepts of mimesis and to the ethical implications of being an artist. Thus, Gogol' contrasts secular and sacred art in Portret (The Portrait), Dostoevsky depicts Holbein's image of Christ in the grave as an anti-icon in Idiot (The Idiot), and Leskov represents the icon tradition of the Old Believers in Zapečatlennyj angel (The Sealed Angel).