Opening today is the Museum of Russian Icons in the Palazzo Pitti. Part of the Uffizi Gallery’s collection, the restored rooms will display 78 Russian icons dating from the 16th to 18th centuries.
The Museum of Russian Icons is the most ancient selection of this genre outside ancient Ruthenia (which loosely corresponds to Ukraine, Belarus and Western Russia today).
A few specimens belonged to the Medici that date back to the 16th-17th centuries. However, the majority of the icons entered the collection of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany under the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty.
The collection is on the ground floor of Palazzo Pitti in four rooms which were part of the summer apartment for the future Cosimo III. The centrepiece of the apartment was the large central hall. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo of Habsburg-Lorraine turned into the Palatine Chapel in 1766.
The public have never had access to these for rooms. Allocated to the Uffizi, their 17th-century frescoes are now restored.
The Russian icons
Artists who worked for the Russian Tsars painted a number of the icons.
The collection started with the Medici family. The House of Lorraine, Austrian royals and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire continued the collection.
The icons were first mentioned in an early-1600s inventory of the Medici’s possessions. They next appreard in references in 1761, by which time they were in Palazzo Pitti.
The Uffizi has such an immense collection of various works. As a result, the icons have not been on display. Highlights of the collection include a Madonna owned by the Medici family, and the Menologio — a calendar of orthodox festivals, divided into over 100 individual scenes painted in microscopic detail.
Uffizi director Eike Schmidt believes this is a more intimate collection than other Medici collections of art .
“It sets itself apart from other collections because [the icons are] mainly small and medium-sized, meant for private family worship, and designed to be portable,” CNN reported.
A wider cultural offering
Staff believe the museum will tap into a post-pandemic desire to see something different.
“It’s responding to the current need to widen our cultural offering for an ever more diverse public, who want to explore lesser-known places,” said Daniela Parenti, curator of the icon museum.
Schmidt added the museum would pave the way for the opening of the entire ground floor of Palazzo Pitti. Those frescoed rooms have never been open to the public.
“They’re incredible rooms, and the Grand Dukes [of Tuscany] lived inside them. But today they’re mainly used as offices and service rooms,” he said.