• Harris Icon Collection

In 2020, Kenyon alumnus David P. Harris (’46) donated a large collection of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine icons that he had built up over decades of travel and research. VRC assistants, Sam Bowden ’24, Will Gerhardinger ’24, and Maya Virdell ’24, have been conducting background research on these icons, striving to situate each in its historical, cultural, and material context. They also translate inscriptions on these icons (from Greek or Old Church Slavonic to English), document evidence of repainting and other alterations, and write descriptions for the Blick-Harris Study Collection Digital Kenyon platform. This project is supervised by Professor Brad Hostetler.

Slavonic Icons

Sam Bowden ’24

Many of the metal Slavonic icons in our collection are products of mass production, with molten brass poured into a pre-made mold. In the 19th century, as political tensions and social unrest in the Russian Empire were reaching heights that would culminate in the 1905 Revolution, many people, particularly among the upper class, returned to the Church to seek meaning and comfort. A surge in the popularity of portable, durable metal icons followed.

Icon of St. Demetrios, late 19th century. Brass, casting, enamel, 4 10/16 x 4 x 3/16 in. (11.7 x 10.2 x 0.6 cm). Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.332.
Photo after S. V. Gnutova and E. Ya. Zotova, Artifacts Cast from Brass 11th – Early 20th Century from the Andrey Rublev Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art (Moscow: Interbook-Business, 2000), cat. 146.
Icon of St. Demetrios, late 19th century. Brass, casting, enamel, 11.5 x 10.1 x 0.5 cm. Andrey Rublev Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art.

Many of these icons in our collection, including this icon of St. Demetrios were created and distributed to meet this rapidly-growing new demand. Despite this seemingly constraining form, icon-makers found ways to individualize their work. For example, the enamel in this icon is unique from other versions, and its inscriptions differ – not in content, but in the ways the letters are positioned around the many figures depicted. Our icon-maker makes mistakes in inscribing, as well, using the Greek letter in a saint’s name Ө when the Cyrillic Ф was more commonly used in other examples from this period. Such small details add a surprisingly human slant to the seemingly impersonal process of mass production.

Greek Icons

Maya Virdell ’24

Repainting and Restorations

Will Gerhardinger ’24

I investigate and document repainting on the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Icons in the Blick-Harris Study Collection. Under ultraviolet (UV) light, spots which have been repainted reflect back more light. Using photoshop, I highlight these traces of repainting to aid future research on these objects, uncovering a fuller picture of their life and meaning.

Three icons (left) examined under UV light (center) with areas of repainting indicated by darker colors using Photoshop (right). Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.318, 2020.402, 2020.407.

Banner Image: Icon with Crucifixion, Archangels, Hodegetria, Saint Prokopios, and Donor, 17th–18th centuries. Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.324. https://digital.kenyon.edu/arthistorystudycollection/1339/