• 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 were mass-produced, individuals among thousands: most typically, molten brass was poured into a mold and cooled to create affordable, durable icons. 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 literate, semi-wealthy citizens sought comfort in Orthodox traditions. A surge of interest in iconography 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.
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, КП-2231.

The metal icons in our collection, including this depiction of St. Demetrios (2020.332), were created to meet this rapidly-growing demand. Despite the seemingly constraining form — mass production from a mold — icon-makers found ways to individualize their work. After an icon was set, it still had to be inscribed and colored, and here we find variations. The enamel in our version of this icon is unique from others, such as the version at the Andrey Rublev Central Museum of Ancient Russian Culture and Art in Moscow. Perhaps this was due to material constraints, the enamel available at a given point and place. It is also possible that our icon uses enamel to convey meaning in a way different from the one at the Rublev Museum — in ours, the earthly scene at the center is decorated with pale blue, while the backgrounds of the saints and Christ above and in the outer margins are treated with brighter, richer colors. Perhaps our icon-maker deliberately used color to more clearly differentiate between Heaven and Earth. Such small details add a human touch to a seemingly impersonal process.

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/