The Menil’s collection of Byzantine and related icons is widely regarded by scholars in the field as one of the most important in the United States. The group of more than 60 works, many of which were acquired by Dominique de Menil in 1985 from the noted collector Eric Bradley, spans 1200 years, from the 6th to the 18th centuries, and encompasses a number of distinct cultures including Greek, Balkan, and Russian. Taking the diversity of the collection into account, Imprinting the Divine: Byzantine and Russian Icons from The Menil Collection examines these works and explores how they were designed to transcend time and place rather than attempting to situate them within a particular context.
In order to be thought of as an effective conduit to the sacred, an icon had to meet certain criteria; it had to be a faithful, recognizable representation of its holy original, which led to the development of definitive types. The most skilled icon-makers were able to introduce new elements while remaining within the prescribed parameters.
While we associate highly regularized images with predictability and even boredom, icons managed to sustain their intensity over centuries, cultures, theological stances, and techniques of production. Employing established compositional tropes, they assume an appearance of radical straightforwardness, but are complicated by a variety of strategies that repeat but also refresh, revise, and renew. Imprinting the Divine invites viewers to explore how icons have maintained their power to surprise and impress.
Organized by the Menil Collection with guest curator Annmarie Weyl Carr, Professor Emeritus at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, with Clare Elliott, Menil assistant curator.
This exhibition is generously supported by Fayez Sarofim, the John P. McGovern Foundation, The Levant Foundation, the Linbeck Family Charitable Trust, an anonymous donor, Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., and the City of Houston.
Photos: Paul Hester