In the beginnng of 2019, Manege Central Exhibition Hall opens the “Christ in the Dungeon” exhibition. It will present wooden religious sculpture drawn from the collections of 14 museums throughout Russia. Church wooden sculpture is a major phenomenon in Russian art, which, along with icons and works of decorative and applied art, was part of artistic ensembles of churches and chapels.
The exhibition is devoted to a rather rare, but significant subject in Russian Orthodox iconography – “Christ in the Dungeon” (“Midnight Savior”) – the depiction of Jesus Christ imprisoned, subjected to desecration and awaiting his ascent to Calvary on the first stop of the Via Dolorosa. The afflicted Christ was portrayed sitting, either naked or clothed in a chiton, with a crown of thorns on his head and, most often, with his right hand pressed to his cheek. Displayed in the main space of Manege, the exhibition will consist of over 30 sculptures ranging from the mid-17th to the early 19th centuries.
Wooden sculptures portraying this subject appeared relatively late in Russia, in the 17th century, and became widespread over the subsequent two centuries. The first sculptural works of “Christ in the Dungeon” were carried out by Belarusian woodcarvers working for Patriarch Nikon. Chapel-shaped icon cases were fashioned to house the sculptures in the Voskresenky Cathedral—a structure which was created to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem—which is located in the New Jerusalem Monastery near Moscow.
While temple sculptures—“icons carved, hewn, hollowed out, or sculpted”—were periodically banned by the Holy Synod, in provincial areas remote from the capital, they were able to escape destruction. The creation of the chapel-shaped icon cases inside these temples was completed in the first half of the 19th century. Arising from European influence, the sculptures were connected with folk culture. The so-called “Perm Gods,” with their characteristic poses, expressive faces, and a whimsical combination of European style with Asiatic character, became widespread.
Among the museums participating in the Manege exhibiton project are: The State Tretyakov Gallery, The State Russian Museum, Perm State Art Gallery, Morshansk Museum of History and Art, Pereslavl-Zalessky Museum Preserve, The State Museum of the History of Religion, Totma Museum Association and other museums.
Curated by Semyon Mikhailovsky, Rector of St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, Commissioner of Russia’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Exhibition design by Anton Gorlanov