Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It Happened In Hell: The Morozov Apocalypse (Russia, c. 1820)

by Stephen J. Gertz

One of 73 large illuminations, most full-page.
Pen, ink, and watercolor.
Beware, the Antichrist is here or imminently on the way.

No, not current American political commentary. Rather, the reality to Old Believers, the sect of Russian Orthodox Christianity that, in the wake of the Church's reforms in the mid-17th century, separated from the Church to remain true to its old ways. They were persecuted for their insistence on maintaning the preexisting liturgy, often tortured, sometimes executed. The Church and State imposed anathemas upon the Old Believers.

The Antichrist will make his infernal appearance at Christie's - London, on Wednesday, October 27, 2010, lot 60 in the Arcana Collection Part II sale as part of Tolkovanie na Apokalipsis Sviatogo Ioanna Bogoslava (Commentaries on the Apocalypse of St. John the Divine), and illuminated manscript on paper in Chirch Slavonic. It is estimated to sell for $31,000 - $45,000, depending upon how diabolical the bidding gets.

In the 5th century, Andreas of Caesarea wrote his Commentaries on the Apocalypse of St. John the Divine. Around 1820, a notable Old Believer family or individual, possibly Savva, founder of the Morozov industrial textiles dynasty, or his son, Elisei, commissioned this illuminated manuscript of Caesarea's Commentaries, one quite different than those usually associated with the Old Believers, which tended to be coarse or naïve. Old Believers were the Puritans of Russian Orthodoxy - teetotalers, diligent, hard-working, somewhat severe - and preferred the simple and unadorned in life as well as in religious practice and iconography.

Here, the imagery is unusually fine, evoking earlier icons in the Pomorian Church style. 

The only refuge is Christ, in Heaven.
That the Antichrist was present or soon on the way was a popular topic for discussion amongst Old Believers, who saw in the apocalypse of St. John a parallel to their stuggles against a reformed Church in league with the Tsar. 

Curiously, no one on the contemporary American political landscape has yet cited the Apocalypse of St. John the Divine and the arrival of the Antichrist during this campaign season. Perhaps, to some folks,  it's just a given. Or, we'll just have to wait until 2012. I can see the campaign placard now, eyes pained:  "The Obamanation is an Abomination!"  Sorry if I've given anyone a bad idea by that phrase; I herewith reproach any True Believing individual or organization that appropriates it for their extreme agitprop.

[RUSSIAN OLD BELIEVERS]. ANDREAS OF CAESAREA (fl. 5th century). Tolkovanie na Apokalipsis Sviatogo Ioanna Bogoslova [Commentary on the Apocalypse of St John the Divine], in Church Slavonic, illuminated manuscript on paper [Russia, c.1820].

360 x 260mm. 224 leaves, written in black ink in a regular semi-uncial Church Slavonic hand on laid paper watermarked 'J. Kool', rubrics in red, initials in red, opening letters in red in elaborate scrolling and floral penwork, FOUR FOLIATE HEAD- AND TAILPIECES, TWO ELABORATE FOLIATE INITIALS with bird ornaments, and the opening leaf of the commentary within an ELABORATE FOLIATE FRAME WITH BIRDS, all shaded in yellow, green and crimson in the Pomorian style, SEVENTY-THREE LARGE ILLUMINATIONS, most full-page, pen and ink and watercolour, and some gilt, in a fine archaic Pomorian style, within a double-rule frame shaded in yellow (light marginal soiling, a few tears mostly in the inside margin, ff. 214-15 stained near the gutter). 19th-century Russian red morocco, sides panelled in gilt with foliate and floral tools, brass catches and clasps, spine tooled in gilt, red cloth index tabs, edges gilt (extremities and sides rubbed, some stains on the upper side, spine with some loss of gilt); red morocco-backed case. Provenance: Vikul Eliseevich Morozov (1829-1894; blindstamp and manuscript shelfmark '76').

Images courtesy of Christie's.

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