A Tale of Two Collections: The Icons of Nikolai Likhachev and Ilya Ostroukhov
From Jack Allen
“We always imagine Russian culture in the form of a diptych, in which one wing is Petersburg and the other Moscow,” the critic Abram Efros wrote in 1921. “In the field of Russian collecting the type of the Petersburg and the Moscow collector was created in the same way.” Efros might well have been describing the two leading icon collectors of the late imperial era: the St. Petersburg scholar and diplomat Nikolai Likhachev and the Moscow painter Ilya Ostroukhov. If Likhachev’s vast and heterogenous accumulation of icons was a “laboratory” for scholarly investigation, Ostroukhov’s choice distillation epitomized the icon’s emerging status as sublime work of art. This lecture explores the binary positions assigned these two collections in the fierce polemics of the Moscow and St. Petersburg art world on the eve of World War I. It also considers the enduring impact of the Moscow-Petersburg rivalry on early Soviet debates about the collecting and treatment of icons as national patrimony.