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The Russian Gnadenstuhl

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This article has been awarded the 2018 British Association for Slavonic & East European Studies (BASEES) Women's Forum Article Prize (joint winner).

This paper investigates a curious Western iconographical detail on the famous 'Four-Part Icon' in the Moscow Kremlin Annunciation Cathedral: the winged Gnadenstuhl. Painted just after the 1547 coronation of the first Russian Tsar, Ivan IV the Terrible, the innovative Four-Part Icon became a major element of the Russian icon controversy in mid-sixteenth-century Moscow. The paper shows that the winged Gnadenstuhl in the first of the four parts of the icon combines Western iconographies of the Throne of Mercy and the cruciform seraph. It is argued that they were appropriated not in order to introduce Western ideas to Russia, but to challenge them. Moreover, it is suggested that such appropriations, characterised as 'visual polemical quotations', were not unique to the Four-Part Icon; rather, they may have been of particular significance in the artistic interactions between Eastern and Western Christianity. Textual and iconographic analysis reveals that the image of winged Gnadenstuhl was appropriated and invented with the specific purpose of making the target of the Four-Part Icon's visual polemics recognisable. That target was Western compassionate spirituality, which the Orthodox linked with the use of unleavened Eucharistic bread in the West. The paper highlights the significance of the so-called 'Azyme Controversy' which erupted before the mutual excommunication of Rome and Constantinople in 1054, offering an introduction to this topic and tracing the divergent development of Western and Eastern Eucharistic Trinitarian iconographies in the light of the ensuing debates
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Cambridge, Newnham College

Publication date: December 1, 2016

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  • The JWCI is intended as an interdisciplinary forum for scholars specialising in art history, the history of ideas, and cultural history. It publishes articles based on new research, normally from primary sources. Topics include the arts in their various forms, religion, philosophy, science, literature and magic, as well as intellectual, political and social life, from Antiquity to the dawn of the contemporary era. Usually the subjects discussed either centre on or have some connection with Western, typically European cultures; therefore, too, the JWCI provides a home for research into the many interconnections between those cultures and others which have flourished beyond European borders - particularly, but by no means limited to, the cultures and learning of the Near East.

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