Sacred Presence: Virgin of Kazan at The Icon Museum

The Icon Museum and Study Center presents Sacred Presence: Virgin of Kazan, an exhibition celebrating the beauty and spiritual significance of the Kazanskaya Mother of God icon.

March 22, 2024 – August 25, 2024

CLINTON, MA (March 7, 2024) –– The Icon Museum and Study Center is pleased to present Sacred Presence: Virgin of Kazan, an intimate exhibition celebrating the beauty and spiritual significance of the Kazanskaya Mother of God icon from March 22, 2024 – August 25, 2024. This focus exhibit, guest curated by author and docent, Dennis J. Sardella, highlights a magnificent version of the icon in the Museum’s collection. The exhibition will also feature a selection of icons and objects related to this important image, hidden treasures from the Museum’s vault, some of which will be on view for the first time.

The Kazan Mother of God (Kazanskaya Bogomater’ in Russian) is a highly revered icon, beloved of the people and hailed as a holy protectress. For centuries people prayed before the Kazan Mother of God for support and protection, couples were blessed with it before their marriages, and people hung it by their children’s cribs and in places of honor in their homes, turning to it whenever they faced trouble, disease, and misfortune. The Kazanskaya was also called upon for assistance in times of national peril. By the end of the nineteenth century there were thousands of icons of the Kazan Mother of God in Russian homes. The Icon Museum and Study Center is home to different examples of this iconography.

Sacred Presence: Virgin of Kazan tells the story of this image through the lens of a single seventeenth-century icon, which is one of the highlights in the Museum’s collection. This monumental icon, painted around 1650, dates to less than seventy-five years after the Kazanskaya cult of devotion was founded. The icon’s size, the iconographer’s warm color palette, and the imposing figure of the Mother of God, who is dressed in a purple mantle (maphorion), enables the panel to command the space around it, whereas the gentle melancholy of the Virgin’s gaze has an almost magnetic attraction.

Guest Curator, Dennis J. Sardella, will lead several gallery talks discussing reflections on the Kazanskaya icon of the Mother of God, its iconography, form, spiritual journey, allure, and beauty, as well as its cooption by political and religious actors up to our modern times. Sardella will be available after each gallery talk to sign copies of his book, Visible Image of the Invisible God. Sardella’s book is a comprehensive and beautifully illustrated introduction to icons, their origins, history, and symbolism. It will be available for sale in The Icon Museum and Study Center gift shop during the exhibition.


Dennis J. Sardella, PhD has been a docent at the Museum for twelve years, where he leads gallery tours and introduces visitors to the world of Byzantine and Russian icons. He writes and speaks regularly to civic and church groups on the topics of religious icons and the role they play in Eastern Christian spirituality — at last count, nearly fifty presentations.

A professor of chemistry at Boston College for forty-five years, Sardella taught and researched the areas of spectroscopy and molecular structure. In 1990 he became the founding director of the Boston College Presidential Scholars Program, a university-wide co-curricular honors program, and directed it until 2010.



The Icon Museum and Study Center (formerly The Museum of Russian Icons), founded in 2006 by the American entrepreneur Gordon Lankton, holds the most comprehensive collection of icons in the US, including a growing collection of Greek, Veneto-Cretan, and Ethiopian icons. Spanning over six centuries, the collection showcases the development of the icon from its Egyptian and Byzantine roots and explores the spread of Orthodoxy across cultures. The Museum serves as a place for education, contemplation, and experiencing the beauty and spirituality of icons. The permanent collection and temporary exhibitions offer unparalleled opportunities to situate Eastern Christian art within a global context and to explore its connection to contemporary concerns and ideas. The Museum’s Study Center stimulates object-based learning and multidisciplinary research and aims to share its research in the field of Eastern Christian art with wide audiences through an active slate of academic and public programs.


Thursday – Sunday, 10AM – 4PM. The Museum is closed Monday–Wednesday.

Admission: Adults $15, seniors (65+) $12, Students (with ID) FREE, Children and Youth (0-17) FREE.

Follow The Icon Museum and Study Center on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Visit the website,, home of the online collection (including research papers on individual icons), the Journal of Icon Studies, and the British Museum’s catalogue of Byzantine and Greek icons.

For more information, high-res images, or to arrange an interview, contact:

Danielle Shabo, Mgr. of Marketing at (Wed – Fri) or (978) 598 5000 ext 125

Anna Farwell, Marketing Coordinator at or (978) 598 5000 ext 118


Icons & Retablos: Images of Devotion Exhibition

The Museum of Russian Icons presents Icons & Retablos: Images of Devotion

March 2—August 27, 2023 

CLINTON, MA –The Museum of Russian Icons presents Icons & Retablos: Images of Devotion, March 2–August 27, 2023. This exhibition, created in collaboration with New Mexico State University, will explore the beauty and spirituality of Orthodox icons and Mexican retablos, devotional works of art with similar themes but different materials, styles,and iconographies.

Orthodox icons, typically made with egg tempera on wood panels, feature a stylized representation of the divine against a golden background, symbolizing the intangible and mysterious world of heaven. Icons, an integral part of worship in the Orthodox Church, offer us a glimpse of the divine and transcend ordinary, earthly reality.

Retablos, on the other hand, are religious images painted in oil on industrial pieces of tinplate. They depict an idealized likeness of the divine against blue skies, symbolizing truth and heaven, and facilitating a human connection with God and the saints. This unique and richly varied artistic tradition flourished in Mexico during the nineteenth century.

Guest curated by Dr. Elizabeth Calil Zarur, the exhibition will shed light on the understudied iconographic and ideological contrasts between icons and retablos, contextualizing the traditions of devotion in Latin America and the Eastern Orthodox world through comparative artistic methodologies. Despite their differences, the mutual influence and inspiration of Eastern and Western Christian art is apparent in both icons and retablos.

Icons & Retablos: Images of Devotion is grouped into four themes: the joy of the Annunciation; the loving tenderness of the Mother and Child; the suffering and death of Jesus on behalf of humankind; and documented miracles, or ex-votos. This installation encourages visitors to compare these sacred paintings and to explore these two styles of devotion through diverse materials, themes, and artistic expressions.  All of the exhibition text and materials will be available in English and Spanish.

The Museum of Russian Icons and the University Art Museum at New Mexico State University (NMSU) are caretakers of two significant collections, both portraying religious subjects which conform to theological principles and traditional iconography. The Museum of Russian Icons is home to the largest collection of icons outside of Russia; while NMSU maintains the largest collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century Mexican tin retablos of any U.S. museum.


Icons, from the Greek “eikon” meaning “image or likeness” are sacred paintings of heavenly beings and biblical events. Orthodox Christian icons are displayed in churches on a screen, called an iconostasis, which separates the main part of the church from the altar. In the Orthodox tradition, the home is seen as a satellite of the church. Icons are placed on a shelf in a prominent place known as the “icon corner” or “beautiful corner,” reserved for personal and family prayer.

The Spanish word retablo was derived from the Latin term “retro tabula” for “behind the altar.” It was originally used to designate elaborate wood screens placed behind the main altar displaying sculptures and paintings of saints and other images of devotion. However, in nineteenth-century Mexico, sacred images painted on tin and displayed on home altars were also referred to as retablos. Largely created by self-taught artists, these paintings were used primarily by the Mexican people as objects of veneration in their homes or placed at pilgrimage sites as votive offerings.

Artists of both icons and retablos often remained anonymous with the goal of rendering the image of the divine with simplicity, clarity, and emotional stimulus to piety. Historically, these images were not seen as art but as a means to connect heaven and earth.



Dr. Elizabeth Calil Zarur holds a BFA in Printmaking and Drawing, an MFA in Fiber Arts, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Art.  During her 30-year career teaching art history at New Mexico State University and Wheaton College in Massachusetts, she published extensively and curated several exhibitions.  Her research focuses on the arts and culture of Latin America and Portugal with the publication of books and articles on the nineteenth-century Mexican retablo, the colonial architecture and religious rituals of Brazil, women artists in baroque Portugal, and the feather art of the Indians of Central Brazil. She has curated several national and international exhibitions accompanied by comprehensive catalogues; and attended conferences and delivered lectures in Brazil, Portugal, Mexico, and the United States.


Located in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the University Art Museum’s mission is to serve as an academic environment for the critical analysis of visual art while making culturally relevant and conceptual practice accessible to the New Mexico State University and surrounding regional and border communities. The UAM actively acquires and stewards a permanent collection of contemporary visual art, houses the country’s largest collection of Mexican retablos, and facilitates educational programming aligned with the teaching missions of both the Department of Art and NMSU.


The Museum of Russian Icons preserves and exhibits one of the world’s largest collections of Orthodox Christian icons, bronze crosses, and Slavic folk arts. Spanning over six centuries, the collection showcases the development of the Russian icon from its Egyptian and Byzantine roots and explores the spread of Orthodoxy across cultures.

The Museum serves as a leading center for research and scholarship through the Center for Icon Studies and other institutional collaborations. It is the only Museum in the US dedicated to Russian icons, and the largest collection of icons outside of Russia.


Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10am-4pm. Closed Monday–Wednesday.

Admission: Adults $12, seniors (59+) $10, Students $5, Children (13-17) $5, Children under 13 Free.

Follow the Museum of Russian Icons on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Visit the website,, home of the online collection (including research papers on individual icons), a virtual tour of the Museum, the Journal of Icon Studies, and the British Museum’s Catalogue of Byzantine and Greek Icons.

*Please note the revised title of the exhibition. 

Image credits: 

Mother of God of Sign, Anonymous, Russia. 1800, Collection: Museum of Russian Icons

Soul of Mary (Our Lady of the Incarnation) Anonymous, Mexico, Nineteenth Century, Courtesy NMSU/UAM University Museum of Art.


The Museum of Russian Icons vehemently condemns the military aggression on the sovereign country of Ukraine. We stand with the courageous citizens of Ukraine and Russia who oppose this senseless act of war.




Bringing the Holy Land Home

Bringing the Holy Land Home: The Crusades, Chertsey Abbey, and the Reconstruction of a Medieval Masterpiece (Jan. 26 – April 6, 2023)
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery, Prior Performing Arts Center, the College of the Holy Cross, 1 College St., Worcester, MA

“Bringing the Holy Land Home” explores the impact of art objects manufactured in the eastern Mediterranean on the visual culture of medieval England and western Europe. At its center are an iconic set of mold-made tiles, discovered at Chertsey Abbey outside of London, but probably commissioned for London’s Westminster Palace around 1250. These include a famous pair of roundels showing the English king Richard the Lionheart and the Ayyubid sultan Saladin (Salah al-Din) in combat. Excavated from the ruined site of Chertsey Abbey in the 19th century, the original composition of the fragmented tiles has been reconstructed, including their lost Latin texts. The reconstruction has demonstrated not only that the entire mosaic addressed the theme of the crusades, but also that its design evoked that of imported Byzantine and Islamic silks.

Carried home by crusaders, Byzantine and Islamic silks as well as ceramics, metalwork and other items were highly valued by European audiences, who incorporated them into sacred objects, displayed them in places of esteem, and imitated their designs – as was the case with the Chertsey tiles. The composition of the Chertsey floor relies on visual traditions of textiles developed by Muslim and Orthodox Christian artists in the eastern Mediterranean, even while the iconography attends to the theme of English victory over foreign opponents. By pairing the Chertsey tiles with contemporaneous European and eastern Mediterranean objects, this exhibition endeavors to illuminate the specific and complex contexts that informed the tiles’ production and design.

Along with the Chertsey tiles, on loan from the British Museum, this exhibition also displays the Morgan Library’s Crusader Bible and medieval objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Worcester art Museum, Dumbarton Oaks, and Harvard Art Museums.

Exhibition website at

Exhibition catalogue with contributions from Michael Wood (OBE), Andrea Achi, Paroma Chatterjee, Meredith Fluke, Eurydice Georganteli, Sean Gilsdorf, Sarah Guerin, Cynthia Hahn, Eva R. Hoffman, Richard A. Leson, A. L. McClanan, Nina Masin-Moyer ’22, Grace P. Morrissey ’22, Suleiman Mourad, David Nicolle, Scott Redford, Euan Roger, Alicia Walker, and Elizabeth Dospel Williams, available at

Thurs. Jan 26, Opening Lecture & Reception
Thurs. Jan 26, 4pm, Rehm Library
Dr. William Purkis, “Bringing the Holy Land Home: Crusaders, Relics, and the Transformation of Latin Christendom’s Sacred Material World.” Dr. Purkis is Head of School of History and Cultures at the University of Birmingham.
5:30pm, Opening Reception, Cantor Gallery
Sat. March 25, 8:30am-7pm, “Bringing the Holy Land Home” conference, held in association with the NEMC (New England Medieval Consortium) 

Registration details will be posted at in the coming weeks.

Lloyd de Beer, the British Museum
Paroma Chatterjee, University of Michigan
Paul Cobb, University of Pennsylvania
Matthew Gabriele, Virginia Tech
Sarah Guerin, University of Pennsylvania
Cynthia Hahn, Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Eva Hoffman, Tufts University
Richard Leson, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Amanda Luyster, College of the Holy Cross
Suleiman Mourad, Smith College
Nicholas Paul, Fordham University
Matthew Reeve, Queen’s University
Euan Roger, National Archives, Kew
Naomi Speakman, the British Museum
Elizabeth Williams, Dumbarton Oaks

Finally, if you would like to bring a group to visit the show on any date that the gallery is open (M-F 10 a.m. – 5 pm | Sat noon – 5 pm, Jan. 26-April 6), just email me to make arrangements.  Admission and parking are free.

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