The Michael Edgely Collection of Russian Icons

On 20 May Leonard Joel is offering a sale rarely seen in Australia, a major collection of Russian Icon paintings from theatre and concert entrepreneur Michael Edgely. I have been working closely with Mr Edgely over the last six months to make this sale a reality.

The collection originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he was travelling to the then Soviet Union to bring the Moscow State Circus to Australia. In that period, it was possible to acquire rare Icons, some dating to the eighteenth century, and take these treasures as boarded luggage on the flight back to Australia.

Today, the export of Russian Icon paintings more than 100 years old is prohibited, unless accompanied by a certificate from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, attesting to the age of the icon. Due to the embargo, the Michael Edgely Collection, which comprises 44 Icons, is a rare event, particularly in Australia, and will attract international interest.

The word icon stems from the Greek word Eikona meaning devotional image or figure. Iconography is an integral aspect of Orthodox and Catholic religion and was popularized in Medieval Europe during a time when religion and state ruled together and had much influence over people’s lives.

The purpose of icons was to instruct and influence the beholders, who varied from the wealthy and noble to the illiterate working class. Decoration was as important as the icon itself, and was used to convey the meaning, importance and symbolism of an icon. Icons were often lusciously decorated with a gold leaf, which although expensive, was integral to conveying the divine radiance of the figure.

Within the Michael Edgely collection are fine examples of iconography, including gold leaf, oklad adorned and hagiographic icons. Illustrated we see the depiction of St George slaying the dragon. The dragon is a symbol of evil, being conquered by St. George with a halo presiding above and a single hand, signifying the blessing of God. The myth and image were created to instil hope in the beholder, to retain the persistence of faith and as a reminder of God’s miracles.

Other important works in the collection include a depiction of Saint Seraphim Sarovsky, surrounded by a Byzantine style border and painted in egg tempera, gold leaf and gesso on wood; and a depiction of St Vladimir, the baptiser of Russia, with silver oklad.