Saintly Shapes: The Evolution of Iconography to the Avant-Garde


The cross is a symbol which transcends religious and secular art, from the early days of the Orthodox tradition to the Russian Revolution, when religion was swept aside in favor of the Bolshevik cause. In Ilia Chashnik’s suprematist Study the cross fades into a deep, black backdrop. In contrast, in The Exaltation of the Cross the cross is unveiled in the light and revered. In the iconoclastic climate of Revolutionary Russia, the holiness of the cross was stripped and repurposed as a secular symbol of intersection, focus, and completion.

Chashnik, Ilia, Study for a Suprematist Relief, Drawing, c. 1925, Harvard Art Museums, 1991.280

The Exaltation of the Cross, Egg tempera on wood, c. 1800, Museum of Russian Icons, R2017.6.102, Gift of Edward and Joan Simpson