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


A year prior to the Russian Revolution, Olga Rozanova created an album of avant-garde prints depicting war. She used the suprematist art style to reduce images of battle, bloodshed, trauma, and heroism to simple shapes. In the Orthodox world, Saint George is synonymous with militarism, strength, and the defense of Christianity. In this icon, like in Rozanova’s print, there are many things happening at once. Animals, men, and spirits all collide and intersect on a single, flat plane. Note the arrows in the lower-left corner of Rozanova’s print, primed to shoot, while the eyes of mysterious figures peer out from behind them. On the other side of a diagonal dividing line are a bird, two houses, and a human. Rozanova’s work shows that, during war, many forces are at play and everyone, whether soldier or civilian, becomes an active part of the chaos. There are many active figures in the icon of Saints George and Demetrius as well. If you look closely, you will find ten active figures, each with a role in the scene.

Rozanova, Olga, Untitled, Photoengraving, 1916, Harvard Art Museums, M20096

Saints George and Demetrius, Egg tempera on wood, c. 1680, Museum of Russian Icons, R2011.36