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Leonid A. Ouspensky

Leonid A. OuspenskyBorn 1902, died 1987 Ouspensky had an unlikely start for the life of the russian who would renew the world interest in icons.
At the time of the Russian revolution Ouspensky was a convinced atheist, and he traveled around the villages of the region preaching atheism. He entered homes and threw icons out of the windows. He left school to enlist in the Red Army. However, he and his friends were too young, not admitted to the Red Army and sent back to school. A few months later Ouspensky again tried to enlist in the army and accepted. In 1918 he went to war. His adventures are interesting and told by his wife on the website of Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery in California, U.S.
Later Ouspensky found himself in Bulgaria. He worked hard there at a salt plant, then in a vineyard, and later as a quarry-worker. Ouspensky signed a one-year contract with the Schneider Firm at Creusot, and that is how he came to France.
In 1929, on the initiative of Tatiana Lvovna Sukhotine-Tolstoi, an Academy of Arts was opened in Paris, at which many well-known artists taught. Ouspensky enrolled. Until that point his love for painting had found its sole expression in his meticulous copying of post cards with flowers. After entering the Academy he began working at the bicycle factory on a piece-work basis. Managing to fulfill his norms before noon, he dedicated his remaining hours to painting. Soon he left the plant altogether, which resulted in a difficult existence with meager earnings from sporadic manual labour, such as unloading cargo carriages at night.
The whole company spent summer vacations at the summer villa of K. A. Somov in Normandy. Out of these summer sessions came creative, talented drawings and portraits which the aspiring painters made of each other.
In the late 1930’s he followed Georgii Ivanovich Krug and joined the association of Orthodox theologians, intellectuals and artists in Paris known as the “Stavropegial Brotherhood of Saint Photios .” There he became close to the theologian, Vladimir Nikolaevich Lossky, and to the brothers, Maxim and Evgraf Kovalevsky.
Each member of the Brotherhood worked in his own field. Vsevolod Palashkovski was a liturgist; Maxim Kovalevsky was a great and talented master of Church singing and a choir director; his brother, the future Archpriest Evgraf Kovalevsky, was a brilliant canonist; Vladimir Lossky was already a famous theologian (by the time the war had begun in 1939); Georgii Ivanovich Krug and Leonid Alexandrovich Ouspensky were icon painters.
In 1945, Leonid Ouspensky and his wife applied for the restitution of their Soviet citizenship and received it in June, 1946. Their first visit to Russia since their exile in the 1920’s came in 1958, at which time they began visiting Russia quite frequently. Each of these trips was rich and unforgettable in its own way, providing opportunities for continuing first-hand research and the study of old icons.
Leonid Ouspensky did not like public appearances. He accepted an invitation of the Church of Finland only twice to deliver lectures, and in 1969, on the invitation of the Sorbonne, he gave a course of lectures there. But he remembered with special warmth and joy the five lectures he gave in 1969 at the Theological Academy in Saint Petersburg — then Leningrad. He was pleased with the audience’s evident love and interest and with their many questions. The Russian Church awarded Leonid Ouspensky the Order of Saint Vladimir of the second — and later of the first — degree.


Leonid A. Ouspensky

The Meaning of Icons


Author/Artist: Leonid A. Ouspensky
ISBN: 0913836990
Publisher: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press
First published: 1999

The co-author of this book was Vladimir Lossky.

Includes 160 pages of text with drawings, 13 black and white and 51 full color plates. It is linen-cloth and paper bound. In the last decades the art of icons has gained increased attention. Once icons were passed over by the art critics, or at most classified as popular art, although painters such as Matisse or Picasso went to Russia especially for the sake of studying this art. Most recently many books have been published on icon painting. Yet the present work is the first of its kind to give a reliable introduction into the spiritual background of this art.

The nature of the icon cannot be grasped by means of pure art criticism, nor by the adoption of a sentimental point of view. Its forms are based on the wisdom contained in the theological and liturgical writings of the Eastern Orthodox Church and are intimately bound up with the experience of contemplative life.

The introduction into the meaning and the language of the icons by Ouspensky imparts to us in an admirable way the spiritual conceptions of the Eastern Orthodox Church which are often so foreign to us, but without the knowledge of which we cannot possibly understand the world of the icon.

"It is not the purpose of the icon to touch its contemplator. Neither is it its purpose to recall one or the other human experience of natural life; it is meant to lead every human sentiment as well as reason and all other qualities of human nature on the way to illumination."

"The entire visible world as depicted in the icon is to foreshadow the coming Unity of the whole creation, of the Kingdom of the Holy Ghost."

The theological justification of the icon was derived by the Seventh Ecumenical Council from the fact of the Incarnation of God. God became human for the elation and deification of Man. This deification becomes visible in the saints. The Byzantine theologian often sets the calling of an icon painter on an equal level with that of a priest. Devoted to the service of a more sublime reality, he exercises his objective duty the same way as the liturgical priest. The "spiritual genuineness" of the icon, the cryptic, almost sacral power to convince, is not alone due to accurate observation of the iconographic canon, but also the ascetic fervor of the painter.

A very interesting section of the technique of icon painting is followed by the main part of the book, in which both authors describe the most important types of icons. Apart from a detailed description of the icon screen (iconostas) of the Russian Church, 58 types are explained with the aid of an equal number of illustrations, amongst which there are alone 10 various representatives of the virgin. Special mention is due to 51 icons reproduced in their complete colorful splendor.

The section of subjects made in order to reveal the main features of Orthodox iconography was naturally limited to the examples available outside of Russia. But this not in the least diminishes the value of the book; on the contrary, it led to the reproduction of many beautiful icons which had never been published before or had been unknown to wider public. A considerable number of museums and private collectors in Europe and America spontaneously placed their collections at the disposal of the authors.





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