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"Mysterious" writing on back of icon: An OC.net mystery

NicholasMyra

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Hello, everyone! Here's an OC.net mystery.

I came across this icon of Christ at at a local shop. It's in rough shape and may or may not have a printed face, hard to tell with the cracking. Hand-painted decorations on the gold leaf. Russian-style Christ as king icon.

What really piqued my interest was the faded writing on the reverse, which can be seen in the photographs, below (click to enlarge). The writing includes markings for "1908" and "1909", which was quite a time for the Slavic world, but is written (mostly) in Latin characters.

Wondering if the sleuths from OC.net can decipher the faded pencil writing.

Thanks, and Cheers!




 

Arachne

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Greeks had the custom of writing the names of the children born in the family on the back of the Christ icon. Maybe Russians did the same thing too.
 

LBK

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The lower date is 27th June, 1969 (not 1909). It is by a different hand, and in ink (ballpoint?), not in pencil.

So far, the only part of the pencilled inscription I can make out is the date (December 1 or 13, 1908), and the word immediately above it: Петра (Peter). The photo has a noticeable flash flare on the left hand side, obscuring much of what is written below.

Is it possible to take a clearer photo?
 

NicholasMyra

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LBK said:
The lower date is 27th June, 1969 (not 1909). It is by a different hand, and in ink (ballpoint?), not in pencil.

So far, the only part of the pencilled inscription I can make out is the date (December 1 or 13, 1908), and the word immediately above it: Петра (Peter). The photo has a noticeable flash flare on the left hand side, obscuring much of what is written below.

Is it possible to take a clearer photo?
How's this:


 

LBK

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Better, thanks.  :laugh:

The word next to Петра appears to be a surname, and the date below it is December 1, 1908. For the rest, I'll have to work on it.  :)
 

Iconodule

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It reads, “If any man desires to obtain a long life, if he would obtain a faithful messenger and see the blood of his enemies, it is necessary that he should first go into the city of Chorazin, and there salute the prince...“ The last word is very faint but it may be воздуха, meaning “of the air.”

Interesting find!
 

LizaSymonenko

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I think I can make out, "Петра Великого"... which would be "Peter the Great".

...but, that might simply be some other Peter's surname.
 

WPM

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Could be from an Orthodox mission chapel.
 

Alpha60

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NicholasMyra said:
LBK said:
The lower date is 27th June, 1969 (not 1909). It is by a different hand, and in ink (ballpoint?), not in pencil.

So far, the only part of the pencilled inscription I can make out is the date (December 1 or 13, 1908), and the word immediately above it: Петра (Peter). The photo has a noticeable flash flare on the left hand side, obscuring much of what is written below.

Is it possible to take a clearer photo?
How's this:


It’s good to see you again NicholasMyra!  Thank you for posting this interesting thread.  :)
 

Hawkeye

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LizaSymonenko said:
I think I can make out, "Петра Великого"... which would be "Peter the Great".

...but, that might simply be some other Peter's surname.
It's almost certainly "Петра Великого" given that preceding word appears to be "Императора," or "Imperator."
 

NicholasMyra

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Thank you, Arachne, LBK, Liza. This "Peter the Great" bit only adds more to the mystery.

I looked up anniversary events associated with Peter the Great:

1907 was the 200th anniversary of Peter the Great's navy;
1903 was the 200th anniversary of the founding of St Petersburg by Peter the Great
1909 the Peter the Great bridge was founded on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava.

This icon was found near Seattle, WA, for the record.
 

NicholasMyra

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As the icon is in very fragile condition and isn't "high value," I plan to use natural shellac and refined linseed oil to conserve it--barring revelations in this thread that would suggest otherwise.
 

isxodnik

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My guess:
1 line: С. Петербург - St. Petersburg
2 line: Домик Императора - House of the Emperor
3 line: Петра Великого - Peter the Great
4 line: 1-го дек. 1908 - 1st December 1908
5 line: П******* Иванов(?) - P****** Ivanov(?)
6 line: 2 июля 1909 - 2 July 1909
 

LBK

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NicholasMyra said:
As the icon is in very fragile condition and isn't "high value," I plan to use natural shellac and refined linseed oil to conserve it--barring revelations in this thread that would suggest otherwise.
Are you intending to treat the face of the icon? Or the back? Or both?
 

NicholasMyra

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LBK said:
NicholasMyra said:
As the icon is in very fragile condition and isn't "high value," I plan to use natural shellac and refined linseed oil to conserve it--barring revelations in this thread that would suggest otherwise.
Are you intending to treat the face of the icon? Or the back? Or both?
Until I can determine if the face can be non-destructively cleaned, the back would get shellac to preserve the writing. If so, I would low heat press cracked areas on the front, then shellac it, then apply linseed oil to the entire front.
 

NicholasMyra

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isxodnik said:
My guess:
1 line: С. Петербург - St. Petersburg
2 line: Домик Императора - House of the Emperor
3 line: Петра Великого - Peter the Great
4 line: 1-го дек. 1908 - 1st December 1908
5 line: П******* Иванов(?) - P****** Ivanov(?)
6 line: 2 июля 1909 - 2 July 1909
That makes an enormous amount of sense! Thank you.

So this icon is a swag/pilgrimage/tourist item.
 

LBK

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NicholasMyra said:
LBK said:
NicholasMyra said:
As the icon is in very fragile condition and isn't "high value," I plan to use natural shellac and refined linseed oil to conserve it--barring revelations in this thread that would suggest otherwise.
Are you intending to treat the face of the icon? Or the back? Or both?
Until I can determine if the face can be non-destructively cleaned, the back would get shellac to preserve the writing. If so, I would low heat press cracked areas on the front, then shellac it, then apply linseed oil to the entire front.
DON'T. Do not shellac either the front or the back. Shellac is a rigid varnish, and does not allow the icon to "breathe". Shellac also becomes brittle with age, so if it cracks with time, it could lift off the underlying painting. And the backs of icons were never varnished, further allowing the icon to breathe.

As for "heat pressing", this is really asking for trouble. Old icons can be often be cleaned of their darkened olifa, and new olifa applied. Applying it properly takes a fair amount of skill, especially on an old and damaged icon, so if you've never done it before, you could cause more damage.

Best to take it to an experienced iconographer or conservator to assess the state of the underlying painting. Otherwise, simply leave it alone, and, if it isn't already, get it framed inside a kiot to protect it.
 

NicholasMyra

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LBK said:
And the backs of icons were never varnished, further allowing the icon to breathe.
Breathe?

LBK said:
Best to take it to an experienced iconographer or conservator to assess the state of the underlying painting.
Is it really "worth" that sort of investment, given its age and condition?
 

LBK

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NicholasMyra said:
Wood is porous. Air and atmospheric moisture vapour interact with the wood, going in and coming out, depending on conditions. If the entire board is coated in an impermeable varnish, this cannot happen. Carpenters and joiners know this well. Look at how a painted timber door is painted, if oil-based paint is used: the top and bottom faces that point towards the ceiling and floor are left unpainted. The paint protects the timber, but the unpainted sections help prevent the door from distorting. Even a small change in dimension or orientation can affect how the door hangs.

NicholasMyra said:
Is it really "worth" that sort of investment, given its age and condition?
That depends on you. What you are proposing (low heat application, shellac) will surely cause more damage. If taking the icon to a professional is not on your list, then simply respect the age and fragility of the icon and have it framed in a protective kiot, with the glass set an inch or so above the surface of the icon. A good picture framer can do this.

If you're not sure how such a kiot can be made, let me know.  :)
 

NicholasMyra

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LBK said:
NicholasMyra said:
Wood is porous. Air and atmospheric moisture vapour interact with the wood, going in and coming out, depending on conditions. If the entire board is coated in an impermeable varnish, this cannot happen. Carpenters and joiners know this well. Look at how a painted timber door is painted, if oil-based paint is used: the top and bottom faces that point towards the ceiling and floor are left unpainted. The paint protects the timber, but the unpainted sections help prevent the door from distorting. Even a small change in dimension or orientation can affect how the door hangs.

NicholasMyra said:
Is it really "worth" that sort of investment, given its age and condition?
That depends on you. What you are proposing (low heat application, shellac) will surely cause more damage. If taking the icon to a professional is not on your list, then simply respect the age and fragility of the icon and have it framed in a protective kiot, with the glass set an inch or so above the surface of the icon. A good picture framer can do this.

If you're not sure how such a kiot can be made, let me know.  :)
Fair points, though "breathing" in the wrong environment did cause the entire icon to warp inward (If only they'd used splines.). So I think I can put together a kiot. Thanks for the tips.
 

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NicholasMyra said:
Hello, everyone! Here's an OC.net mystery.

I came across this icon of Christ at at a local shop. It's in rough shape and may or may not have a printed face, hard to tell with the cracking. Hand-painted decorations on the gold leaf. Russian-style Christ as king icon.

What really piqued my interest was the faded writing on the reverse, which can be seen in the photographs, below (click to enlarge). The writing includes markings for "1908" and "1909", which was quite a time for the Slavic world, but is written (mostly) in Latin characters.

Wondering if the sleuths from OC.net can decipher the faded pencil writing.

Thanks, and Cheers!




The mystery of this icon aside, I have to confess I really admire it on its own terms.  If you go on a pilgrimage with it, once it is protected in a kiot, I would love to venerate it.  Or perhaps commission a replica.  It is a particularly fine icon however; a replica would not do it justice; its age endears it.  This is not the sort of icon that when worn out should be reduced to ashes for mixing with the Chrism*.

*I have read the ashes of life-expired icons are mixed into the Chrism by the EP; if this is not the case, do let me know, as there are more urban legends about our church than accurate material.
 

isxodnik

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I think you've been misled. In Miro/Chrism not add ashes. It is transparent, slightly cloudy, possible whitish precipitate. The rank of mirovarenija easy to Google.
 

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Alpha60 said:
*I have read the ashes of life-expired icons are mixed into the Chrism by the EP; if this is not the case, do let me know, as there are more urban legends about our church than accurate material.
Old unsalvageable icons, service books, Gospels etc are used to fuel the fires used to heat the cauldrons in which the chrism is prepared.  The patriarch lights the fire using the trikirion after the initial prayers and blessings.
 
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