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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS , Case R, Shelf 53, Box L

The Twelve Feasts

19th century (painted)
Place of origin

Religious icon painting

Object details
Object type
Materials and techniques
Tempera on panel
Brief description
Icon, 'The Twelve Feasts', Russian, 19th century
Physical description
Religious icon painting
  • Approx. height: 14.25in
  • Approx. width: 11.375in
Dimensions taken from departmental object file
Credit line
Bequeathed by Mrs Alexander Tweedie
Object history
Bequeathed by Mrs Alexander Tweedie, 1940

This icon was given to the V&A by the estate of the travel writer Mrs. Alec-Tweedy. Born Ethel Brilliana Harley, Mrs. Alec-Tweedy went on several world tours and wrote widely about her adventures. As her sons were both killed during the First World War and as she was predeceased by her husband, Mrs. Alec-Tweedy left several works of art to the V&A upon her death in 1940, including two icons (W.15-1940 and W.16-1940). Icon W.16-1940 contains an inscription on the reverse which records its purchase in St. Petersburg in 1898.

Historical significance: While this icon is of a type widely found in Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with a central image of the Resurrection surrounded by festival scenes, the style and iconography of this icon is unusual and can be connected to icons produced in Eastern Russia during the nineteenth century. The pattern on the exterior edge of the panel imitates designs on Japanese Imari porcelain and has a very oriental character. Additionally, the iconography and details of the festival scenes are sometimes incorrect and seem to indicate a painter who was not entirely familiar with the customary theological and artistic trends of Russia at this time. The figures are also not well painted, again suggesting an attribution to a provincial school. While it is known that Mrs Alec-Tweedy took a trip from China to Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway in 1926, it would seem, due to the reverse inscription, that she had already acquired this icon in St. Petersburg in 1898.

The scenes surrounding the main image of the Resurrection are labelled in black ink, as are the figures within each scene. These scenes make up the dodekaorton, or twelve great feasts of the liturgical year. The twelve scenes depicted are:

(Four running across the top):

1) The Nativity of the Virgin

This scene shows the birth of the Virgin Mary in the house of her parents Saints Joachim and Anna. Saint Anna is shown in her bed to the left side of the scene, while Joachim watches from the upper right. The Virgin is bathed by her nurse in the lower right.

2) The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple

This scene shows the Virgin being presented by her Parents Joachim and Anna to the High Priest Zachariah, however, the priest is erroneously named Symeon, who is the high priest in the Temple when Christ is presented.

3) The Annunciation.

In this scene the Archangel Gabriel announces that the Virgin will give birth to the son of God.

4) The Nativity of Christ.

In this scene the Virgin and Christ are shown in an awkward cave, the space of which is not clearly delineated. Two male figures watch from over a hill side and may be shepherds. The main focus of the scene, however, is the hermit addressing the prophecy of Isaiah to Joseph.

(Second row down on the left and right)

5) The Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Here, according to the traditional iconography, Christ is handed by the Virgin over to the High Priest Symeon. Joseph and Anna stand behind the Virgin.

6) The Baptism of Christ.

In this scene Christ stands in the waters of the river Jordan while John the Forerunner (the Orthodox name for John the Baptist) places his hand on his head. An angel witnesses the event from the opposite shore of the river, but oddly, the Holy Spirit is omitted from the composition.

(Third row down on the left and right)

7) The Entry into Jerusalem.

In this scene, Christ sits astride a donkey and rides towards a wall with a figure before it. He is followed by two apostles. Many of the iconographical details of this scene have been omitted.

8) The Transfiguration.

Christ stands in a mandorla of orange light between the prophets Moses and Elijah. Below Christ, three unnamed figures meant to represent Peter, John and James are depicted.

(Four running across the bottom)

9) The Exaltation of the Cross.

In this scene, Saints Constantine and Helena stand before the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem while the Patriarch Makarios raises the True Cross for the people to see.

10) The Ascension

This scene does not correspond to the traditional iconography of the Ascension, but attempts to reconstruct the feast in a truncated manner. The Virgin on the left, faces the few Apostles shown to the right. Above them Christ sits in a mandorla held aloft by two angels.

11) The Holy Trinity, or, the Hospitality of Abraham.

Here, in a scene from the Old Testament, We see three angels sitting at a table which is set with red vessels. Abraham and Sarah are absent from the imagery here, but the addition of the Terebinth of Mamre, a tree near Abraham's house is visible to the left of the angel in the centre of the composition.

12) The Dormition of the Virgin.

In a scene which has, again, been visually abbreviated from the normal iconography, the Virgin is portrayed laid out on an awkward bed, surrounded only by Peter and Paul. Above her, in a mandorla, Christ holds her soul in the form of a small child. This forms a visual parallel with the imagery in which the Virgin holds the Christ child.
Accession number

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Record createdMay 22, 2007
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