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

St Barbara

probably 1861 (painted)
Place of origin

Tempera painting

Object details

Object type
TitleSt Barbara
Materials and techniques
Tempera on panel
Brief description
Icon of St Barbara, Russian or Bulgarian School, probably 1861
Physical description
Tempera painting
  • Height: 31.1cm
  • Width: 26.7cm
Measured 29/05/07 by Emma Luker and Rachel Sloan
Marks and inscriptions
  • IC XC (Inscribed above the figure of Christ)
  • (Inscription above the saint including her name.)
  • (There is a dedication in Russian on the back of the icon.)
Object history
Purchased, 1907

This icon was purchased on 13 April, 1907 from Mr. C. Soar of 17 Cobden Road, Harrow Green, Leytonstone for £8. An inscription on the reverse of the panel records the donation of the icon to Holy Bulgaria on 23 June, 1861 by a Moscow merchant of Bulgarian origin named Stephen of Malyovitsa. The date 1861 is important since it is known that the church belonging to the monastery of the Archangel Michael in Dryanovo (an important centre of monastic life in Bulgaria during the nineteenth century), was constructed in this year shortly before it was destroyed during the 'April Uprising' of 1876. This would explain how an icon dedicated in 1861 could have been badly damaged, repainted, exported from Bulgaria and sold to the V&A in a period of only 46 years.

Historical significance: This icon is in a poor state of preservation, with a great deal of surface wear and over painting, but the nature of the damage is unclear. While it is possible (based on the reverse inscription) that the icon was a part of the festival tier of the iconostasis in the church at Dryanovo which was completed in 1861 and destroyed in 1876, it is also possible that the icon was deliberately aged in a fraudulent attempt to make it appear as though it was an icon of the seventeenth century.

While the damage to the icon could have been caused in various ways, and the landscape is clearly a later addition, the style and iconography of the icon are perfectly in keeping with the art of mid nineteenth century Russia. In her left hand, Saint Barbara holds a palm leaf signifying her martyrdom, while in her right, she holds up a chalice containing the Host and is blessed by Christ in Heaven. In the landscape beside Barbara stands the tower in which her father imprisoned her with its three windows representing the Holy Trinity. In this case a moat has been added to amplify the idea of her isolation.

Despite the venerated position of the Great Martyr Barbara in Orthodoxy (her relics are kept in Kyiv (Kiev) where her feast day is the 4 December), in the Western Catholic church she was removed from the liturgical calendar in 1969 because she was considered to be completely fictitious.
Russian or Bulgarian School
Subject depicted
Bibliographic reference
This icon is included in a hard-bound, typed manuscript [copy from the "Department of Paintings", now located in Paintings section library, Word and Image Department]: List of Icons in the Victoria & Albert Museum with a List of Books and Articles on Icons Classified According to Languages (see List of Contents). 1931. This icon is noted on Page 4, entry as follows: Regd. No: 144-1907 Woodwork Dept. [Since transferred to Paintings.] School/Period: Russian, 19th cent. Subject: St. Barbara, crowned. She holds a chalice with the Host and a palm branch. Near by is her Tower. Christ, on clouds, holds a palm branch." Remarks: [nothing entered here]"
Accession number

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Record createdMay 30, 2007
Record URL
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