Tyler Icon Exhibition Launch
Launch Speech Transcript
When Geoffrey and I first started corresponding about the donation of his collection to the university, he listed the various paintings, books, and sculptures, and said “there’s also a group of icons which you may or may not be interested in taking, but to me they are the heart of the collection.” My reply was that accepting the collection without them was unthinkable. Apart from my own fascination with religious icons, their importance to Geoffrey and also the profound cultural context they provide makes them indeed the very soul of this collection, and this is the focus of the display here today.
In the Tyler Collection there are over 40 painted wood icons from Russia, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania, and 20 Romanian icons painted on glass.
The icon is one of the most significant genres in Byzantine art. Likenesses of Christ, the Madonna, saints and angels were used as objects of veneration in Orthodox churches and homes alike for centuries.
Geoffrey observed that on his visits “most Romanian artists had them on the walls of their studios and homes, treasuring them as works of art rather than religious objects”, and their influence is apparent in the imagery and decorative style of many of the artists represented.
I visited the Tylers in their home in Washington and saw that, despite the stiff competition for wall space, Geoffrey had hung all of his icons on every available surface; a glittering host of angels, saints and Madonnas peering down from every corner. It was intense, and very beautiful. I felt like an awestruck worshipper in an ancient church or monastery.
The predominant artist in this collection, Corneliu Petrescu, is clearly influenced by this Byzantine past, and made art counter to the push from the Communist government to abandon Byzantine styles and marginalise the powerful monasteries of Romania. This is apparent in his religious imagery, extensive use of gold leaf, and even in the titles of his paintings, such as 'Byzantine Composition'.
For me the singular most important thing about this art collection is what it meant to Geoffrey. He didn't gather art for prestige, but because he was moved by the imagery and by the artists who made it. He stressed to me that, as frequent visitor to Romania working long hours to return to yet another hotel room, the warm friendship extended by Petrescu and his peers was invaluable to him. They welcomed him into a rich cultural world full of music and beauty, and the lifelong friendships forged are evidenced in the dozens of letters and cards from Petrescu, which are also part of this fascinating archive.
I hope you enjoy this small selection of the icons from the Tyler Collection.