Windows into heaven


COLUMBUS – One of the world’s most extensive collections of hand-painted Russian icons, spanning the late 17th to the early 20th century, will be exhibited in Columbus at the Pontifical College Josephinum from Jan. 11 through Feb. 10.

The collection, featuring 84 icons from the collection of James Lansing Jackson, will be on view at the Jessing Center on the college’s campus at 7625 N. High St.

“Heaven on Earth: The Holy Art of Imperial Russia” traces the history and artistic development of the Russian icon, a fixture of Russian culture and the Russian Orthodox household, from traditional, highly stylized figures to a more Westernized technique developed in the 18th century after the influences of Peter the Great.

For use in homes. While icons include the depiction of Christian religious images in a variety of mediums, the “Heaven on Earth” icons feature, for the most part, images painted on wood panels. The exhibit includes a wide variety of sizes and icons produced by the house of Faberge.

The icons were collected by Jackson, a world-renowned Russian icon expert, and his Russian-born wife. They are typical of the size designated for use in homes. Most were acquired from private collections in the United States and Europe.

About icons. Icons derive their name from the Greek “eikon,” meaning “image.” For hundreds of years, icons that originated in Russia have been found in other parts of the world. Before the Revolution of 1917, visitors to Russia often purchased icons and took them home as souvenirs. When many Russians fled their homeland during the Revolution, they took their family icons with them.

Later, under the communist regime, the Soviet government regularly sold Russian icons, as well as other artwork and antiques. Today icons are valued for their religious and artistic significance that is deeply rooted in the history of the Russian people.

Revival. “In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in icons, which are gaining appreciation worldwide for their spiritual, cultural, historical and artistic importance,” said Monsignor Earl Boyea, rector/president of the Pontifical College Josephinum. “We are excited to sponsor this unique exhibit to further enhance the public’s knowledge of and exposure to these religious and artistic treasures.”

The exhibit traces the evolution of the Russian icon from the traditional, stylized figures, beginning c. 1700, into westernized images that reflect the influence of Peter the Great opening a “window to the West.”

Rich symbolism. Icons can be “read” if the viewer understands the symbolism represented in these paintings. Jackson increases appreciation of his collection by including text panels for each icon. He writes these descriptions himself, giving details about each image’s creation and meaning.

In addition, a lecture series featuring Russian icon art historians and other experts will be held on select Saturday mornings throughout the exhibit’s run.

Exhibit details. “Heaven on Earth” will open Jan. 11, with a private patron preview and open to the public Saturday, Jan. 12. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

Special group tours are available on Tuesdays, and group discounts are available. Admission is $9 for adults. For information call 614-985-2404.

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Historic setting

COLUMBUS – The Pontifical College Josephinum, site of the exhibit “Heaven on Earth: The Holy Art of Imperial Russia, 1650-1917,” is a historic setting in its own right.

Established in 1888, the Roman Catholic seminary sits on 100 acres in northern Columbus. It received pontifical status from Pope Leo XIII in 1892, and remains the only pontifical seminary outside of Italy.


John Joseph Jessing, a German immigrant, arrived America in 1867, and became a Roman Catholic priest in 1870.

Soon after in Pomeroy, Ohio, he began publishing a German-language newspaper, the “Ohio Waisenfreund,” providing the German immigrant community with religious instruction, as well as fiction, poetry, articles on history, geography, and local and national news.

Jessing opened an orphanage in May 1875 with funds raised by sales revenues from the “Ohio Waisenfreund” and in 1877, he moved the orphanage from Pomeroy to Columbus so that he could achieve broader distribution of his newspaper through the railroads. Circulation eventually reached 38,000 nationwide.

Jessing opened a seminary, the College Josephinum, in 1888 at the request of four older orphan boys and 23 young men in 11 states who responded to an ad in the “Waisenfreund.” The seminary was located at 18th and Main streets in downtown Columbus.

In 1929, The Josephinum began construction of a Gothic Revival building, and in 1931 relocated the seminary to that building on the current 100-acre campus.

The seminary has a four-year undergraduate college of liberal arts and a graduate-level school of theology, accredited through the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada and The Higher Learning Commission.


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