2017 Jan Pieńkowski

2017 Jan Pieńkowski

by Mark Wardell

Jan Pieńkowski: The Three Kings at the Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, 2017

As long ago as 1716 a Russian church dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God was attached to the Russian Embassy in London, initially near the Strand. In 1921 the atheist policies of the Soviet government led to the closure of the church, and the establishment of a Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Services were then held in Victoria, and later at Gloucester Road, in a building leased from the Scottish Presbyterian Church. After many decades of keeping the community together in an ad hoc fashion, in 1992 the parish at last found a suitable building plot in Chiswick.

Here they built a small, white church in the Pskov style, topped by a blue dome with golden stars, the only church in London to have been built in the 20th century in a traditional orthodox style. By Easter 2007 the upper church was finished and the first services were held here. The church dome has now become a Chiswick landmark, visible to all who pass along the A4.

Currently the church is being frescoed. Graduates and students of the School of Iconography at the Moscow Theological Academy are painting the icons for the church. Basing their work on the 15th–16th century Moscow style, they decided on a three-tier iconostasis, with a lower tier, a full-length Deisis tier and a festival tier, in accordance with the 15th century Russian iconographical traditions. The hope is that all who enter should feel “that they are about to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jan Pieńkowski has twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration and has become a household name to children over the last few generations. Jan left his native Poland during the Second World War and has made his home in Barnes, where his studio overlooks Chiswick (so we very happily marginally stretched our local artist’s criteria).

Jan’s trademark black silhouette figures have illustrated many of his 150 books, including Joan Aiken’s works, the best-selling Meg and Mog series, A River of Stories (a copy of which he personally handed to the Queen), and many more. He has also designed theatre sets for the Royal Ballet, Théâtre de Complicité and Disneyland, and has been nominated twice for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. He pioneered pop-up books, including the successful Haunted House. Jan is very religious and has illustrated The Gospels and Christmas, the King James Version.

We were delighted to receive this original artwork representing the Russian Orthodox Church which Jan created especially for this mural.

Acknowledgements: With enormous thanks to Jan Pieńkowski and David Walser.

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