The icon Riza studio has been active at Saint Elisabeth Convent since 2001. Sister Valentina Kondalova has worked here from its first days. She insists that despite some occasional difficulties, the workshop never stopped in its progress and continued to develop. She sees her work here as her service to God and fulfilment of His Divine Will. "Our every product irradiates with the love and dedication that we put in it. Our customers appreciate it, for which we are grateful. These are the ingredients that make our works distinct. They are our way to follow the commandment of Our Lord Jesus Christ to love our neighbour.
The tradition to put icons in Rizas, or covers, comes from Byzantine and the Kievan Rus. Their artisans designed the processes for producing Rizas from precious metals, reserved for the most revered icons. The Kazan Icon of the Mother of God - discovered in the 16th century - was revered by generations of Russia's Romanov royal dynasty as their protectress in heaven. The royals ordered for it a golden Riza of gold and had it embellished with pearls and a crown of diamonds. For many centuries, they kept the icon in its Riza at the Convent of the Holy Theotokos in Kazan.
In the modern sense, a Riza is a protective coating of an icon of metal and fabric. Typically, it covers the whole surface, excluding the face, hands and feet.
Embossable metals such as silver and gold are most preferred. Copper is also not uncommon. High-quality materials ensure the durability of the Riza and extend the life of the icon.
But protection is not the only reason for covering an icon. It is also our way to give our thanks to the saint and the Lord Himself.
Some principal elements of an icon cover are the halo, body, frame and background. The selection of the materials has a symbolic meaning. For example, gold symbolises infinity and incorruptibility, silver epitomises sanctity and purity, and precious metals represent spiritual virtues.
The brothers and sisters who work at the workshop are keeping alive the ancient traditions. Each Riza is made by hand and represents a unique work of art, that takes meticulous effort, a strong focus and spiritual concentration. The key ingredients of success are devout prayer, love and good intentions. Embroidery, an indispensable stage in the making of a Riza, may take up to several weeks.
We produce Rizas from different fabrics, with brocade and velvet being among the more expensive ones. Embroidery is done with pearls, precious or semi-precious stones. The body of a Riza is from metal. Brass and latten are among the most common.
Some of our Rizas are used for the icons painted by the iconographers on our team, typically with acrylate or tempera-based paints. Where gilding is requested, it is performed with leaf gold.
One distinction of our products is that we paint full images, even when we expect to put the icon in a Riza. In some icons, iconographers just paint out the parts that are left open. For these icons, a Riza is an indispensable attribute.
The products of our studio have an international reputation and a recognizable style. Every year, they are displayed in multiple exhibitions in Russia and European states. Our clients come from a variety of countries. Many order icons in Rizas as gifts for their loved ones. Several years ago, our workshop completed a casing for the Icon of the Holy Theotokos "Giver of Wisdom" as a gift for the Roman Pope Benedict XVI.
We also make Rizas to individual orders, including for antique and family icons, and church icons. Many of the latter come from our icon restoration studio, where old icon Rizas are restored. Our newly painted icons in casings also have the potential to become family treasures passed down in generations.
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