Dear reader, everything has been said – and has been for a long time – about the conditions that lead to the creation of a new journal. Everything we have to say on the matter would be but a replication, but this is by no means a reason why we should bow out of talking to you.

Why a new journal when the scientific world has become oversaturated with publications of this kind? We will not hide the fact that, first and foremost, we wanted to provide scientific emphasis to a newly created museum.

Because the museum in Alba Iulia is a museum dedicated to icons, it is naturally expected that its journal be built around icons: hence a journal bearing the same name. You are however aware, dear reader, that icons are too periph­eral a research topic to be able to fuel an entire journal. Such a journal, focusing on local, Romanian aspects, would not have been the best choice. We needed another approach.

In order to open this journal to a broader range of research topics, we thought it seemed appropriate to focus on the main research theme of the museum. Since the icon itself is the link between art and religious text, a window on the sacred, it cannot be denied that it was born somewhere between the realm of the word and the realm of the vision. It has written sources, it follows mural paintings.

Most icons are related to hymnody, and therefore belong to a lyrical art of sorts. Historiated icons however are more akin to the epic genre of hagiography. Others are closer to illuminations, to sermons, to the Scripture, to exegesis or to the history of the church. Mural paintings or embroideries are all icons as well. The relationship with the Biblia pauperum is evident as well. Finally, the icon may be considered from an anthropological perspective. There is therefore ample reason to look towards a larger convergence of research fields towards a global vision of the history of religious culture, with the icon as a starting point.

However, it is worth mentioning that Romania has never had a journal covering all the fields of ancient cultures – if we are to follow this logic. In Romania, art history is generally linked to history or archaeology, but not with literature. It so happens that as far as religious studies are concerned, the relationship between images and sacred texts is infinitely more important that factual history, albeit social or economic. To this is added the isolation of Romanian philology, although other means of com­munication between disciplines do exist, but they remain largely unexplored. With this in mind, it is quite fortunate that the museum in Alba Iulia hosts – among others – a collection of ancient books. We have thus made the following choice for the Museikon journal: make it so that art history, open to the historical and universal dimen­sions, will restore the value of philology in a larger con­sideration of the culture of ancient times.

On the other hand, nothing prevents us from probing the social and political dimension of the artistic fact and therefore publishing studies linking factual history to the history of literature. It is not our intention to exclude history, magista vitae, even though we stress the fact that social history is not the central theme of approach encouraged by this journal, especially when this history ignores the cultural implications of the religious one.

We think it useful to create an ideal environment, putting forward a dialogue between disciplines that remained marginal to Romanian scholarship until today. The purpose of Museikon is to reinforce the autonomy of these fields of research compared to the study of history until a different, common methodology is found.

This is the reason why we have created a journal that tackles the cultural aspects of a religious past. It is also the reason why we chose to deal both with the issues of the Middle Ages, as well as those of the Modern Age. It was the only choice to make: on the one hand, because a Romanian medieval literature does not exist; there is a modern literature (there is often talk of “popular books”) that draws on Balkan or Western European medieval subjects; on the other hand, because Byzantium after Byzantium too does not reflect a different take on the artistic fact compared to the take on medieval times.

It is therefore difficult to follow an unduly strict peri­odization or to impose – as you will undoubtedly see, dear reader – an artificial periodization where such a process is not warranted.

The issue of the Middle Ages in Romanian historiogra­phy – inappropriately prolonged until the 19th century – is that it the heir of a Marxist-Leninist approach to history that reached its peak in the second half of the 20th century. Out of convenience, these spurious modern Romanian Middle Ages were recently justified through Jacques Le Goff’s theory on the “Long Middle Ages” (spanning from the end of the 2nd century until the 19th). Nonetheless, when this star of the Annales School rendered his theory popular, he put forth a similar yet different type of argument: given the living standards, nothing had changed with the Renaissance. He thought that the studies on the arts and literature bore little importance, as they did not, according to him, define by themselves any given society.

However, the Renaissance is a cultural phenomenon linking the Modern Age to the Middle Ages, beginning in the Italy of the medieval communes and ending in Eastern Europe with the birth of Enlightenment. Let us accept then that this shifting state existed in Eastern – as well as Western Europe, although the criteria to be considered for both are different. Then why arbitrate between two historical periods? Periodization comes in many shapes and sizes; it is useless and impossible to take every single one into account.

To all this are added two fundamental issues of art history and literary history – that of cultural centre and periphery and that of the relationship between the culture of ruling class and that of the largely popular culture. What is the boundary between the two, and what are the confines of these four categories? Is there a boundary at all? It is certain that the popular forms are the heirs and are still on the receiving end of the official, mainstream culture of bygone times. Yet again, this is why it would not be prudent to favour only one type of periodization. And yet again, it is important to refrain from underestimating Christian folklore. It does belong to a type of lower culture which draws its roots from the culture of past centuries.

This journal must, after all, consider the entire tradition – including the late solutions to the challenges of modernising projects. The slow creation of an identity (be it ethnic, linguistic, and later national – during Romanticism) marked the end for this traditional culture. Once in the spotlight, the peasant became a founding myth of sorts – at least as far as modern Romanian culture is concerned. The projection of such a fantasy, however, has greatly damaged historical and anthropological research. Folklore is not necessarily derived from the impoverished classes – as Menocchio’s lectures from The Cheese and the Worms are also wont to warn.

Museikon therefore proposes to examine the ancient origins of popular culture and its relationship with the dominant culture of those times. The slow creation of a modern identity was determined by the existence of a shared culture – both literary and artistic – that resulted in the emergence of what is commonly called “textual communities”. The translation of the Bible into vernacu­lar languages played a key role in the osmosis that led to this shared identity: it created the literary languages of the East and the West. Then, why not consider that the various cultural categories formed textual or image-focused communities, whose overlap led to the creation of modern communities? This hypothesis should not be excluded. The weight of the Scriptures’ translations may also support the claim that it is fundamental to research Christianity, to thoroughly probe the polygenesis of tradition that contemporary identities claim. We would not manipulate Christian heritage in order to offer it as a solution to the stalemate of the contemporary world, nor would we resort to an alleged tradition now, when one fears mondialisation might erase local, regional or national identities. Quite the contrary. We must focus on the universal dimension of Christianity in order to explore the genesis of a protean tradition.

The journal will not publish only studies that might fall under the category of “Romanian tradition”. From a his­torical point of view, such a tradition never existed before the modern Romanian state. This tradition was a part of a Kulturkreise cluster and was related to the cultural fashions of the old Byzantium Commonwealth. The Transylvanian icons – the main subject of the Icon Museum – are artisti­cally Oriental and at the same time, they are influenced by the Baroque; they are, after all, evidence of these pan-European shifts.

At the same time, as far as early religious texts are concerned, Romanian literature was heavily influenced by Protestant works. Then, it is only natural to consider that this religious tradition was born when and where these worlds met. We must seek its origins locally and through reflections that consider the cultural life of a much larger space. Since the global dimension is inherent to the Christian world, Museikon will probe the source of this (or these) tradition(s).

The journal will thus focus on Christianity under all its cultural aspects; the study of tradition or the choice of such a tradition do not represent a denial of contempo­raneity. The contemporary world is not much different – not really – from the world of times past. So it should not come as a surprise that our journal embraces art, literature, anthropology, and religious history of those past times. It is perfectly normal that it should not seek to impose precise timelines. It is fundamental that it pay as much attention to the centre as to the periphery of all these cultural shifts, because Museikon is, above all else, a journal bearing the name of the Icon Museum. And as far as icons are concerned, they are the very synthesis of tradition.

If one were to put a face to this endeavour, aiming to tackle all of the above-mentioned fields, one object from the collection of the Museum would be it. A very curious icon of the Saviour is heir to a venerable and millennial, pre-Christian tradition, whose choice of representation is all but fantastic. The image was used all throughout the Middle Ages, but it ended in ridicule during the Protestant reformation and ultimately forbidden by the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation. Needless to say the trifacies Saviour was a roaring success in the East later on. This theme was very often represented in the Romanian Orthodox milieus, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. Its peculiar appearance raises many questions with today’s clergy and worshippers, who consider it all a heretical choice. Yet a similar expression is found in the first Romanian exegesis on the Trinity. In this text, Anthim the Iberian – Metropolitan Bishop of Wallachia in the beginning of the 18th century – made a translation choice that considerably reduces the semantic thickness, creating a confusion of sorts in the process: he does not use the formula “in three persons” (“întreit în persoane”), he chose to write “in three faces” (“întreit în fe.e”). The choice of the word “faces” seems to stem from the endless search for models that is a core feature of the Romanian cultural milieu: a new translation language looking for words and a peripheral post-Byzantine art that recovers a theme obsolete to the Western world.

Thus, an almost heretical set of eyes suggests that an all-seeing God is examining all aspects of the human being. The image is – in all fairness – not without oddity: to us, it is a programmatic emblem. Museikon must strive to look in all directions and associate all fields. The journal must be organised around the Icon – that of the Saviour – the first icon among all.

Trifacies Saviour icon in the collections of Museikon, 18th century.
Credits: Ana Dumitran.