The work of art, Icon-caviar, was created by a Russian émigré artist called Alexander Kosolapov who specialises in unlikely juxtaposition and draws much of his inspiration from the late Andy Warhol. It depicts an outline figure of the Virgin Mary and a baby Jesus hewn entirely from caviar within a gold icon frame and was displayed in Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery as part of an exhibition called Russian Pop Art. The museum's director, Valentin Rodionov, decided it was safer to take it down after he received a warning letter from a group of Orthodox believers.
The letter bore the signatures of at least 50 churchgoers and priests, who argued that the artwork violated their constitutional rights. They demanded the museum take "appropriate measures" and vowed to "take their own measures" if they did not get their way.
Mr Rodionov said he had complied so as not to escalate the dispute since Orthodox believers have, in recent years,vandalised artwork they deem offensive.
Mr Kosolapov's work seems to be particularly offensive to them. Earlier this year, another of his creations, a canvas which incorporated Jesus' head into a Coca-Cola advert with the slogan 'This is my blood' was vandalised in Moscow.
Mr Kosolapov says that Icon-caviar was not religious but inspired by Andy Warhol's Coca-Cola paintings and aimed at showing Russia as an authoritarian country that divides people into rich and poor. He told Mr Rodionov that his decision to remove the canvas was a personal insult.
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