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MOSCOW, Oct 6 (AFP) - A leading Russian modern art museum took down a work showing an outline of the Virgin Mary filled with caviar on Thursday after a complaint from a group of Orthodox believers who judged it offensive.
"We received a complaint signed by 50 believers at the Saint Nicholas church in Moscow who thought the 'Icon-Caviar' painting incited religious hatred and violated their constitutional rights," Tatyana Yutkevich, a spokeswoman at the New Tretyakov Gallery told AFP.
"Icon-caviar", by Alexander Kosolapov, is a collage of photographs of his 1989 work, showing an outline of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus Christ that is filled in with caviar and surrounded by a gilded icon frame.
The work was part of an exhibition of "Russian Pop Art," which opened mid-September and runs until mid-November.
The letter's signatories called on the museum to take "appropriate measures" and threatened to "take their own measures" if their request was not carried out, the spokeswoman said.
"The administration of the museum decided to take down the painting to prevent an escalation of the dispute," said Yutkevich, adding that the measure was unprecedented in the history of the museum.
Alexander Kosolapov, a Russian painter who emigrated to the United States in 1975, protested Thursday, accusing the museum administration of "defending the interests of those who threaten it."
"My work does not have any religious meaning: the icons and the caviar are just a metaphor for the Russian spirit," he told Moscow Echo radio.
Last April, the Russian Orthodox Church and local authorities virtually closed down a modern art festival in Arkhangelsk in northwestern Russia, forcing organisers to take down "blasphemous" works.
The director of the Sakharov museum in Moscow was sentenced in March for an anti-religious exhibition -- a verdict seen as a dangerous precedent by human rights groups.
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