Saturday, August 12, 2017

08 Russian Icons from the Bible, with footnotes, #12

18th C. Russian Icon
Christ Emmanuel
Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood
10.25" W x 12.25" H (26 cm x 31.1 cm)
Private collection

The text beneath may refer to a passage of Isaiah that Christ read in the synagogue of Nazareth, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the afflicted".

The prophet Isaiah coined the term Emmanuel which means God is with us, and this icon captures that sense of immediate presence. According to Alfredo Tradigo, "We see not a child before us, but the mysterious, unknowable face of God, who is eternally young and old at once, as emphasized by the Church Fathers. The figure's young age stands not for the Child but, rather, for the incorruptible, timeless youth of the sacrificial Lamb, daily renewed on the altar in the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist. Tradigo continues to explain that the placement of an Emmanuel icon at the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow, in a Deesis over the northern doors of the iconostasis that lead to the prosthesis (the special room where these holy gifts are prepared) attests to this interpretation. The smooth-faced Christ Emmanuel is traditionally inserted in an angelic Deesis between Gabriel and Michael the holy archangels who protect the Divine Liturgy). In some cases a grand ensemble of angels forms an assembly around Emmanuel. More on this Icon

18th C. Russian Icon
St. John the Evangelist
Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood
12.75" W x 16" H (32.4 cm x 40.6 cm)
Private collection

Images of the evangelists derived from miniatures of illuminated Gospel books and Gospel lectionaries showing them at work in their scriptoria (a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the writing, copying and illuminating of manuscripts by monastic scribes). These portrayals were oftentimes painted on the outside of the royal doors. John's symbol is the eagle, chosen for the sublime manner in which he described the godliness of the Word.

Also known as John the Theologian for his ability to channel divine wisdom, Saint John wrote the fourth Gospel (the Book of Revelation), while living in a cave on the isle of Patmos, exiled by Emperor Trajan. There he dictated a dramatic vision of the Apocalypse to the deacon Prochorus, his disciple and steadfast companion. John also wrote the Gospel of Love, in addition to three of the Catholic Epistles. In the words of Patriarch Athenagoras, John is the source of our loftiest spirituality. Like him, those who are silent know the mysterious confusion that can assail the heart; invoking the presence of John, their hearts catch fire. More on this Icon

19th C. Russian Icon
Chosen Saints
Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood
14.25" W x 17.75" H (36.2 cm x 45.1 cm)
Private collection

An icon presenting an ensemble of blessed saints, including Catherine , Natalya, Ann the Prophetess, Ljubov (Love, more commonly interpreted as Charity), John, and Alexander standing in two rows. The seventh saint is most likely John the Evangelist. Each saint is identified with a gold on blue banner, all beneath Saint Anne in the celestial realm aloft billowing clouds donning red and blue robes. More on this Icon


Saint Catherine of Alexandria is, according to tradition, a Christian saint and virgin, who was martyred in the early 4th century at the hands of the pagan emperor Maxentius. According to her hagiography, she was both a princess and a noted scholar, who became a Christian around the age of fourteen, and converted hundreds of people to Christianity. More on Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Saint Natalia's hagiography is closely tied to the life of her husband, Saint Adrian. Adrian was struck by divine grace and told the Roman officials to write his own name with the rest of the martyrs. When his wife Natalia heard that he had been imprisoned with the martyrs, she ran with joy to the gaol and lauded his resolve while embracing his chains. She imploring the other martyrs to pray to God.

When Adrian appeared before the emperor and confessed Christ, he was tutored, and killed, with the other martyrs. Their hands and feet were then cut off.  Natalie managed to steal one of her husband's severed hands from the pile. The fire that was supposed to burn the relics was miraculously put out by a sudden shower of rain, and a Christian named Eusebius was able to retrieve the relics and transport them for burial to Argyroupolis, a town near Byzantium. Some time later, Natalia visited the tomb where she gave up her soul to God and was herself subsequently buried. More on Saint Natalia

Anna the Prophetess is a woman mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. According to that Gospel, she was an elderly Jewish woman who prophesied about Jesus at the Temple of Jerusalem. She appears in Luke, during the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. More on Anna the Prophetess

Saint Ljubov, Saints Faith, Hope and Charity are a group of Christian martyred saints.  In the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian (2nd century AD), a matron Sophia (Wisdom), with her three youthful daughters, Pistis, Elpis, and Agape (Greek for Faith, Hope and Charity), became martyrs.

The guards took Sophia's daughters one by one, from the oldest to the youngest and beat and tortured them to death in an attempt to force her to renounce her faith in Christ. She proved her unconditional faith in Christ by proving to people that she and her daughters were willing to go through hard times for their faith. Afterwards, Sophia buried her daughters' bodies and remained by their graves for three days until she died herself. More on Saint Ljubov and Saint Sofia

Saint John the Apostle, also called Saint John the Evangelist or Saint John the Divine (flourished 1st century ce), in Christian tradition, the author of three letters, the Fourth Gospel, and the Revelation to John in the New Testament. He played a leading role in the early church at Jerusalem. More on Saint John
Saint Anne (also known as Ann or Anna) of David's house and line, was the mother of the Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus Christ, according to apocryphal Christian and Islamic tradition. More on Saint Anne

19th C. Russian Icon
St. Alexander Svirsky
Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood
3.25" W x 4.25" H (8.3 cm x 10.8 cm)
Private collection

St. Alexander Svirsky spent much of time of his life as a monk, including some period of total isolation from society.

In 1506, Serapion, Archbishop of Novgorod, appointed him Hegumen of the Trinity monastery, which later became known as Alexander-Svirsky Monastery, at the place of the saint's eremitic life between Roschinsky and Holy lakes. A rendition of the the appearance of the Holy Trinity ot St. Alexander Svirsky. 

The Trinity appeared to St. Alexander in 1508, twenty-three years after he came to this secluded location. One night when he was praying in his cabin, a radiant light shone brightly, and the three haloed angels in billowing white robes approached him. Taken aback by this event, the monk fell down with fright. Once he came to again, he prostrated himself on the ground out of respect. The angels took him by the hand, said, "Have trust, blessed one, and fear not", and asked him to build a church and a monastery. More on St. Alexander Svirsky

Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. 1760 to 1780 CE
Virgin of the Burning Bush
Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood
14.125" L x 12.125" W (35.9 cm x 30.8 cm)
Private collection

The subject of Our Lady of the Burning Bush is based on the Old Testament prophecy of the incarnation of Christ. Such theologians as St Gregory of Nyssa and Theodoret of Cyrrhus regarded Moses’s vision of the burning bush as a symbol and prototype of the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception.

The iconography of the scene was inspired by the Russian Orthodox hymns comparing the Virgin to the burning bush seen by Moses – engulfed in flames, yet not burning (Exodus 2:1–6). Icons of the subject were popular from the sixteenth century onwards and were believed to offer protection from fire. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the festival of the icon on 4/17 September, which is also the day of Moses. More on Our Lady of the Burning Bush

19th C. Oval Russian Icon
Theotokos of Unburnt Bush
Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood
6.625" W x 9.5" H (16.8 cm x 24.1 cm)
Private collection

This icon depicts the burning bush symbolically with two overlapping diamonds - the blue diamond/rhombus representing the bush, the red diamond/rhombus representing the fiery flames that do not burn it. Within the red points are the symbols of the four evangelists: lion, ox, eagle, and man; within the blue points are angels of the Apocalypse. The corners feature visions of Moses, Isaiah, Ezekial, and Jacob - prophesies concerning the Mother of God: the burning bush of Moses, the seraph who purifies Moses' lips, the closed door of the Temple in Ezekiel (symbolizing Mary's virginity), and Jacob's Ladder. At the center of it all is the Theotokos Mother of God. Old Cyrillic passages are written in the borders and beside various elements to identify holy figures and narrate various episodes. More on this Icon

19th C. Russian Icon
St. Seraphim of Sarov
Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood
4.375" W x 5.375" H (11.1 cm x 13.7 cm)
Private collection

St. Seraphim of Sarov blesses himself before his icon of the Mother of God hanging in the tree above. At his feet are a hat, bread sack, gloves, and axe. The strongly modeled visage as well as the perspectival background suggest that the painter was very much influenced by Western art. The borders are meticulously incised and painted to simulate enamel. More on this Icon

Saint Seraphim of Sarov (1 August 1754 (or 1759) – 14 January 1833), born Prokhor Moshnin, is one of the most renowned Russian saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is generally considered the greatest of the 19th-century (elders. Seraphim extended the monastic teachings of contemplation, theoria and self-denial to the layperson. He taught that the purpose of the Christian life was to acquire the Holy Spirit. Perhaps his most popular quotation amongst Orthodox believers is "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved."

Seraphim was glorified (canonized) by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1903. Pope John Paul II referred to him as a saint. More on St. Seraphim of Sarov

Eastern Europe, Russia, 19th century CE. Icon
St. John the Baptist & Head
Egg tempera and gold leaf on wood
17.5" W x 43.75" H (44.4 cm x 111.1 cm)
Private collection

A winged St. John the Baptist holding a scroll as well as his severed head on a platter, with God the Father above. The wings occupy a large part of the composition and bestow John the Baptist's body with an otherworldly, celestial dimension. The artist painstakingly delineated the feathered wings in various neutral earthtones with black and white highlights, creating a rich sense of depth. This attention to detail is also visible on this camel-hair tunic and blue-green himation. The white strokes dramatically highlighting these vestments symbolize the spiritual energy of divine light. On the scroll are the words, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," and "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (John 1:29, Matthew 3:2). A large golden halo encircles his visage cascading past his beard and shoulders. More on this icon

John the Baptist (sometimes called John in the Wilderness; also referred to as the Angel of the Desert) was the subject of at least eight paintings by the Italian Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610).

The story of John the Baptist is told in the Gospels. John was the cousin of Jesus, and his calling was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. He lived in the wilderness of Judea between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, "his raiment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey." He baptised Jesus in the Jordan.

According to the Bible, King Herod's daughter Salome requested Saint John the Baptist's beheading. She was prompted by her mother, Herodias, who sought revenge, because the prophet had condemned her incestuous marriage to HerodMore John the Baptist






The Eastern Orthodox Church subscribes to a belief in the intercession of saints. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition every individual is named in honor of a specific saint when baptized, and this saint is regarded as a patron for the person's entire life. In addition, there are patron saints of activities and occupations, ailments and dangers, as well as locales.



Acknowledgement: Artemis Gallery, and others

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