Description: Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. 18th century CE. Skillfully delineated in egg tempera, gold leaf, and gesso on linen on wood, an icon depicting the Virgin and Child surrounded by a brilliant mandorla and floating upon billowing celestial clouds, flanked by an archangel and a sainted bishop with two clusters of apostles below; above is the Trinity with God the Father, the Holy Ghost in the form of a white dove, and Christ Emmanuel flanked by seraphim; to the right is an icon depicting the miracle-working St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, the most widely revered saint in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, dressed in sumptuous episcopal vestments, with a cross adorned omophorion, giving benediction with his right hand, holding a Gospel in his left, and to the left is an icon depicting the presentation of John the Baptist's head on a platter to the king's daughter Salome who stands before a doorway to her opulent abode. Size: 12.25" W x 13.75" H (31.1 cm x 34.9 cm)
Further context for the iconography: According to the Bible, King Herod's daughter Salome requested Saint John the Baptist's beheading. The heinous act was prompted by her mother, Herodias, who sought revenge, because the prophet had condemned her incestuous marriage to Herod. Also referred to as the Angel of the Desert (because he was a preacher and hermit in the southern desert of Judea), the forerunner of Christ, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and the first saint, John the Baptist is one of the most popular and venerated figures in Orthodox hagiography. Depicted next to Christ and his mother, John the Baptist also occupies a coveted position in the Deesis tier of the iconostasis.
Nicholas, a Greek bishop of Myra, Anatolia in the 4th century and one of the most beloved saints of the church, who served as an intercessor, performing miracles of healing and rescue, has an interesting history. A strong opponent of the heretical bishop Arius at the Council of Nicaea, Nicholas, after slapping Arius in the face, was denied his holy insignia and tossed in jail. However, Christ and the Virgin appeared to him and gave him back his freedom and his episcopal office. Here shown with a serious countenance, a high furrowed forehead, concentrating eyes framed by arched brows, and a short, gray beard, Saint Nicholas is portrayed as a staunch champion of the Christian faith, a defender against heresy, and a healer.
This icon most likely was kept in someone's home. According to Jeanne Marie Warzeski, scholar and curator of the North Carolina Museum of History's "Windows into Heaven" exhibition, "In the early Byzantine Empire, the home became the primary base for the development of icon veneration. Throughout the ensuing centuries, icons continued to receive honor in homes and churches. To this day, many Orthodox Christians create for prayer and meditation in their home a krasny ugol, or "beautiful corner," where family icons are placed. Guests entering a house customarily honor the icons in the corner by crossing themselves before the objects. An oil lamp is set near the icons and is lit daily, according to Orthodox tradition."
Icons (icon means "image" in Greek) are sacred objects within the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition. Found in homes as well as churches, these painted images depict holy persons and saints as well as illustrate scenes from the Scriptures. Icons are not worshiped, but are instead venerated for their ability to focus the power of an individual's prayer to God. As a focus for prayers and meditation for believers, icons serve as "windows into heaven."
Provenance: ex-Francis & Lilly Robicsek collection, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
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Condition Report: Age cracks and surface wear with areas of pigment/gilt loss. Abraded areas and losses to peripheries as shown. Nice areas of craquelure. Missing back slats. Wired for suspension.
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