Description: Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. 1710 CE. A wonderfully stylized wood icon, painted in the strict manner of the Old Believers of Russian Orthodoxy, recalling the Byzantine icons painted nearly a millennium before this one. The scene is divided into four quadrants, watched over by God the Father from above, with a dove below Him representing the Holy Spirit, and with a smaller representation of the Virgin Mary's full body in the border of the left side. Size: 15.25" W x 17.25" H (38.7 cm x 43.8 cm)
The top left quadrant shows the Virgin Enthroned, a solemn portrait of Mary as queen with a large crown. She holds Christ on her lap. This icon draws upon the dogma of the Council of Ephesus, which established Mary's divine maternity in 431 CE. In the top right quadrant, the artist has painted the Icon of the Mother of God "Of the Three Hands". The third hand is seen at the bottom; it is larger than Mary's and a different color. This icon subject comes from the 8th century, during the time of the iconoclasts. The monk Saint John of Damascus was slandered by the Emperor Leo II, who told the caliph that John was committing treasonous acts against him. The caliph had his hand cut off; John put the severed hand to its joint and fell, praying, before an icon of Mary, who he begged to heal him. When he awoke the next morning, after a night of dreaming about Mary, he found that his hand was unharmed. In thanks, he put a silver hand before Her icon.
In the lower left, the artist has painted the bust of Saint Nicholas. St. Nicholas is one of the favorite saints of Orthodox Christianity, a priest who fervently studied scripture from the earliest age, and who ultimately became a bishop renowned for his kindness to his flock and his zeal in fighting false gods. He attended the First Ecumenical Council in 325 CE and helped proclaim the Nicean Symbol of Faith. As a sign of his learnedness, here he holds a book; smaller figures of Christ and Mary stand on either side of him. In the lower right quadrant, the head of John the Baptist is depicted in a goblet filled with blood that seems to be located within a garden. John is a very popular, venerated saint in Orthodox countries; he is seen as the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. King Herod beheaded him to please Salome, and there are stories of his head being miraculously found three times, making paintings of it severed particularly popular. The garden background speaks to the sanctity of garden spaces within monasteries, seen as places for study and meditation.
Provenance: Ex-private Ventura County, CA collection
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Condition Report: In excellent condition for its age, with small losses to paint only along the edges and in one area of the Christ Child's robe in the upper right. Back slats are gone, but some small losses to the wood on the back suggest they were probably nailed in place at one time.
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