Lot 10A: Tall 19th C. Russian Icon - St. John the Baptist & Head

Artemis Gallery

March 23, 2017
Louisville, CO, US

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Description: Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. 19th century CE. A very large icon depicting a winged St. John the Baptist holding a scroll as well as his severed head on a platter, with God the Father above, all finely painted in egg tempera on wood. The magnificent 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 which is framed by a wavy coiffure cascading past his beard and shoulders. Size: 17.5" W x 43.75" H (44.4 cm x 111.1 cm)

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, he also occupies a coveted position in the Deesis tier of the iconostasis.

Provenance: Ex-private Ventura County, CA collection

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Condition Report: Painting shows surface wear commensurate with age - with some fissures and raised areas particularly evident on the upper end and peripheries, and minor scratches/scuffs and areas of discoloration (suggesting possible repair). On the verso are expected age cracks, and back slats are intact.
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