Though somewhat less ambitious than the famous "St. Nicholas with the Deesis and Saints" of 1294 by Alexa Petrov at Novgorod, this rendition of the Saint painted on limewood boards, is one of the extremely rare surviving works of the mid-thirteenth century. It reflects the Byzantine tradition which came to Novgorod via southern Kiev, Russia's first capital and cultural center.
The Hetimasia in the upper border is flanked by the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. On the side borders can be seen Symeon Stylites, Prince Boris and Prince Gleb, Eudoxia and an unknown woman martyr and Florus the Martyr (see Likhachev, Laurina, and Pushkariov, "Novgorod Icons," Aurora Publishers, Leningrad, 1980, p. 282) The round medallions represent St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Onesimus (Ansimus?) the Martyr, the Apostle Jude(?) and Catherine the Martyr.
The history of Novgorod, one of the oldest Russian towns, spans eleven centuries. Having escaped the Mongol invasion of the early thirteenth century, it became an important center of learning and painting, and spearheaded the cultural revival of the fourteenth century. During this time it preserved the Byzantine traditions that constituted the core of Russian art. The city, though located on the great Russian plain, was linked via deep rivers and lakes to the Black, Baltic, Caspian, and White Seas. Accordingly, Novgorod became one of the greatest trading centers of eastern Europe, supporting commerce which exceeded that of Genoa or Venice. Constantinople had close ties with the city and there were Novgorodian translators and manuscript transcribers living in Constantinople. Artworks from Byzantium, Scandinavia, the Caucasus and Central Asia were brought to the city.
Novgorodian painting constitutes a particularly celebrated aspect of old Russian art and Novgorodian icons are highly treasured by institutions fortunate enough to include them in their holdings.