Russian Icons

St. Nicholas with Scenes from his Life

St. Nicholas with Scenes from his Life Novgorod "St. Nicholas with Scenes from his Life" features the saint with half-figures of Christ to the left of his head and the Mother of God to the right. Below their representations respectively are the brothers Kosmas and Damian whose cult was also associated with Novgorod. Beginning at the upper left corner and continuing to the right and around the panel as a border are sixteen scenes from the life of the saint. St. Nicholas was the celebrated Bishop of Myra in Lycia whose reputation as a wonder-worker brought him centuries of unequaled veneration in Russia. The cult of Nicholas was established after Russia's conversion to Orthodoxy in 988. Indeed, the worship of Nicholas was so ubiquitous that by the seventeenth century his name had become synonymous with the word "icon," which foreign visitors often referred to as "a Nicholas." Nowhere else in the country was worship of Nicholas more intense than at Novgorod. It is not surprising that this icon, though of good size and striking in its complexity, is one of many from the region detailing aspects of the holy man's legend. Few works have been preserved from this early period, however, and this icon is therefore of considerable rarity despite its rather common subject. Stylistically and paleographically, this work is related to thirteenth century examples. Painted on a limewood panel in three pieces, the large central figure of St. Nicholas takes the so-called "orans" posture, one associated through an earlier icon of the saint with the power to defend cities from attack. This earlier icon had been brought from the Greek colony of Cherson in 1255, kept for a time in Novgorod, then brought to Zarazsk, near Riazan. At Novgorod, it became associated with miracles. The stance of the saint in the icon illustrated here has come to define the figure referred to as St. Nicholas of Zarazsk. The tale of this saint recalls how his icon brought Novgorod through the Tartar invasion unscathed.
Copyright ©. George Mitrevski.