Russian Icons

Triptych: Deesis cover, Detail

Detail from Triptych: Deesis cover Novgorod A triptych Deesis, such as this one from Novgorod belonging to the collection of the State Russian Museum, was probably used as a traveling iconostasis (a portable icon screen). Because of their small and intimate nature, such icon screens could be used for prayers away from home. The selection of images usually reflected the preferences of the owner. The program of this triptych includes, on the top row, the traditional grouping of the Archangel Michael and John the Baptist flanking a central Christ. Among the saints featured on the bottom tier of the iconostasis are St. Barlaam of Khutyn, founder of the monastery of Chute, and St. Sergei of Radonezh (1321-1392). The Abbot of the monastery which bore his own name, St. Sergei preached a monastic existence of contemplation and strict morals. The presence of these two saints in the iconostasis may be interpreted as a sign of the owner's beliefs and values. The verso of the triptych contains stories related to the Crucifixion. One of the wings illustrates the story of the virtuous thief. It depicts twelve festivals and a number of selected saints. The hierarchical canon governing large iconostases also dictates the cast of this portable screen. 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.
Copyright ©. George Mitrevski.