Procopius, Niketas, and Eustathios, Detail
Detail from one side of a two-sided icon: Saints Procopius Niketas and Eustathios; the other side showing John the Baptist in the Wilderness
This double-sided icon was one of eighteen discovered in the sacristy of the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Novgorod by restorers G. O. Chirikov and P. I. Iukin in 1908. The icon is small and lightweight, the composition executed in egg tempera on a surface comprised of several layers of canvas which have been coated with gesso. This technique is relatively rare among icons, traditionally painted on wooden panels.
This is one of the earliest panels in the collection from St. Sophia. The areas accented by white lead and red cinnabar in "The Beheading of St. John the Baptist," are typical of Novgorodian coloring techniques at the time.
According to an inventory made by the Cathedral in 1617, the original group was composed of thirty six double-sided icons which illustrated the "menologion," a series of prayers and accounts of the lives of the saints. Like many of the icons which composed the iconostasis, these too were interchangeable. They were usually placed on the lectern in observance of special saint's days, or to celebrate certain feasts. Those not in use were stored in special cases in the sacristy in the inner walls of the church. Currently thirty of the thirty six small icons are known to exist; twenty five are dated from the late fifteenth century, while five are believed to have been executed in the mid-sixteenth century.
The double-sided icons reflect the growing amalgamation of Novgorodian and Muscovite styles in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Here, the traditional Novgorodian palette is united with idealized images and diminutive facial features, traits associated with the Muscovite School.