Russian Icons

The Raising of Lazarus

The Raising of Lazarus (from the Deesis tier) The St. Cyril of Byelozersk Monastery The strict program and hierarchical canon of Greek Orthodoxy encouraged the careful imitation of previous icons. Such strict adherence to well established styles and subjects discouraged experimentation and the emergence of individual approaches. Given this belief in the sanctity of precedent and tradition, "The Raising of Lazarus" (1497) is rather surprising because it breaks from the subject's established format. Traditionally, Christ is separated from his apostles and surrounded instead by a group of believing Jews. Such a presentation suggests that Christ was completely responsible for the miraculous revival of Lazarus (see the more traditional "Raising of Lazarus" of ca. 1450 in this Image Base). However, the image from the St. Cyril of Byelozersk Monastery proposes that his close followers played an important role in Lazarus's revival, depicting them surrounding Christ. This pictorial change is related to a concurrent shift in religious thinking which accorded the apostles greater significance in the history of Christianity. This work not only documents changes in religious ideology and iconography but also other important developments taking place in the production of icons during the late fifteenth century. For example, the depiction of the town of Bethany in the distance indicates the growing popularity of architectural motifs -- and by extension the tendency to situate a scene in a definable location -- as well as the nascent use of one-point perspective to suggest spatial depth in the scene. "The Raising of Lazarus" also shows the combined influences of the Schools of Novgorod and Moscow. The energetic gestures of the figures and the heightened sense of emotion are all indicative of the school of Novgorod, while the elongated figures with their small features represent the tradition of the School of Moscow. "The Raising of Lazarus" is one of twenty-one surviving icons from the Deesis tier of the Cathedral of the Dormition at the St. Cyril of Byelozersk Monastery. An astounding sixty pieces which composed the monumental iconostasis still exist and provide valuable insight into both the hierarchical canon of the iconostasis and the artistic program followed by a large workshop of icon painters. This group would have included artists from Novgorod and Moscow as well as a few local hands. The Festival tier at the Cathedral of the Dormition was made up of the twelve major festivals of the Church along with twelve panels which illustrated the events of the last week of Christ's life. The final icon was a portrait icon of St. Alimpii the Stylite. The Deesis tier contained twenty-one icons while the Prophet tier held ten panels displaying half-length portraits of groups of Old Testament prophets (see "Nathan, Haggai, and Samuel," "Micah, Elijah, and Gideon," and others in this ImageBase). The exact origins of this group of icons has been widely debated. It is, however, generally believed that those icons composing the Festival tier were executed by the same artist, who is assumed to have been of Muscovite origins, due to the austere simplicity of the composition and use of color in the icons.
Copyright ©. George Mitrevski.