Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jacob
Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jacob (from Prophet tier)
The St. Cyril of Byelozersk Monastery
This icon, displaying half-length portraits of three Old Testament prophets, came from the Monastery of St. Cyril of Byelozersk and can be dated to circa 1497 (date of completion of the cathedral at the monastery). Whereas full-length figures of the prophets can be seen in twelfth- through fourteenth-century frescoes in Russian churches, their appearance in icons begins only in the sixteenth century. The earliest full-length figure icons are from the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Novgorod.
The figures seen here belong to one of nine icons in the Prophet tier of the iconostasis of the Cathedral of the Dormition at the Monastery of St. Cyril of Byelozersk. These icons were the work of at least several artists, and some scholars believe, in fact, that they were produced by a company of painters who were able to labor creatively and harmoniously. This band would have included artists from Novgorod and Moscow as well as a few local hands.
As an ensemble, these icons constitute one of the earliest and best preserved Prophet tiers of the fifteenth century. Each is unique in its characterization of the individual prophets. The Christian iconography of the prophets revolves around their visions of the coming of Christ. The most famous of the prophecies, that of Isaiah, states that "The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). Though prophets were frequently depicted, Nathan, Haggai, and Samuel were seldom found in Prophet tiers. When Nathan and Samuel were included, it was usually with King David, with whom they were associated and, in fact, King David is the central figure in the central icon. Accordingly, it is appropriate to find Nathan, a judge and contemporary of David, and Samuel, who anointed David King of Israel (and is depicted with a horn of oil in the work), accompanying the Monarch.
The icon displaying Micah, Elijah, and Gideon is very different from that of Nathan, Haggai, and Samuel; each of the figures in the former icon holds a nearly identically-shaped scroll with extensive texts in his left hand. Elijah is thought to have prefigured St. John the Baptist, and Micah, the birth of the Savior. The learning scrolls endow the icon with a distinct and decorative cadence.