St. Andrew the Fool
St. Andrew the Fool with Scenes from His Life
Though originally attributed to the renowned sixteenth-century icon painter Dionysus, this fascinating piece is now considered the work of a Muscovite artist, perhaps in the circle of Dionysus. Truly unique in that it is the only icon devoted to the saint that depicts such a complete life cycle, this object can be studied for an understanding of the veneration of St. Andrew.
During the sixteenth century, holy fools played a role in Russian religious life. By pretending to be mad, these 'fools' humbled themselves before God and were regarded as spiritually dedicated and advanced. Their marginal rather than mainstream status in Russian society enabled them to criticize authority figures such as the boyars (Old Russian aristocrats before the reforms of Peter the Great) and Tsars.
The story of St. Andrew, in particular, was held up as a model of holy deportment, and many writings were based on the account of his life. Andrew was born in Scythia and brought with other slaves by Theognostos, a Byzantine Dignitary, to Constantinople near the end of the ninth century. He lived in Constantinople until his death.
Of the eighteen scenes depicted in the remarkable icon from the State Russian Museum, the first five deal with Saint Andrew's education and his decision to become a holy fool. The following two scenes record miracles the Saint performed in the streets of Constantinople. Scene eight records his vision of Christ and his receiving word of a plague that is about to strike the city.
Scene sixteen, however, presents the miracle most associated with the Saint: Andrew's vision of the Mother of God with her protecting veil in the Church of Bachernai.
The cult of the Saint began in the twelfth century, under the aegis of the Prince of Vladimir, Andrei Bogoliubsky. As a tribute to his patron saint, the prince began the festival of the "Protecting Veil of the Mother of God." By the fourteenth century, the veneration of St. Andrew had spread to Novgorod, where a church in honor of Andrew of Constantinople was erected in the Sitetsky Monastery. At this church there was apparently an icon of St. Andrew the Holy Fool with eighteen border scenes depicting events from his life. This work no longer exists; the icon in the State Russian Museum is the only object remaining which presents St. Andrew in such complete detail.