Symbols of Faith (Nicene Creed)
Detail from "The Symbols of Faith (Nicene Creed)"
The handsome but somewhat chart-like quality of this icon derives from its subject: a pictorial summation of the Orthodox doctrine approved by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Second Council of Constantinople in 381. This doctrine, referred to as the Nicene Creed, is a proclamation of belief in the triune God, and is divided into twelve clauses or parts. The Creed is part of the Divine Liturgy and illustrations of it have been created in Russia since the sixteenth century, though it did not become common in Russian iconography until the seventeenth century. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the representation of the elements of the Creed had become common.
The icon in the State Russian Museum is a product of the Armory School (icon painters to the Tsar), and was undoubtedly executed sometime during 1668 and 1689 for the church of St. Gregory the Neocaesarian in Polianka, Moscow. This is a reasonable range of dates since the icons in the church were painted in those years. Ushakov, the leading artist of the group assigned to decorate the church, painted an icon of the "Mother of God of Kykko" that was placed on the lower tier of the iconostasis; it is signed and dated 1668. Situated behind the right choir, "the Nicene Creed" was not part of the main iconostasis, but its quality makes it virtually certain that it was created by the Tsar's painters. Indeed, it is in Moscow that the best and most finely executed works of the painters of the Tsar have survived in abundance.
The icon of the Nicene Creed undoubtedly derives from the Piscator Bible of 1614, produced and published in Holland by Klaas Jans Vischer (Piscator) and his son, and illustrated by Dutch artists. This influential work went through numerous editions and those of 1643, 1646, 1650, and 1674 were popular in Russia.
The icon divides quite simply: four registers each divided into three scenes. The twelve resulting divisions correspond to the twelve clauses of the Creed.