In a previous posting (https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/podlinniki-the-manuals-of-icon-painting-and-how-to-read-them/) we looked at a printed podlinnik page. You will recall that a podlinnik, in icon painting, is a manual describing how persons in icons are to be painted. It told the color and forms of hair and beard, the kind and color of garments, as well as whether a hand was blessing, or held a scroll or some other object. So a podlinnik was a manual for constructing the form of a saint in an icon.

Originally, textual podlinniki (or “podlinniks,” if you like the informal anglicization) were manuscripts written out by hand and arranged according to the Church calendar, so one looked at the day when a particular saint was commemorated in the Russian Orthodox Church, and there one found the description of how to paint him or her.

Here is a podlinnik page with the beginning of the month of May. The larger writing at the top says, “The Month of May, having days 31.”


Today we will look at the first entry in order to better understand how a podlinnik functioned.

The lines from first to beginning of the sixth, if we transliterate into the Roman alphabet, look like this:

S[vya]tago pr[o]r(o)ka Ieremii, sye(d) brada ioanna b[o]goslova, vlasui ilii pr(o)r[o]ka, riz[a} shizhgal
ra(z)byelna ispo(d) zelen’ v rukye svitok” a v ne(m) pisano: tako gl[ago]let g[o](spo)d”: n[e]bo i zemlya mimo idet”, a slovesa moya mimo nepreidut.”

“Of-the-holy Prophet Jeremiah, grey, beard of John Theologian, hair of Elijah the prophet, robe bright-yellow
whitened, under green, in hand scroll, and on it written: Thus says the Lord God, heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.”

In the transliteration, I have place omitted letters in brackets [ ] and letters written above as superscription in parentheses ( ).

The meaning is this:

The prophet Jeremiah is to be painted with hair grey, with the beard of John the Theologian (the Evangelist), the hair on the head like that of Elijah the Prophet, his robe is painted bright yellow and lightened with white, the under-robe is painted green. A scroll is in his hand, and on it is written:
“Thus says the Lord God, heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.”

The robe color given in this podlinnik as шижгал — “shizhgal” (a bright yellow made from buckthorn berries) is just a variant spelling of шишгиль, “shishgil’.” In the Bolshakov podlinnik, which has an entry much like this one, the color given for Jeremiah’s robe is instead “vokhra” (ochre) whitened and the under-robe is “lazor,” a dark blue. One often finds such disagreements in old painters’ manuals about the appropriate colors for a saint’s garments, as well as differences in what one painted on a particular saint’s scroll.

This entry for Jeremiah goes on to give an alternate scroll inscription, prefaced by

A indye pishet — “and elsewhere is written,” meaning that the writer of this podlinnik knows that in other manuals this alternate inscription is given for Jeremiah’s scroll:

G[o]s[po]di sila(m) sudi pravedno
“Lord of powers, judge righteously.”

The “powers” here are the heavenly hosts, the heavenly armies of angels.

So that is what a podlinnik is — description after description of the saints commemorated on every day of every month of the year. It is like a recipe book, with each description a recipe for painting a saint. Keep in mind that, as I said earlier, these old manuals often disagree on how saints are to be painted, and the painters themselves recognized that. Often one finds, for example, instructions such as that a saint is to be painted as an old man, however then comes the added comment “but elsewhere it is written” that he is to be painted as a young man. And of course, as already mentioned, one finds differences in the scroll inscriptions for the same saint, differences in colors, and even differences in the spelling of those colors.

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