GETTING YOUR MONEY’S WORTH: A VERY BUSY CRUCIFIXION

A reader requested a discussion of this detailed image:

(National Museum, Athens)

If we look in the lower right corner, we see this Latin inscription:

ANDREAS PAVIAS PINXIT DE CANDIA

That really tells us a lot.  First, it reveals the name of the painter — Andreas Pavias; — Pinxit means “painted it.”  And de Candia — “of Candia”– tells us where he worked.  Candia was both the name for the island of Crete when it was a colony of the Venetian Republic, and of the island’s capital city.  So we know this is an icon from the Cretan school of icon painting.  And because we know it is by Andreas Pavias, we know also his dates — 1440 to somewhere within or near the first decade of the 1500s.  That it is written in Latin rather than Greek tells us that this image was intended for a “Latinate” customer — A Roman Catholic rather than a Greek Orthodox, and we already know that icon painters on Crete worked for both kinds of customers, and did a very large business in selling icons to Venetian buyers.

As you can see, there is a great deal of information condensed into this icon.  Let’s begin by looking at the focal center of the icon — the image of Jesus on the cross.  Around him are grieving angels, some catching his blood in chalices:

Let’s begin with the inscriptions and the upper portion of the cross:

On the titulus — the “name board” of the cross — we see the letters VNRI.  This is a variant of the standard spelling INRI — abbreviating Latin Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum — “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  Below that — written in red letters — we see the Greek inscription identifying the image.  It is divided by the vertical beam of the cross:

Ἡ CΤΑΥ  ΡѠCΙC
We read it as:

HE STAUROSIS — “THE CRUCIFIXION”

And of course you recognize the IC XC abbreviations for Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.”

But look at the image just above the very top of the cross.  That is something we do not ordinarily see in Greek iconography.  It is a popular Western Christian symbol — a pelican tearing open her own breast with her beak, in order to feed the blood to her young, and thus give them life.  It is put here as a symbol of Jesus giving his blood in the Crucifixion, to give life to believers.  If you look at what is supporting the nest in which the pelican and her brood are found, it appears to be a branching coral.  In Christian symbolism, coral was associated with the blood and Passion of Jesus, which is why it was also used as a protective talisman for children.

Let’s move down to the base of the cross:

We see the blood dripping down the shaft, and a woman in grief embracing the cross.  She is Mary Magdalene.

The redemptive blood drips all the way down to the skull in a hollow below the cross.  It is the skull of Adam — the legendary first man — who was said to have been buried on the site of the Crucifixion.  This of course is a symbol for the reversal of the “Fall,” at least for Christian believers.  Below the skull we see devils/demons in Hades, upset by the redemptive act taking place above them.

We must not overlook this fellow with his long pole, at the top of which is a sponge.  He used it in giving Jesus vinegar to drink, as mentioned in Mark 15:36, Matthew 27:48, and John 19:29. :

Behind him is a soldier with a lance.  A lance was used to pierce the side of Jesus.

Just to his left (but notably on what would be the side at the right hand of Jesus) we see the distraught Mary being held up by the other women, and by the youthful-looking disciple John (called “the Theologian” in Eastern Orthodoxy):

Moving up to the top on the “right hand of Jesus” side, we find one of the malefactors crucified with Jesus — the one who supposedly repented (though not in all accounts:  see this posting: https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/the-repentant-thief-who/).  In Latin Christianity he was called Dismas. Note that he is crucified facing the viewer.  Above him — among the grieving angels, we not only see the image of the sun, but just below it an angel holding an infant.  This is the soul of Dismas being carried to Paradise.

The man with a club, standing on the ladder, is breaking the legs of Dismas to ensure death.

If we look on the opposite side of the cross — the left-hand of Jesus side — the “sinister” side — we find the unrepentant malefactor Gestas.  Above him is the moon.  Below the moon is a winged devil, who has caught the departing soul of Gestas — again in the form of an infant —  on a long hook, and will take him off to punishment.

In contrast to the repentant Dismas, who is crucified facing the viewer, Gestas is crucified facing away.  On the ladder at left we see another man with a club, breaking the legs of Gestas, and to his right is the scene of Judas — who traditionally betrayed Jesus — hanging himself from a tree (though actually there are two discrepant Gospel accounts of how Judas died).

Returning to the lower right-hand of Jesus side, we see the dead rising from their graves, as described in Matthew 27:52-53:

And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

On the “sinister” lower side of the icon, we see the soldiers who had “cast lots” for the garment of Jesus, as described in Matthew 27:35:

And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.

The soldiers are dividing the cloth with a sword.  Note the three dice at the bottom of the image:


Andreas Pavia has filled the remainder of the painting with crowds of people, both on horseback and on foot.  He does this not only to show the importance of the event, but also to add visual interest for the buyer, who can take his time in looking from face to face and scene to scene, and feel he is getting his money’s worth in this very detailed icon.

 

 

 

 

“BALANCE BALL” CHAIRS ARE NOTHING NEW

A reader asked why, as we see in some “Creation” icons,  Jesus as the Logos is depicted as creating while seated upon a circle — in short, what is the circle?

We find an example in the 12th century mosaics of Monreale, Palermo, Sicily:

The circle on which Jesus sits represents the throne of God:

Οὕτως λέγει Κύριος· ὁ οὐρανός μοι θρόνος, ἡ δὲ γῆ ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν μου·
“Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and earth a footstool for my feet.” (Isaiah 66:1, also Acts 7:49)

Κύριος ἐν ναῷ ἁγίῳ αὐτοῦ· Κύριος ἐν οὐρανῷ ὁ θρόνος αὐτοῦ.
The Lord is in his holy temple; the throne of the Lord is in Heaven.”
(Psalm 10:4 Septuagint numbering, 11:4 KJV)

ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως· μήτε ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὅτι θρόνος ἐστὶν τοῦ θεοῦ· μήτε ἐν τῇ γῇ, ὅτι ὑποπόδιόν ἐστιν τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ·

“But I say to you, do not swear at all, neither by Heaven, which is the throne of God, nor by the earth, which is a footstool for his feet.” (Matthew 5:34-35)

Simultaneously, the circle depicts the heavenly realm in contrast to the earthly realm.  It is often composed of three concentric circles — as in the Monreale mosaics.  Some like to think of these as  symbolizing the three persons of the Trinity.  We might think of them as white for the Holy Spirit (the outer circle), blue for Jesus (the middle light blue circle), and the deepest blue circle for the Father, hidden in the darkness of Eternity.  That understanding may not fit all examples.

 

TIKHON OF ZADONSK

This fellow is Tikhon of Zadonsk (Тихон Задонский/Tikhon Zadonskiy), also called Tikhon of Voronezh (Тихон Воронежский/Tikhon Voronezhskiy).

His partly-abbreviated title inscription reads:

С[ВЯТЫЙ] ТИХОН ЕПИ[СКОП] ВОРОНЕ[ЖСКИЙ]
SVYATUIY TIKHON EPISKOP VORONEZHSKIY

“HOLY TIKHON, BISHOP OF VORONEZH”

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The more naturalistic depiction of his features as well as the position of the fingers of his right hand as it blesses tell us that this is a State Church icon, not one painted by the Old Believers.  And in fact he would not be numbered among Old Believer saints, because he was not officially “glorified” (somewhat the Russian Orthodox equivalent of canonization) until 1861, and then only by the post-Schism State Church, whose authority was not accepted by the Old Believers.  We know from all this that his icons will be from the latter part of the 19th century or later.

Tikhon (born Timofei in 1724) had a miserable, very poor and very difficult childhood, but later studied at the Novgorod Seminary.  He became a monk in 1758, then a year later Rector of the Tver Seminary.  He was made a bishop in 1761, at the age of 37, being first in Novgorod, then in Voronezh.

Now very interestingly, even though this was in the latter half of the 18th century, the people of Voronezh still celebrated an annual holiday in the late spring in honor of the deity Yarilo (Ярило) — a god of the return of spring, of growth of vegetation and fertility.

The holiday was observed in rather riotous fashion — and had been so carried on since the days before the arrival of Christianity.  Now as one might imagine, Bishop Tikhon did not like this at all, and he showed up in the public square in the middle of the festivities, denouncing the celebration with such vehemence that the fun stopped, and that was the end of the Yarilo celebrations each year in Voronezh — at least according to the traditional story of Tikhon’s life.

Tikhon’s health declined, and he spent the years from 1767 until his death in 1783 at the Zadonsk Monastery, where he lived in a small stone house attached to the bell tower by the monastery gate. His health was likely not helped by his sleeping only four or five hours in the day, and his difficult lifestyle.

If accounts of his life are to be believed, he was a very humble person with a sincere care for the poor and suffering, visiting prisoners and donating his pension to charity.  Supposedly he was telepathic, able to read people’s minds, and clairvoyance is also attributed to him, as it is said he predicted (in so many words) the later invasion of Russia and defeat of Napoleon.  Whatever the truth may have been, Tikhon was credited in popular belief with the ability to work miracles.

Tikhon died on August 13, 1783.  His relics — meaning his bodily remains — were said to be incorrupt (you will remember that in Russian folk belief, that indicated either a saint or a vampire), and in 1861 his official “glorification” as a saint took place.

Icons of Tikhon of Zadonsk are rather frequently encountered.

EXIT, STAGE LEFT

Today we will look briefly at a very uncommon icon type.  It is related to those icons we have seen in previous postings, representing the Guardian Angel and a person at death; but this particular type is based upon a collection of prayers:

(Russian State Museum)

As you can see, it consists of lots of little scenes, each with a bit of text beneath it.

The title inscription should tell us what this is all about:


It is a bit fuzzy, but we can nonetheless read it.  It says:

Изображение Канyна На Исход Души
IZOBRAZHENIE KANUNA NA ISKHOD DUSHI

Though the writer has spelled Kanona as Kanuna, we nonetheless know what he meant, so we can easily translate the title as:

“REPRESENTATION OF THE CANON AT THE DEPARTURE OF THE SOUL”

So we know this icon represents a particular liturgical collection of funereal prayers relating to the departure of the soul from the body at death and its journey in the afterlife, as believed in Eastern Orthodox tradition.

This appears to be an Old Believer icon from the 19th century.  It is not a type you are likely to encounter, but if you do, you will be able to recognize it now.

 

THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH: THE NOVGOROD WISDOM “BANQUET” ICON

In earlier postings we looked at icons of Holy Wisdom depicted as a red-faced angel sitting upon a throne often supported by seven pillars.  Today we will look at a 16th century Novgorod icon that again depicts Wisdom, but in a different manner.

Customarily, when looking at icons here, we look at the whole image first, then look more closely at various details.  Today, however, we shall begin with details, which will enable you to understand the icon as a whole when seeing it.

Here is the first detail:

We see a circle with a robed figure in the center, holding a chalice in hand.  Beside the head is a faint inscription reading:

Божия Сила Божия Премудрость
Bozhiya Sila Boshiya Premudrost’
“Power of God — Wisdom of God”

In the red surrounding circle are the winged wheels that are the class of angel called “Thrones” — commonly found in icons of the Trinity.  Also faintly visible in the red circle are representations of Seraphim and the symbols of the Four Evangelists — Man, Eagle, Lion, Ox:

In the darker, cloudy circle enclosing that, we see other angels, as well as a eucharistic container and an altar table.

Not only does the robed central figure have the “Thrones” underfoot — usually a sign of divinity — but also has an eight-pointed halo, another common sign of divinity,  a symbol of the days of Creation with the Eight Day — the Day of Eternity.  Below the seat on which Wisdom sits, we see seven slender supporting pillars.  That takes us back to the fundamental text on which Wisdom icons are based.  Proverbs 9:1:

Wisdom has builded her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars.

The illustration of the text continues:

“She hath killed her beasts…”


Those words are indicating by the two figures slaughtering two cattle beneath them.

She has mingled her wine; she has also furnished her table.

Here we see the wine and the table:

She has sent forth her maidens: she cries upon the highest places of the city, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wants understanding, she says to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.

So in the detail above, we see all the people coming to receive the wine of wisdom.  And “crying from the highest places of the city” is a crowned figure in the tower, holding a scroll:

He is King Solomon, the traditional author of the book of Proverbs.  He is considered a prophet in Eastern Orthodoxy.  He holds a scroll that begins:

Premudrost’ sozda sebye kh[ra]m i outverdi…
“Wisdom built herself a temple and set up…”

So of course he is telling us  — as in Proverbs 9:1 — that Wisdom built herself a temple and set it up on seven pillars.

You may recall that older Orthodox translations say  — as here — khram/”temple,” which is also used in Slavic to mean “church.” Later translations use дом (dom), meaning “house.”

At right, above those coming for wine, we see a red circle of seraphim in which Mary is seated with Christ Immanuel, who is considered to be Wisdom:


Below her at right is a turbaned figure  — Kozma/Cosmas of Maium — holding a scroll that has a variant version of  an excerpt by him from the Canon of Holy Thursday:

Всепричинная подательница жизни безмерная мудрость Божия создала себе храм из чистой, не знавшей мужа Матери: ибо в храм телесный облекшийся славно прославился Христос Бог наш»

“The Cause of All, Giver of Life, the immeasurable Wisdom of God, created for himself a temple from the pure, husbandless Mother: for clothed in the temple of the body, gloriously has been glorified Christ our God.”

That illustrates Mary with Christ Immanuel above him — that the child Wisdom, through Mary, was clothed in the temple of a human body.

So that is the main part of the icon, which symbolizes not only the pre-existence but also the incarnation of Jesus as Holy Wisdom — and along with that it represents the Eucharistic sacrifice.

At the top of the icon, we see a seven-domed church:


The scenes beneath the smaller domes represent the Seven Ecumenical Councils, arranged chronologically from left to right:

At left is the Council of Nicaea in 325, which dealt with the Arian controversy and the nature of Jesus.  Beside it is the Council of Constantinople in 381:

Next come the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431, and beside it the Council of Chalcedon in 451:

Following that are the Fifth Ecumenical Council of 553, under Emperor Justinian, and beside that the Sixth, the Council of Constantinople in 681.


Last — on the far right — is the Seventh Ecumenical Council under Empress Irene and her son Constantine, in 787.

At the very top of the icon are circles with angels bearing scrolls, but the inscriptions are too small to read in the photo. Often these are interpreted as the gifts of the Spirit.

That should go far in enabling you to understand the whole icon:

 

FALLING IDOLS

I have discussed icons of the “Flight to Egypt” previously.   Today we will examine a variant of that type in this 14th century fresco from Vysokie Dechani in Serbia:

Perhaps you noticed all those little white guys falling from the tops of the walls.  They are explained by the origin of this variant.

The reason for their addition is that this type illustrates — as the Slavic inscription on it tells us by giving the first words — Ikos 6 from the Akathist hymn to Mary:

«Возсиявый во Египте просвещение истины, отгнал еси лжи тьму: идоли бо его, Спасе, не терпяще Твоея крепости, падоша»

“By shining in Egypt the light of truth, you did dispel the darkness of falsehood; for its idols fell, O Savior, unable to endure your strength.”

So this variant depicts the idols of Egypt — those little white fellows in the fresco — falling at the arrival of Jesus, which is a tale found in apocryphal writings narrating the childhood of Jesus.  And these tales ultimately may be traced back to a rather fanciful interpretation of Isaiah 19:1:

In the Septuagint version, it is:

Ορασις Αἰγύπτου. – Ιδού, Κύριος κάθηται ἐπὶ νεφέλης κούφης καὶ ἥξει εἰς Αἴγυπτον, καὶ σεισθήσεται τὰ χειροποίητα Αἰγύπτου ἀπὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ….

“The vision of Egypt:  Behold the lord sits upon a swift cloud, and shall come to Egypt, and the handmade [idols] of Egypt shall be shaken before his face ….”

In the King James version it is:

The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord [Yahweh] rides upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence….”

 

 

LETTING IN AND SHUTTING OUT: THE TEN VIRGINS

Here is another parable of Jesus, recalled on Tuesday of Holy Week (“Great Tuesday”) in Orthodox Churches.  It is here represented in a 14th century fresco from Pech, Serbia:

As the Slavic title inscription tells us, it is the “Parable of Christ about the Ten Virgins.”

Here is another Serbian example from the same century, this time from Vysokie Dechani:


Perhaps you noticed that the writer of the inscription in that example has not written out the word “ten,” but instead has just used the Slavic letter number for it:

Here is the parable, from Matthew 25:

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go you out to meet him.

Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

12 But he answered and said, Truly I say to you, I know you not.

13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man comes.

Now the conventional interpretation of this is that some Christians keep prepared for the coming of the bridegroom — Jesus — and some foolishly do not.  There is some controversy (largely outside Eastern Orthodoxy) over whether this parable depicts ten female companions of an unmentioned bride, or whether the virgins in the story are all intended brides of the bridegroom — which would of course be polygamy, though the number of brides does not seem to be the point of the parable — or allegory, as some prefer.

Our purpose today is not  to unravel what the original significance of this parable might have been, but rather to identify it as a somewhat variable iconographic type.

Here is a more sophisticated example:

If we look more closely, we can read the inscription by the central figure of Jesus:

It says:

IC XC
Ὁ ΝΥΜΦΙΟC

As you know IC abbreviates ΙΗCΟΥΣ/Iesous — “Jesus,” and XC  abbreviates ΧΡΙCΤΟC/Khristos — “Christ.”

The Ὁ ΝΥΜΦΙΟC/Ho Nymphios inscription identifies Jesus as “The Bridegroom.”

Now you will recall that there is a separate “Passion” icon in which Jesus is identified as “The Bridegroom,” but that is a different type — though its title is related.  To refresh your mind about that other “Bridegroom” type, read this previous posting:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/tag/bridegroom-icon/

Just below the Ho Nymphios inscription, there is another barely visible inscription in the photo.  It is Jesus talking to the rather sad-looking women on the right side (at his left hand).  He is saying:

[οὐκ] οἶδα ὑμᾶς/[ouk] oida hymas

The words are taken from Matthew 25:12, literally “not I-know you” — in normal English, “I do not know you.”

A troparion from Great Tuesday says in Church Slavic:

Се, Жених грядет в полунощи,
и блажен раб, егоже обрящет бдяща:
недостоин же паки, егоже обрящет унывающа.
Блюди убо, душе моя, не сном отяготися,
да не смерти предана будеши и Царствия вне затворишися,
но воспряни зовущи: Свят, Свят, Свят еси, Боже,
Богородицею помилуй нас.

Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight,
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching,
And again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep,
Lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

That of course relates also to Mark 13:34-37:

But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
Take you heed, watch and pray: for you know not when the time is.
For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
Watch you therefore: for you know not when the master of the house comes, at evening, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning:
Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.