IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T?

I have mentioned in previous postings that icon painters sometimes made mistakes.  Look at this image:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com

Now usually the first thing one does in identifying a saint is to read the name inscription — which in the case of icons with a single saint — as in this example — is also the title inscription:

It reads:

ОБРАЗ С[ВЯ]ТЫЯ ВЕЛИКО[МУЧЕНИЦЫ] ПАРАСКОВА ПЯТНИ[ЦЫ]
OBRAZ SVYATUIYA VELIKOMUCHENITSUI PARASKOVA PYATNITSUI
IMAGE OF HOLY      GREAT-MARTYR            PARASKEVA  PYATNITSA

Well, that is straightforward and clear; the name is that of the well-known saint Paraskeva Pyatnitsa — Saint “Friday-Friday” as you know from a previous posting on her (you do know, don’t you — since you have read and carefully remembered everything I have ever written here in the past nine-plus years?).  Here is the link to that previous posting:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/saint-friday-friday-and-the-goddess-makosh/

So, the title inscription is clear enough.  It definitely identifies the image as that of the Great Martyr Paraskeva Pyatnitsa.  And if we look at the iconography, it looks quite like that of Paraskeva — though she usually has a cloth head covering — often a white head covering, and is rarely shown with uncovered hair.  And though many icons of Paraskeva show her without a crown, many also give her a crown atop her head covering.

Here is a closer look at the face:

So what is the problem?

Well, let’s look at the scroll she is holding:

It reads:

GOSPODI BOZHE OUSLUISHI MENE, DAZHD’ POMINAIUSHCHIM” IMYA MOE EKATERINOU OTPUSHCHENIE

“LORD GOD, HEAR ME, GIVE THOSE WHO REMEMBER MY NAME EKATERINA —

Wait … EKATERINA???!!!

Well, I hope you remember that Ekaterina is the Slavic form of Catherine — and the most famous Saint Catherine is Catherine of Alexandria:

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2018/07/08/role-reversal-st-catherine-of-alexandria/

So what has happened here?

Well, Paraskeva and Catherine sometimes look rather similar when shown “to the waist” in icons.  Did the fellow painting the scroll text mistakenly choose the “Catherine” text instead of the usual “I believe in one God…” text commonly found on icons of Paraskeva?  But it is also possible that the fellow who wrote the title inscription on the icon just looked at the image and thought, “O.K., this is the Great Martyr Paraskeva,” and wrote that incorrect title accordingly.  We do not really know whether this icon was originally intended to be Catherine (which it may well have been, because she is more often depicted with her hair uncovered than Paraskeva), or whether it was intended to be Paraskeva, but was given the wrong scroll inscription — one appropriate for Catherine.  In favor of the “Catherine” identification would be not only the scroll text and uncovered hair, but also the jewels and pearls ornamenting her garments.  Paraskeva is commonly depicted with more simple robes, while Catherine is frequently shown in “noble” garments.  But again, there was some interchange of characteristics in their iconography from example to example, and that is what likely led to the confusion obvious in this icon.

But before continuing, let’s finish the translation of the scroll inscription:

GOSPODI BOZHE OUSLUISHI MENE, DAZHD’ POMINAIUSHCHIM” IMYA MOE EKATERINOU OTPUSHCHENIE

“LORD GOD, HEAR ME, GIVE THOSE WHO REMEMBER MY NAME — EKATERINA/CATHERINE –ABSOLUTION.”

Aside from all that, we can easily tell that this is an Old Believer icon from the position of the fingers on the right hand holding the cross of martyrdom.

They are in the distinctive blessing position used by the Old Believers, and commonly used in their icons to distinguish them from those of what they considered to be the “heretical” State Russian Orthodox Church.

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