This icon combines two types relating to the Passion of Jesus.  And in addition, it has an inset brass quadriptych (four-panel icon) — the kind commonly referred to as a “flatiron” because its shape when closed is like the old-fashioned kind of iron heated on a stove.

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

It is not unusual to find one or more cast metal icons inserted into a wooden panel, which sometimes is painted with other images, and sometimes just serves as a holder for the metal icon.  Brass crosses are often inset.  Such combination wood and metal icons were particularly popular among the Old Believers.

First, let’s look at the title inscription at the top.  It begins at top left and continues at top right:

At left:


At right:


If we join them, we get the full title:




And that is what is depicted.  In the upper third, we see the “Removal from the Cross”:

Let’s look at the elements comprising it:

In the center we see Jesus being lifted down from the cross.

At top center is Gospod’ Savaof/”Lord Sabaoth” — God the Father, and below him is a circle with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove:

At the sides of the upper crosspiece are the СОЛНЦЕ/”SUN” at left, and at right the ЛУНА/”MOON.”  In these icons it is traditional for the sun to be dark and the moon red, in keeping with these biblical excerpts:

Joel 2:31:
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.”

Those removing him from the cross are:  at left, an unnamed helper with no halo; at top right Svyatuiy Pravednuiy Iosif”— “Holy Righteous Joseph (of Arimathea) —

and below him, Svyatuiy Pravednuiy Nikodim”/”Holy Righteous Nicodemus.”

Now let’s identify the предстоящими/predstoyashchimi — “those standing by”:

At left:

At left in military garb and holding a lance is Svyatuiy Muchenik Loggin/”Holy Martyr Longinus.  Remember that in Church Slavic a double Г is pronounced as “ng.”  Beside him is the Meter Theou — “Mother of God,” i.e. Mary, mother of Jesus.  And to her right is Svyatuiy Ioann” Bogosolov — “Holy John the Theologian” (Apostle and by tradition Evangelist).

Above them are two angels in the clouds:

They hold a book open to the text of the Trisagion (“Thrice-holy”):




There is another pair of angels on a cloud at right, also holding a book with the same “Trisagion” text.

Now you have likely noticed the vertical crack running through the icon.  This is not unusual in old icons, which were frequently made by joining more than one board together.  Often as the wood warps and shrinks, a crack will form in the join that extends into the paint surface.  Old icons are frequently convex from warping, caused often when the wood for the panel was not cut from across the center of a tree, but from off-center.

The bystanders at right are:

Mariya/”Mary,”  Mironositsa Marfa/”Myrrh-bearer Martha” and another Mironositsa Mariya/”Myrrh-bearer Mary.”  There is some difference in the tradition as to which women were present, and the inscription on the woman at left is actually damaged, making it difficult to know which she was intended to be.

Here is the second icon type on the image — the Polozhenie — the “Placing in the Tomb/Grave.”  We see Jesus lying on a cloth, and below him are two spice containers:

We see angels at left and right, holding the ceremonial fans (ripida) used in the celebration of the liturgy.  They symbolize the presence of the Heavenly Powers (the angels) at the Eucharist.

The angel at the left holds a fan with an image identified by inscription as a Kheruvim/Cherubim (Russians use the plural for the singular in this case):

The angel at right holds a fan with a serafim/Seraphim — again using the plural for the singular:

Now traditionally, Seraphim should be red because they are associated with divine fire, and Cherubim are generally blue, but icon painters often got them mixed up, as here.

At left is “Holy Righteous Iosif/Joseph” (of Arimathea)”

Then we have these:

At left is Svyatuiy Ioann” Bogoslov/”John the Theologian.”
Meter Theou/Mother of God/Mary, mother of Jesus;
Svyataya Mironositsa Marfa/”Holy Myrrh-bearer Martha”
Svyataya Mironositsa Mariya K/ — apparently intended to be “Holy Myrrh-bearer Mary [mother of] Klopas”

At right is Svyatuiy Pravednuiy Nikodim”/”Holy Righteous Nicodemus”:

Now we get to the inset “flatiron” quadriptych.  These four-part cast brass icons were very popular among the Old Believers.

I have discussed such an icon in great detail previously, and they do not vary much from example to example:

Here is the panel at left:

The top image is the Crucifixion (Raspyatie), with a tiny image of the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus just above the cross.  Inscription:  Raspyatie Gospoda Nashego Isusa Khrista
“Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ”

The upper left image is the Annunciation (Blagovyeshchenie) to Mary.  Inscription:
Blagovyeshchenie Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui
“Annunciation to the most holy Mother of God

The upper right image is the Birth (Rozhestvo) of Jesus.  Inscription:  Rozhesto Gospoda Nashego Isusa Khrista
“Birth of our Savior Jesus Christ”

The lower left image is the Birth (Rozhestvo) of the Mother of God (Mary).  Inscription:  Rozhestvo Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui
“Birth of the most holy Mother of God”

The lower right image is the Entry (Vvedenie) of the Mother of God into the Temple.  Inscription:  Vvdenie v Tserkov Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui
“Entry into the Temple of the most holy Mother of God.”

Second panel from left:

At top is the New Testament Trinity, with the inscription: I Vozshedshago Na Nebesa I Sedyashcha Odesnuiu Otsa
“He Ascended into Heaven and Sits at the Right Hand of the Father.”

Left:  The Meeting (Sretenie) of Jesus in the Temple.  Inscription:  Sretenie Gospoda Nashego Isusa Khrista
“Meeting of our Lord Jesus Christ [in the Temple]”

Right:  The Theophany (Bogoyavlenie), that is, the Baptism of Jesus: Inscription:  Bogoyavlenie Gospoda Nashego Isusa Khrista
“Theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Lower Left:  The Transfiguration (Preobrazhenie) of Jesus.  Inscription:  Preobrazhenie Gospoda Nashego Isusa Khrista
“Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Lower Right:  The Entry (Vkhod) of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Inscription:  Vkhod v Ierusalim Gospoda Nashego Isusa Khrista
“Entry into Jerusalem of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Third panel from left:

Top:  The Elevation (Vozdvizhenie) of the Cross.  Inscription:  Vozdvizhenie Chestnago I Zhivotvoryashchago Kresta Gospoda Nashego Isusa Khrista
“Elevation of the Honorable and Life-creating Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Left:  The Descent (Sozhestvie) to Hades (Resurrection (Voskresenie) of Jesus).  Inscription:  Voskresenie Khristovo
“Resurrection of Christ”

Right:  The Ascension (Voznesenie) of Jesus.  Inscription:  Voznesenie Gospodne
“Ascension of the Lord”

Lower Left:  The Old Testament Trinity (Troitsa).  Inscription:  Svyataya Troitsa
“Holy Trinity.”  In some examples this is replaced by the Descent (Sozhestvie) of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), in which case the inscription is:  Soshestvie [SozhestvieSvyatago Dukha
“Descent of the Holy Spirit”

Lower Right:  The Dormition (Uspenie) of Mary.  Inscription:  Ouspenie Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui
“Dormition of the most holy Mother of God”

And finally, we can complete our look at this icon with the last panel of the inset “flatiron”icon:

Top:  The Praise (Pokhvala) of the Mother of God.  Inscription:  Obraz” Pokhvalui Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui
“Image of the Praise of the Most Holy Mother of God”

Below that come four scenes of Poklonenie (Veneration) of Wonderworking icons of Mary:
Left:  The “Tikhvin” icon with saints Aleksandr Svirskiy and Kirill Byelozerskiy, etc.
Right:  The “Vladimir” icon with saints Maksim and Vasiliy (Maxim and Basil) Fools for Christ’s Sake, etc.
Lower left:  The “Smolensk” icon with saints Antoniy and Feodosiy Pecherskiy, etc.
Lower right:  The “Sign” icon with saints Antoniy Rimlyanin and Leontiy Rostovskiy, etc.


Here is a 19th century icon with three “special needs” saints.

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

At left is Svyatuiy Svyashchennomuchenik Kiprian” — “Holy Priest-martyr Kiprian/Cyprian,” who was prayed to for protection from evil spells and charms.

At right is Svyatuiy Prepodobnuiy Nifont” — “Holy Venerable Niphont/Niphon,” dressed in his monk’s garments and likely intended to be Niphont of Cyprus, who was prayed to for driving away evil spirits.

The most interesting one, however, is the fellow in the middle — whose image has lost a bit of paint from the face over the years.  And he is interesting for an odd reason.

He is dressed in the garments of a warrior saint.  And his title inscription is quite clear:


Note the punched ornamentation in the gold-leafed background.

The interesting thing about this is that Panteleimon was not a warrior saint.  He was an “unmercenary physician.”  So when this icon was painted, a very obvious mistake was made.  Either the warrior saint depicted should have been given a different and correct name inscription, or the name inscription should have had an “unmercenary physician” depicted below it instead of a warrior saint.

Now why was this very obvious error not noticed when the icon was painted or sold?  Well, there was a lot of illiteracy at the time, both among icon painters and icon purchasers.  That means it is not uncommon to find errors of one kind or another on old icons, and this image is a good example to teach us that.

The small figure blessing from the clouds above is Gospod’ Vsederzhitel’ —  Jesus as “The Lord Almighty.”

In the left border is a “family saint,” apparently the name saint of the person for whom the icon was painted — a woman.

She is Svatuiy Muchenitsa Ioustina — “Holy Martyr Justina.”





Here is a photo I received of a very interesting icon:

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

And here is the title inscription — engraved on the vermeil (gilt silver) cover:

Translated, it reads:

“Moving of the Relics of Bishop Nicholas from Myra to Bari.”

The abbreviation C could also be translated as simply “Holy.”

So this is a ПРИНЕСЕНИЕ/PRINESENIE icon.  Prinesenie means “moving,” but commonly the fancy (and incomprehensible to most people) “church” term “translation” is used instead — but “translation” in such cases just means “moving.”  When you see an icon with a body of a saint being carried, it is often a Prinesenie/”Translation” icon.

You will find a long posting on Nicholas icons here:


In the outer border of the icon are images of (left) “Holy Kuzma” — i.e. Cosmas, and (right) “Holy Domian” — Damian.  The pair of “Unmercenary Physicians” often seen in icons.

At top is a small image of the “Sign” (Znamenie) Mother of God, associated historically with the city of Novgorod.

On receiving the photo, I noticed that the painting appears to be in a style much like that of the early 17th century.

Let’s brighten the image a bit:


The gilt-silver cover looks to be from the latter half of the 19th century.

Now when the photos of this as yet unstudied icon were sent to me, I was particularly interested and surprised by an old label on the back of the panel:

It caught my attention because not only is the image the coat of arms of the noted Russian Stroganov family (remember the Stroganov Icon Painting Manual, and the so-called Stroganov “School” of icon painting — circa 1580 – 1680?) — but also below it are the words “Count Sergiy Stroganov.”  There were two Sergiy Stroganovs, and the latter — Sergiy/Sergei Grigor’evich Stroganov (1794-1882) was both an art historian and a collector.  So from the label, this icon had been in an important collection.

The next thing that drew my attention was a notation on the back:

It reads:  “Painting by Ioan Sobol'”

Now Ioan/Ivan Yakolev Sobol’ was an early icon painter from Novgorod who had studied under the famous painter Prokopiy Chirin in Novgorod.  Sobol’ went to Moscow in 1572 to paint there.  Both Chirin and Sobol’ did work for the Stroganov family.

Now what is even more interesting is that there is more writing on the reverse:

It is written in an old hand.

Now interestingly, there is an entry about Ioan/Ivan Sobol’ in the Dictionary of Russian Icon Painters 11th -17th Century, and in it we find this:

В собрании графа Строганова находилась икона «Перенесение мощей Николая чудотворца» («Фигуры в 6,5 голов, свет золотой. В лицах нос, подбородок, скулы. Лоб оживлены довольно резкими бликами. Травы писаны твореным золотом»), с подписью: “106 сий образ домовой в соб. храму благовещения святей богородицы у Соли Вычегодска на посаде… на Никиты сына Строганова. Писмо Ивана Соболя” (размер 59,8х51 см). (Ровинский 1903)

It says that in the collection of Count Stroganov was an icon “Translation of the Relics of Nicholas the Wonderworker.”  And it further tells us that this icon had an inscription on it:  “This house image in the Cathedral Church of the Annunciation to the Most Holy Mother of God in Soli Vuichegodska (Solvuichegodsk) in the village … for Nikita son of Stroganov.  Painting by Ivan Sobol'”

Well, when we look at the somewhat worn inscription on the back of the icon in the photos sent to me, we find the inscription also begins:

106  [сий?] образ домовой в соб. храму благовещения святей богородицы у …

“106 [This?] house image in the Cathedral Church of the Annunciation to the Most Holy Mother of God in ...”

We can add to that that a mention in the book History and Discovery of Medieval Russian Medieval Painting by Gerol’d I Vzdornov:

The earlier specimens in the Stroganov collections were icons by Ivan Sobol’, Semen Borozdin, Istoma Savin, Nikifor Savin, and Prokopiy Chirin, all of whom worked for Nikita Grigor’evich and Maksim Yakovlevich Stroganov around 1600 (Sobol’ did an icon, The Translation of the Holy Relics of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker form Myra of Lycia to the town of Bari that was dated 1598).

The icon is said to have once been owned by Ambassador Nicolae Petrescu-Comnen (1881-1958) — Romanian Envoy to the League of Nations and to Switzerland under the reign of King Ferdinand, as well as Foreign Minister in Romania under the disastrous reign of King Carol II (son of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie).

So is this unstudied icon, in the photos I received, by some odd coincidence the very icon from the collection of Count Stroganov described in the Russian text?  Well, the measurements given for that icon do not exactly match the icon pictured, but there have been changes in the Russian measuring systems over time and people do make errors.  The coincidences in label, title, inscription and origin, however, do seem to match very well.  In any case, further identification of this image will have to wait for verification from experts in “Stroganov” icons of the 16th-17th centuries.

It is the kind of thing that makes the study of icons interesting.


Two postings back, I happened to mention a Spaso-Preobrazhenskiy Monastery — a “Savior-Transfiguration Monastery.”  And that moved one of my readers to write me a note saying I did not seem to have done a page on the Transfiguration.  Well, apparently she is correct, though I did mention it briefly in a discussion of icons of the major Church festivals.

So here it is — a Russian example of the Transfiguration type from 1497:

(Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Preserve)

The title inscription is a bit worn, but it appears to read:


The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus is found in the Synoptic Gospels, with both “Matthew” (17:1-8) and “Luke” (9:28-36) apparently basing their accounts on that of “Mark” 9:2-9:

And after six days Jesus takes with him Peter, and James, and John, and leads them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.

And his clothing became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can whiten them.

And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.

And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.

For he knew not what to say; for they were very afraid.

And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, except Jesus only with themselves.

And as they came down from the mountain, he commanded them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man was risen from the dead.

It is possible that the author of “Mark” intended the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus to reflect Malachi 4:4-5:

Now Mark had merely said the three were “very afraid,” so this dramatic falling to the ground is a detail added to Mark’s story by Matthew in 17:6:

And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were very afraid.

“Luke” says nothing about falling to the ground, but does add another detail of his own (Luke 9:32) not mentioned in Mark or Matthew:

32 But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.

Now in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Transfiguration came to have a special significance due to a doctrine found in the writings of Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), who defended the notion of Hesychasm.  In Hesychasm, it is believed that a person through meditative practice may become so purified that a union with God happens, and in that union a bright divine light is seen, which is considered to be the same light as that of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  This “uncreated light” is therefore called in Russian the Фаворский свет/Faborskiy svyet/ “Light of Tabor,” and in Greek the Ἄκτιστον Φῶς/Aktiston Phos (“Uncreated Light”) or Θεῖον Φῶς/Theion Phos (“Divine Light”).

Now it is common knowledge in the study of meditative practices — and particularly noted in Buddhism — that certain types of meditation can lead to the experience of light, though that result is not given the interpretation found in Hesychasm, but is rather just considered a stage on the meditative journey.  The doctrine of Hesychasm was very controversial in Eastern Orthodoxy, but was eventually accepted — though it was not found in Roman Catholicism and certainly not in Protestantism.

As an example of the Eastern Orthodox attitude toward this light, we may look to the account found in what are said to be the memoirs of Nikolay/Nicholas Motovilov (1809-1879) —

(Nikolai Motovilov)

memoirs discovered, so the story goes, in a pile of rubbish in 1902.  The account relates Motovilov’s conversation with the ascetic St. Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833):

“Nevertheless,” I replied, “I do not understand how I can be certain that I am in the Spirit of God. How can I discern for myself His true manifestation in me?”

Father Seraphim replied: “I have already told you, your Godliness, that it is very simple and I have related in detail how people come to be in the Spirit of God and how we can recognize His presence in us. So what do you want, my son?”

“I want to understand it well,” I said.

Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: “We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?”

I replied: “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.”

Father Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”

Then, bending his head towards me, he whispered softly in my ear: “Thank the Lord God for His unutterable mercy to us! You saw that I did not even cross myself; and only in my heart I prayed mentally to the Lord God and said within myself: ‘Lord, grant him to see clearly with his bodily eyes that descent of Thy Spirit which Thou grantest to Thy servants when Thou art pleased to appear in the light of Thy magnificent glory.’ And you see, my son, the Lord instantly fulfilled the humble prayer of poor Seraphim. How then shall we not thank Him for this unspeakable gift to us both? Even to the greatest hermits, my son, the Lord God does not always show His mercy in this way. This grace of God, like a loving mother, has been pleased to comfort your contrite heart at the intercession of the Mother of God herself. But why, my son, do you not look me in the eyes? Just look, and don’t be afraid! The Lord is with us!”

After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!

“How do you feel now?” Father Seraphim asked me.

“Extraordinarily well,” I said.

“But in what way? How exactly do you feel well?”

I answered: “I feel such calmness and peace in my soul that no words can express it.”

And of course there is the bright light mentioned in many accounts of “near-death” experiences.

Greek icons of the Transfiguration like that below usually have the title Ἡ ΜΕΤΑΜΟΡΦѠCΙC/HE METAMORPHOSIS/”THE TRANSFIGURATION,” or some variant of it.

Note the damaged area at lower center, where paint loss has revealed the underlying fabric.

Here is a more elaborate 1600 example:

Jesus at center holds the Gospels, Elijah is at left, and at right is Moses, holding the tablets of the Law.

At lower left we see Jesus leading Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor —

And at lower right he speaks to them after the Transfiguration:

And here is a closer look at the central image of Jesus:

Now we have seen that Russians call the “Uncreated Light” the “Light of Tabor” — of Mount Tabor, that is.  But oddly enough the mountain is not identified at all in the Gospels.  They just call it a “high mountain” (Mark and Matthew), and “a mountain” (Luke).  And it is not until the 3rd century that we find it named in the writings of Origin as Mount Tabor.


I have discussed folk icons previously, but here is a little review of one particular kind of icon — a very popular and widespread kind.

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

Yes, it is one of those “Red” icons — a краснушка/krasnushka (plural краснушки/krasnushki).  Huge numbers of these icons were produced for the peasant and worker market.  The krasnushki were folk icons, now generally attributed to “untrained” folk painters in the village of Kholuy (Холуй), in Vladimir Province.

Krasnushki are easy to recognize because of their predominant reddish-orange coloring.  Usually only three or four colors were used in painting the icon, and the figures were commonly brushed on quickly in fluid, black outlines, as here.  Another distinctive characteristic of such icons is the silver background, which originally was commonly tinted with a yellow varnish — giving the silver somewhat the effect of gold leaf.  But often these  icons are found now with darkened varnish, and all too often it has been removed, leaving the bare silver — which was not the original intention of the painter.  Also characteristic of these icons is the use of broad foliage patterns on the garments.

It was only a few decades ago that these icons were looked contemptuously down upon by collectors, but now folk icons have gained more appreciation — though they still tend to be less expensive on the market than more skillfully-painted and detailed icons.

We can learn a lot, even from this simple image.

On looking closely, for example, we can see that the painter had a preliminary pattern to follow that consisted of lines of punched dots, visible here:

The black image lines were brushed in so quickly that often they only roughly follow the dotted pattern.  That is something often seen on this kind of icon.

If we look at a damaged corner, we learn something else interesting about these icons:

We see no evidence of a pavoloka beneath the painted surface — the cloth that was glued to the board to provide a base of the gesso ground on which the image was painted in more expensive icons.  So in krasnushki, there is generally no pavoloka or if there is one, it is only thin paper.

If we look at the title inscription, we can see that like the lines of the image itself, the inscription was very quickly and cursively done:

The inscription reads:

Now as you know, icons of the “Vladimir” type were among the most popular in Russia — and that is another characteristic of krasnushki; they generally represented the most common and popular icon types — those with the widest appeal.

Now if we put all these characteristics together, we can see that krasnushki were deliberately painted cheaply so that they would appeal to the taste and budget of the masses, and so they were produced in large numbers — and that is why so many of them have survived.

Unfortunately the term krasnushki is often applied today to other inexpensively-produced folk icons that are not “red” like this example, and that rather confuses matters.  So when I used the term, I use it only for icons like the one on this page.