Now and then we come across oddities of icon painting, such as this one. It is an 18th century image that combines the “Descent of the Holy Spirit” icon type with a list noting the names of living and deceased members of a craftsman’s guild — in this case, a Serbian Bootmakers’ Guild. It was common for Serbian guilds to have icons and banners made of their patron saints — which they sometimes donated — but it is unusual to find an example like this.
The ЖИВЫХЪ/ZHIVUIKH/ “Living” column at far left gives the names of living members, and the remaining six УСОПШЫХЪ/USOPSHUIKH/ “Deceased” columns list the names of dead members.
The distinguishing features are the child Jesus sitting, legs together, on the left hand of Mary — and above all, the white cloth held in and hanging from Mary’s left hand. Those elements together tell you this is the Pochaev/Pochayiv/Pochaevskaya icon type (names in English/Ukrainian/Russian).
The “appearance” of the Pochaev icon is said to have taken place near Pochayiv in Ternopil Oblast in western Ukraine, which is slightly northwest of the city of Lviv/Lvov. Here is the Pochayiv/Pochaev Lavra built at the site:
Because of its appearance there and its fame, the Pochaev icon of Mary is a kind of national icon type in Ukraine, and is very popular, including within the the category of folk icons known as “house” icons, such as the following example:
The faded inscriptions are at top the usual МР ΘΥ (Meter Theou/Mother of God) abbreviation standard in icons of Mary, and below at left and right “Mother of God of Pochaev,” and the IC XC (Iesous Khristos) abbreviation for “Jesus Christ.”
In spite of its simplified, folkish style, you can easily see the characteristics of the type: The child Christ seated — legs together — on the right hand of Mary, and the white cloth held in and hanging down from her left hand. Some examples, like this one, place crowns on the head of mother and child.
Notice the two floral blobs near the head of Mary. Such ornamentation is common in Ukrainian folk icons of the northern area, and in some regions is replaced by stylized roses or round “apples.” The ornamentation in this example is found in the Dniepr Basin north of Kyiv (the red dot in the yellow region on the map).
This house icon of St. Nicholas from the Dniepr region exhibits the same thin, flat painting, the same dark background, and the same strings of white dot “pearls” used as ornamentation in the Pochaev example above:
Somewhat similar house icons are painted in the region where the Desna river flows down from Chernihiv into the Dniepr — such as this Chernihiv example of the “Lord Almighty” type:
Such folk icons, painted simply and quickly and sold inexpensively, were generally found in peasant homes. Now you can easily see that they are considerably different in style from the more elaborate Old Believer icons found in the Ukraine, so keep in mind that there is considerable variation in Ukrainian iconography, which varies from the simple examples discussed here to the more skillfully painted Old Believer icons to very sophisticated icons that closely resemble Roman Catholic religious art.
What is today? Well, in the United States it is Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery, when word finally came to those of African descent in the state of Texas on June 19th, 1865, that they were emancipated — now free and equal with their former masters.
Of infinitely less significance is the fact — as a reader here reminded me — that as of today this blog has been in existence for ten years. Yes, I have been wasting your time and mine with all this rather useless information about icons for a whole decade now.
That means there are ten years of information on icons in the archives. More practical information on the identification of icons than you will find in any book — and it is all completely free of charge.
Papa Rimskiy — it sounds like the jovial old owner of a Russian tea room, but it is not; instead it is one of those saints that span East and West. Here he is in a Russian icon:
We have seen a Papa Rimskiy here before — Kliment, Papa Rimskiy. So if you have a good memory, you will recall that Papa Rimskiy is a rank and location title meaning “Pope of Rome.” Yes, both Kliment/Clement and this fellow — Svyatuiy Alexandr” Papa Rimskiy — “Holy Alexander, Pope of Rome” are classified as — well, Popes of Rome.
Now it will be obvious to you, if you remember your history, that the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches split in 1054 over the rather silly question of whether the Son (Jesus) proceeds from the Father only, or from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Of course these dogmatic quibbles are never just over one thing; they are also often about power and self-importance. But in any case, the Eastern and Western churches generally share saints declared before that date, and after it their saints are not officially shared, because each considered the other heretical from that time onward.
Concerning this particular Papa Rimskiy — Alexander — almost nothing is known for certain. That of course never stopped the Church from inventing stories about him. In Eastern Orthodoxy, Alexander is known as a hieromartyr — a priest-martyr, but that may be due to confusing him with another Alexander, who by tradition was martyred on May 3rd along with two others named Eventius and Theodulus. The Orthodox believe that Alexander, Pope of Rome was martyred on that date in 119, supposedly burned alive under the authority of the Emperor Hadrian. After the calendar revisions under Pope John 23rd in 1960, however, the Alexander traditionally martyred on that day was no longer identified as a pope in Roman Catholicism; the Eastern Orthodox Church, however, continues to consider him as such.