Here is a pleasant 19th century Deisis set, which traditionally consists of a central icon of Jesus as “Lord Almighty,” an icon of Mary approaching from the left, and one of John the Forerunner approaching at right:
Jesus has the common inscription from Matthew:
“Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28):
Прiидите ко мнѣ́ вси труждáющiися и обременéннiи, и áзъ упокóю вы́ Priidite ko mnye vsi truzhdaiushchiisya i obremenennii, i az’ upokoiu vui
Mary, however, has an uncommon inscription for a Deisis panel:
It is the beginning of the text known in the West as the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55):
Величит душа моя Господа и возрадовася дух [мои] о Бозе Спасе моем. яко при(зре на смирение рабы своея…)
Velichit dusha moya Gospoda i vozradovasya dukh moi o Boze Space moem. Iako prizre na smirenie rabui svoeya…
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…”
And here is the John the Forerunner panel:
The scroll of John is a bit odd too, because it uses John 1:29, but stops at the beginning letters of the usual “Behold the Lamb of God” text:
[Во утрий же] виде Иоанн Иисуса грядуща к себе и глагола: се, Аг[нец Божий, вземляй грехи мира]
“[And in the morning] John saw Jesus coming to him and said, behold the La[mb of God who takes away the sins of the world].”
One often sees individual side panels from Deisis sets that have lost their accompanying two panels.
Roskruish and okhrenie are two terms a student of icons should know. They signify two steps in the painting of Russian icons.
Roskruish (роскрыш– also transliterated roskrysh) is the application of the flat, often dark base colors to the image. Here is a brief video showing that step in the painting of an Igorevskaya icon. You will note that the costume is painted before the faces. That is traditional. In old icon workshops with assembly line production, it was customary for the costumes and backgrounds to be painted by a different painter or painters than the one who did the faces. The face painter was generally more skilled — but of course in a small workshop it would all be done by one person.
Once the roskruish is completed, then the okhrenie (охрение) begins. Okhrenie is the application of lighter colors to the dark base color of the “flesh” areas (face, hands, etc.). It is essentially the process that creates the features of the face in paint, rather than just the preliminary drawing or pattern drawn or scratched into the surface of the icon panel (it was very common for Russian icons to have the outline of the pattern scratched into the levkas (gesso) surface of the wooden panel).
Here is the okhrenie of the Igorevskaya icon:
And here you see the continuation of the process:
These videos use the plav’ technique, in which the colors seem to melt into one another, rather than the otborka technique, which uses fine but clearly separate strokes of paint to lighten the dark background color and thus bring out features and highlights.
Here is an interesting 16th century image from the Greek-speaking area that not only shrinks geography but also combines elements of two different biblical events:
You may have guessed the main subject: Jesus stilling the storm on the sea of Galilee.
In the manner characteristic of icons, we see progressive action — the movement of time — depicted by showing the same character twice, in two different positions. It is a technique I like to call “static animation.” In this case it is Jesus who is duplicated.
We see him first asleep in the stern of the boat:
We find that described in Mark 4:35-38:
“And he said to them on that day — evening having come: Let us pass over to the other side. And having dismissed the crowd, they took him with them, since he was in the boat. And other boats were with him.
And there occurred a violent storm of wind, and the waves were coming into the boat, so that already the boat is being filled.
And he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. And they awaken him and say to him: Teacher, do you not care that we perish?“
And then we see what Jesus does in response, found in Mark 4:39-41:
“And he rose, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Silence, be still. And the wind abated, and there was a great calm.
And he said to them: Why are you afraid? Do you still not have faith?
And they were afraid with a great fear, and were saying to each other: Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?“
Now the most interesting thing about this depiction of Jesus stilling the storm is a detail that is rather difficult to see, but if we observe closely the direction in which Jesus is looking and gesturing, we can discern it:
There he is, at the upper left side of the sea: a black demon holding a long horn through which he blows a great wind that causes the storm on the sea of Galilee. It is an interesting touch not actually found in the Gospels.
Now the “Sea” of Galilee is not really a sea, but rather a lake. Nonetheless, local weather conditions can raise dangerous winds, and it is said that six-foot waves may occasionally occur during severe storms.
You are no doubt able to recognize the second major element in this depiction. It is the separate though subsequent incident we see part of at right. In the Gospel called “of Mark,” after the storm on the Sea of Galilee and its stilling, Jesus and his disciples arrive at the shore of the “country of the Gadarenes,” the setting for the tale of the man with the unclean spirit, found in Mark 5. You may recall that in it, Jesus casts demons out of the man and they enter into a nearby herd of swine. The possessed swine then run violently down a steep place into the Sea of Galilee, where they drown. I have previously discussed the confusion we find in this geographical location and its associated story in detail (see https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/places-numbers-and-pigs/).
So that is what we see at right — the demons riding the swine down into the water:
Here is a very similar image — a fresco, also 16th century –from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos. It is not as visually effective as the first example, nor does it have the swine-riding demons:
The little fellow causing the storm with his wind horn at upper left is not as blackly demonic looking either — in fact here he looks more like just a minor “wind” deity left over from pre-Christian days:
Before we leave this subject, we should take a look at the Greek title inscription on the image:
If you happened to be passing a window, and noticed that the glass was distorted with colorful blobs like oil on water — perhaps something like this…
what would you think? Probably simply that the pane was flawed and needed to be replaced. Not so in Russia. What was seen there in the glass window pictured in the photo above was this:
That is the icon painted “from” the window blobs. The blobs appeared — or at least were first noticed — on a window at the Church of the Martyr John the Warrior in Novokuznetsk, Siberia, in the year 2000.
Now as one can see, this is rather like a Rorschach test, in which what one sees in random ink blots depends on one’s personal psychological makeup. Where an ordinary person will see blobs of color or variations in shading — whether on a window, a water-stained wall, or a burnt tortilla, a believer with a medieval mindset will see a miracle. And that is what happened in this case. The blobs on the window were considered a miraculous appearance, and when three years later a believer in the city of Kemerov claimed to have had a vision relating that an icon was to be painted from the “image” on the window, it was done by an iconographer named Vladimir Shubenkin. And now that image is becoming increasingly popular in Russia as a new “miraculous” Marian icon known as the Чаша терпения/Chasha Terpeniya — “The Cup of Patience.”
It was even given an interpretation — that the icon represents the child Jesus being shown the “cup of suffering” representing his future Passion (arrest, torture, crucifixion and death), and so the child is to “drink the sins of humanity.”
Now to be fair, not everyone — even among Russian Orthodox clergy — accepts this new image at present as authentically “miraculous.” But many do, just as some Roman Catholic believers in the town of Rosenberg, near Houston, Texas, saw an appearance of an image of Mary in the pattern on the bricks of a rented house, visible when the porch light was turned on. That happened as recently as February of 2019, and local believers there have been gathering to pray before the supposedly “miraculous” image of Mary.
This kind of medieval mindset explains a great deal about the history of various”miraculous” icons in Eastern Orthodoxy, and the pre-scientific thinking that gave rise to them. The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung would likely say that such people are “projecting” their inner fantasies onto the outer, quite ordinary reality of wall or glass window, so what they are seeing is not what is really there, but rather what is in their own internal imaginations, given outer form by random patterns. People have an innate tendency to place their own interpretations upon such patterns, as we see in the names and forms given star constellations from ancient times to the present.
If you are not interested in old icon painter’s manuals (podlinniki), prepare to be bored stiff. This posting is a look at, and a comparison of, two descriptions of a saint in two Russian podlinniki. It is likely to be of interest only to those who want to know more about painter’s manuals and to those who are learning to read them.
Here’s a quick comparison of entries from:
1: The late (1903) Bolshakov Podlinnik and
2: The 18th century Svodnuiy Podlinnik in the Filimonov redaction of 1874.
It is the first saint for the month of June:
Myesats Iiun’ imat’ dniy 30.
[The] month of June has days 30
“The month of June has 30 days.”
Svyatago muchenika Iustina filosofa, sredniy, rus, brada kozmina, plat’ okolo shei byel, riza lazor’ ispod kinovar’ z byelilom, rukoiu blagoslovlyaet, v lyevoy svitok.
“Of the holy martyr Justin [the] Philosopher; middle[-aged], [hair] rus, beard of Kosmas, scarf around neck white, robe blue, under cinnabar with white, hand blesses, in the left a scroll.”
It begins with Svyatago — “of the holy” — because this is the day of commemoration of Justin. Podlinnik entries for saints (and old Church calendar entries) generally begin thus, with the “of” form.
Justin has brada kozmina — the beard of Kosmas/Cosmas — the popular unmercenary saint of the common icon pair Kosmas and Damian. It simply means he is painted with a beard the same size and shape as Kosmas.
Rus as a hair color means that color typical of many Russians, which is dark blond-light brown.
The plat’ — “cloth” — generally meaning a scarf or shawl in the case of a male, depending on circumstances — is byel — “white.” And the white scarf is okolo shei — “about [the] neck.” If any of you have seen the translation of the Bolshakov Podlinnik that appeared some years back (1995) under the title An Icon Painter’s Notebook, you will notice that the translator of that book incorrectly read shei in this entry for Justin as “silk” rather than “neck,” and so made the line oddly read “… he has a cloth around of white silk” instead of the correct reading, “[the] scarf around [the] neck [is] white.”
You will recall that a riza is a robe in podlinnik usage, and in this entry it is lazor’, ispod kinovar z [s] byelilom — dark blue, under[-robe] cinnabar [red] with white. The best lazor’ was made from powdered lapis lazuli, and of course kinovar is the red to reddish-orange made from powdered mercury sulphide.
When an entry just says “[his] hand blesses,” it means the right hand. And then, as here, we are told what the left hand is holding — in this case a svitok — a scroll.
And here is the entry for Justin in the Svodnuiy Podlinnik:
You should be able to easily guess the meaning of the heading, even though spelling and form varies somewhat. And you should be able to read the first four words — “Of the holy martyr Justin the Philosopher.”
Then it tells us:
…bye v lyeto 5642
…”[he] was in the year 5642.
We can easily see that 5642 (written in Arabic instead of Cyrillic numerals here) is one of the old “from the Creation of the World” dates. Russian Orthodox thought (and some still do) that the world was created in the year 5,508 before the birth of Jesus. So to convert such a date as we find in the podlinnik to our modern dating system, we must subtract 5,508 from 5,642, which gives us the year 94 c.e. (Common Era). Modern accounts of Justin’s life tend to say he was born circa 100 c.e, so the date here is not too far from that.
The podlinnik goes on to tell us:
You already know that rus is the hair color — dark blond to light brown. Podobiem refers here to Justin’s “likeness” (подобие/podobie). We can understand it to mean he is “painted like this,” i.e. rus hair, etc.
It goes on to tell us: vlasui s ushei kratki
hairs to [the] ears short
— meaning his hair is short, down to the ears.
So we know thus far that Justin’s hair is dark blond-light brown, and that it is short, down to his ears, instead of the long hair we find on some icon saints.
It agrees with the Bolshakov Podlinnik in telling us his
brada aki Kozmina…
beard [is like] Kosmas…
okolo shei plat’ byeloy…
about [the] neck [is a] scarf white…
“about the neck is a white scarf…”
But it differs somewhat in saying that
v rukakh kniga
“in [the] hands [a] book”
You will recall that in the Bolshakov Podlinnik, he holds a scroll rather than a book.
The description finishes by telling us that Justin is dressed in a
riza lazorevaya, ispod svyetlokrasnaya.
“robe blue, under[-robe] bright-red.
Now if we look at old icons of Justin, we can sometimes find icons closely matching a podlinnik description, such as this 17th century example from a calendrical icon:
We see the light brown hair down to his ears, and his beard is not too far beyond the range of “like Kosmas.” He has a white scarf or shawl about his neck, and his outer robe is blue, while his under-robe is cinnabar red. He holds a scroll rather than a book.
Compare that with this 19th century example:
We can see some changes, such as a cross held in the right hand instead of blessing, and a book instead of a scroll in the other hand. We find also a the reversal of the garment colors, and the forms of the garments are more like the example given in the old Stroganov Podlinnik:
If we look further at old examples of Justin, we find even more variance from the two podlinnik descriptions. Here, for example, is a 16th century image of Justin painted by Theophanes of Crete:
The Greek inscription reads: Ho Hagios Iustinos ho Philosophos “[The] Holy Justin the Philosopher”
As you can see, there is no white scarf about the neck, no book or scroll in the left hand, and there is variation in the garments and their coloring, as well as a difference in the style of the hair.
What does all this tell us? Well, we should learn from it that a description in a given podlinnik may not be a precisely accurate description of all icons of a saint from all periods and places. One finds many variations. Even in old Russian painter’s manuals, one often finds after a description of a saint the words, “but elsewhere it is written…” — and then a differing description is given. So even the old podlinniks recognized that there were differences and disagreements as to how a given saint was to be painted.
Good news for podlinnikophiles — those of you interested in old Russian icon painting manuals. In previous postings, I gave you links (free, of course) to the Stroganov, Bolshakov, and Perm Podlinniks (as well as a couple of others).
Today I am happy to add a link to the more detailed (yet still text only) icon painter’s manual titled the Сводный иконописный подлинник XVIII Века по списку Г. Филимонова — Svodnuiy ikonopisnuiy podlinnik XVIII Vyeka po spisky G. Filimonova — “The Combined Icon Painting Manual of the 18th Century in the Edition of G. Filimonov.”
This manual has long been very difficult to obtain. Nonetheless, it was always my favorite among the main “text” painter’s manuals because it is generally the most detailed, and adds interesting touches such as the traditional dates of saints, etc.
Of course the downside is that it is not available in English. But for those of you who have begun learning the basic Slavic vocabulary of podlinniki/painter’s manuals, it should give you much material for practice, study and use.
If you have been reading here for some time, you will easily recognize this as an icon of “John the Forerunner,” who is more commonly called John the Baptist outside Eastern Orthodoxy (though sometimes within it as well).
His iconography in this example is rather typical, but here is a quick review:
John is shown clothed in a hair garment, with a cloth wrap over it. He stands in a stylized wilderness. At lower left we see an axe and a tree, which represents Matthew 3:10:
“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
John is winged, in keeping with the double meaning of the word angelos in Greek; it can mean both messenger, and also an angel as a messenger of God. Also, in Eastern Orthodoxy John is often called a “heavenly man and earthly angel.”
Jesus blesses John from heaven, at upper right.
At lower right we see John’s head in a salver, signifying his manner of death according to the Gospels.
Now let’s take a look at what is different — and new to us in this icon. It is the long Greek inscription on his scroll, which is not that we usually find on icons of John, but one less common:
His scroll text — addressed to Jesus — is this (with some variation in spelling):
Οράς οία πάσχουσιν, ω Θεού Λόγε, οι πταισμάτων έλεγχοι των βδελυκτέων. Έλεγχον και γαρ μη φέρων ο Ηρώδης,τέτμηκεν, ιδού, την εμήν κάραν, Σώτερ.
Here is a loose translation:
“You see how suffer, O Word of God, those who reprove the wrongs of the abominable. For not bearing reproof, behold, Herod cut off my head, Savior.”
So with his severed head in front of him, he is telling Jesus, “You see how people who reprimand the wrongdoings of the wicked suffer. Because he could not endure my criticism — look, Savior! — Herod cut off my head.”
Now there are a number of odd things about John. Among them is that he is mentioned in the Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus, though that account disagrees with those in the canonical Gospels. Josephus says Herod had John executed because of John’s influence over crowds of people and thus raised the possibility of a rebellion. The Gospels say John was killed because he condemned Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who was already married, and so as a woman could not legally marry Herod by Jewish law. There also appears to be a discrepancy in the dating of John, who in Josephus seems to have been killed after the death of Jesus, while in the Gospels his death comes nearer the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. However, there is some disagreement among scholars over the precise placement of John in the chronology of Josephus.
Most notable is that the account of John the Baptist in Josephus does not in any way connect him with Jesus.