I have spoken earlier of how often icon saints are just generic images. That is particularly obvious in the image of the Guardian Angel (Angel Khranitel) who represents each individual believer’s guardian angel — “one image fits all.”
The Guardian Angel was believed to watch over each Orthodox believer, keeping note of his or her good and bad deeds. He is generally shown with a cross in the right hand — representing faith — and a sword in the left, signifiying his power to protect from evil.
In the example shown here, the Guardian Angel stands on a cloud depicted, as Russian icon clouds generally are — as a collection of snail-like curls. The Guardian Angel is sometimes the main icon figure, but more often he is found in the company of other saints, and he is also a very common border image.
The other saint in this image is Svayataya Prepodobnaya Feodosiya. If you are a regular reader here, you will recall that Svyataya means “holy” or “saint,” and Prepodobnaya signifies a female monastic — a nun. And this nun saint’s name is Feodosiya, or if we put it in a western form, Theodosia. Remember when reading icon inscriptions that the Church Slavic in which icon titles are written has no “TH,” and uses “F” instead.
This icon most likely belonged to a girl or woman named Feodosiya. Using it, she could pray both to the saint for whom she was named and to her Guardian Angel.
The little image at the center of the top border — between the two inscriptions identifying the saint and angel below — is the “Not Made By Hands” image of Christ (I discussed this image in an earlier posting). It holds the place that generally would be taken by an image of Gospod’ Savaof — God the Father painted as an old man with a white beard. One sect of Old Believers abjured the “Gospod’ Savaof” image, and used the “Not Made By Hands” image in its place, as here and at the top of crucifix icons.
Did you notice that the main images in this icon — painted near the beginning of the 20th century — are on a central field surrounded by a raised border? The border and recessed field form a kovcheg — literally an “ark,” but more simply a “box,” meaning a kind of visual box in which sacred things are found — the sacred things in this case being the two figures. The use of the kovcheg is generally characteristic of much older icons, but from the late date of this particular image, we see that it is by no means an infallible indicator of date. Note also that though the sacred figures in this icon all have haloes, there is no real svyet’ (literally “light”) — no bright or gilded background such as is often found on other icons.
Here is another example, dated 1904:
It has the ornate border typical of many icons of the late 19th-early 20th century, and shows a mixture of Byzantine and western European influence in its style.