AN OLD GUY AND A YOUNG GUY

Two prophets, apparently from an iconostasis:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

On the left, we have the old guy — and here is his title inscription:

It reads:

СВЯТЫЙ ПРОРОК IЕЗЕКIИЛЬ
SVYATUIY PROROK IEZEKIIL’
“HOLY PROPHET EZEKIEL”

Let’s take a look at him:

The Svodnuiy Ikonopisnyi Podlinnik says that he should be painted with grey hair, and like the Prophet Elijah in hair and beard, and that the end of his beard should be divided in two.  Also that he wears a prophet’s garments, the outer svyetlobagryanaya (bright scarlet/crimson), and the under zelenaya (green).  We can see that the painter of this example has reversed them.

Ezekiel carries a svitok — a scroll — and as I often say, you never know what text will be on a given prophet’s scroll, no matter what this or that podlinnik may say.  Here is Ezekiel’s scroll:

It begins,

АЗЪ ВИДЕХЪ …
AZ”  VIDEXH”
“I SAW …”

Remember those Church Slavic words, because they come in handy in reading inscriptions.  You may not recall it, but you have seen them already in icons of John the Forerunner, who often holds a scroll beginning “I saw and witnessed ….”

Here is the inscription as arranged on the scroll:

АЗЪ ВИ
ДЕХЪ НА
ВОСТОКЕ
ВРАТА ЗА
ТВОРЕНА
И НИКТО
ЖЕ ИМИ
ПРОИДЕТЪ
ТОКМО

АЗЪ ВИДЕХЪ НА ВОСТОКЕ ВРАТА ЗАТВОРЕНА И НИКТО ЖЕ ИМИ ПРОИДЕТЬ ТОКМО …

AZ VIDEKH NA VOSTOKE VRATA ZATVORENA I NIKTO ZHE IMI
PROIDET TOKMO …

“I SAW IN THE EAST [A] DOOR CLOSED AND NO ONE SHALL ENTER THROUGH IT EXCEPT ….”

Now if you are long time reader here, and sitting at your computer bleary-eyed with coffee stains splattering your screen and cookie crumbs in your lap, you may recall that in Eastern Orthodoxy that closed door in the East is an often repeated (oh, so very often repeated!) prefiguration of the birth of Jesus through the virgin womb of Mary.  The account is found in Ezekiel 44:1-2.  So Ezekiel’s scroll here is actually understood to be a Marian reference, though of course the text was not so originally.

And here is the young guy’s title inscription:

СВЯТЫЙ ПРОРОК ДАНIИЛЪ
SVYATUIY PROROK DANIIL”
“HOLY PROPHET DANIEL”

Where the Svodnuiy Podlinnik says Daniel is to be painted “with a young face” and curly hair, the Bolshakov Podlinnik says he is to be painted “like the martyr George,” with a kinovar/cinnabar-red cap on his head.

Let’s look at his scroll:

Well, there is that Church Slavic АЗЪ/AZ”/”I” again.  But instead of following it with videkh/”saw,” Daniel’s scroll says АЗЪ ТЯ ПРОЗВАХЪ/AZ” TYA PROZVAKH” — “I you have called,” or in normal English, “I have called you …..”  In King Jamesy English — which oddly enough is favored by modern Eastern Orthodoxy in translating liturgical texts into English today — tya would be “thee.”

Daniel’s scroll reads:

Азъ тя прозвахъ дѣво чистая гору отъ нея же отторжеся камень без …
Az” tya prozvakh” dyevo chistaya goru ot” neya zhe ottorzhesya kamen’ bez …
I have called you, pure virgin, a mountain out of which was cut a stone without …

The writer has cut the text short, as in common in scrolls, which often makes it seem that the viewer was not intended to read and understand them, and in fact many Russians in early days simply could not read.  In any case, the inscription text would continue “… was cut a stone without hands” — meaning no human hands cut the stone.  This again (yawn!) is an oft-repeated Marian reference.  In Daniel 2:34 we find this mention of a stone cut from a mountain without hands, and that, in Eastern Orthodoxy, is considered another prefiguration of Mary giving birth to Jesus without a human father. Of course that too is a later Christian interpretation projected back onto a Jewish text that originally had nothing whatsoever to do with Mary.

All in all, it is a well-painted and attractive icon, and makes me wish I had a cap like Daniel is wearing.

 

 

ANGELS — SINGULAR AND PLURAL

Here is a pleasant Russian icon of an angel, most likely once the right panel in a group of at least three related icons:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is a closer look at the title inscription:

We see from the curved horizontal line above each word that they are abbreviated.  Here is the inscription with the missing letters added:

АГ[ГЕ]ЛЬ Г[ОСПО]Д[Е]НЬ
ANGEL’ GOSPODEN’
“Angel of the Lord”

Remember that when you see two Gs together in Church Slavic —  ГГ — they are pronounced like “ng” in “tangle.”  Also remember that Church Slavic has no words corresponding to English “the” or “a.”  So ANGEL’ GOSPODEN’ can be translated as “Angel of the Lord” or “The Angel of the Lord.” АГГЕЛЬ is the singular form of angel — used for only one.

You may recall that the curly ribbons at each side of the angel’s head represent divine hearing.

The angel holds a zertsalo — a stylized mirror — on which is written the word
СВЯТЬ/SVYAT’ — meaning “Holy.”  Sometimes shown as a sphere, sometimes as a disk, the zertsalo represents divine seeing — a kind of heavenly television set or surveillance camera.  Notice the stylized clouds around the edge.

Of course if there is more than one angel, the word changes to make it plural, as we see in this icon of the Old Testament Trinity:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here are the inscriptions on the three central angels (representing the Trinity in Eastern Orthodox belief):

Instead of writing “Angel of the Lord” on each halo, the painter has instead used the plural form for each:

АГГ[Е]ЛИ Г[ОСПО]ДНИ
ANGELI GOSPODNI
“ANGELS OF THE LORD.”

If you are curious about the title inscription on the top of the roundel, here it is:

It reads (modern Russian font):

ОБРАЗ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ ЖИВОНАЧАЛЬНАЯ ТРОИЦА
OBRAZ PRESVYATUIYA ZHIVONACHAL’NAYA TROITSA
“Image of the Most Holy Life-giving Trinity.”

If you are a long-time reader here, there is no Church Slavic word used today that you have not seen before, so this is just a little review.

 

 

TWO PROPHETS IN THE WESTERNIZED MANNER

Today we will look at two images from a Russian iconostasis.  Both are painted in the late фряжская манера — Fryazhskaya manera — literally the “Frankish Manner,” which was how Russians designated icons painted in the more realist manner borrowed from Western Europe, which as we have seen in previous postings, strongly influenced State Church icon painting from the latter part of the 17th century.

Here is the Prophet Nahum ( Пророк Наум — Prorok Naum)

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

Here is a closer look at the face:

The inscription above his head reads СВЯТЫЙ ПРОРОК НАУМЪ — SVYATUIY PROROK NAUM — “Holy Prophet Nahum.”

Here is the text on his scroll:

It reads:

ТАКО ГЛАГОЛЕТЪ ГОСПОД БУДЕТЪ ВЬ ПОСЛЕДНИЕ ВРЕМЕНИЯ ЗНАМЕНИЯ В СОНЦЕ ЛУНЕ И ЗВЕЗДАХЪ

TAKO GLAGOLET GOSPOD BUDETS V POSLEDNIE VREMENIYA ZNAMENIYA V SONTSE LUNE I ZVESDAKH

“Thus says the Lord.  There shall be in the last times signs in the sun, moon and stars.”

Oddly enough, the text is not from the Old Testament Book of Nahum.  Instead, It is adapted from Luke 21:25-26:   “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.”

Many people are not aware that John the Baptist — more commonly called John the Forerunner in icons — is considered a prophet in Eastern Orthodoxy, and is often called the last of the Old Testament Prophets, even though he appears in the New Testament.  Here he is, also painted in the Fryazhskaya manera, which we can call simply the “westernized manner.”

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

Here is a closer view of the face:

If you have been reading here for some time, you will easily be able to translate the name inscription above his head.  The last letter of the last word in this example differs from the standard, which is ПРЕДТЕЧА — PREDTECHA — “Forerunner.”  As already mentioned, in icons John is more often called the “Forerunner” than the “Baptist,” though the latter is also found.

Here is John’s scroll:

It is adapted from the Gospel attributed to Matthew by combining two texts.  First is:

ПОКАИТЕСЯ ПРИБЛИЖИБОСЯ ЦАРСТВИЕ НЕБЕСНОЕ
POKAITESYA PRIBLIZHIBOSYA TSARSTVIE NEBESNOE

It is from Matthew 3:2:

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.”

The second text is from Matthew 3:10:

УЖЕ БО И СЕКИРА ПРИ КОРЕНИ ДРЕВА ЛЕЖИТЪ
YZHE BO I SEKIRA PRI KORENI DREVA LEZHIT
“For already the axe at the root of the trees is laid.”

 

APPEARANCE OF THE TRINITY TO ALEKSANDR SVIRSKIY

If you are a long-time reader here, you will recall that the “appearance” of something — whether an icon or a vision — is a yavlenie in Russian icon terminology.  And you may recall from a past posting that there is also the related form yavisya, meaning “appeared.”

That should help you with today’s icon.  Here it is:

Let’s look at the title inscription:

As you see, it abbreviates some words with certain omitted letters written above the line as superscript letters.  If we add all missing letters, it reads (modern Russian font):

ЯАВИСЯ СВЯТАЯ ТРОИЦА ПРЕПОДБНОМУ АЛЕКСАНДРУ СВЕРСКОМУ

There are certain forms of letters to note in the original:

You should recall that the above letter — written like an I and an A together — is one of two ways of writing the sound ya in Church Slavic.  The other form is like a capital A with a vertical line descending from the middle of the crossbar.  Both are represented in the modern Russian font by Я.  Note also that when it appears at the end of the first word, yavisya, it appears like this:

That is because the left I of the IA combination is made much smaller, and inserted into the space in the preceding letter, C.  Together, these form –sya.

Also note that in the name Aleksandr, the following Slavic letter is used for the –ks– sound, like our x in English Alexander.  In the modern Russian font it would be written as КС

 

Finally, the second part of Alexandr’s name — Svirskiy — is written here in the “to” form as Svyerskomu, using that convenient letter for –ye– that was dropped from the modern Russian font:

Don’t be surprised that the writer chose the ye sound instead of the normal i sound to write Svirsk– as Svyersk-.  Such variations in spelling are not unusual in icons.  And notice that the Р (r) in Svyersk– is written smaller and above the letter.

So, all together the title inscription is:

ЯАВИСЯ СВЯТАЯ ТРОИЦА ПРЕПОДОБНОМУ АЛЕКСАНДРУ СВЕРСКОМУ
YAVISYA SVYATAYA TROITSA PREPODOBNOMU ALEKSANDRU SVYERSKOMU
Appeared Holy         Trinity     Venerable-to            Aleksandr   Svyersk
Or in normal English,
“THE HOLY TRINITY APPEARED TO VENERABLE ALEXANDER SVIRSKIY.”
Note the dative (or “to” form) suffixes on Prepodobnomu, Aleksandr and Svyerskomu.

If we look above Alexandr’s head (he is the fellow kneeling at the right in the image), we see his name written:

It appears as:

ПР[Е]П[ОДОБНЫЙ] АЛЕКСАНДРЪ
PR[E]P[ODOBNUIY] ALEKSANDR
“Venerable Alexander”

So much for the title.  But what is this icon type about?

The three angels at left are the members of the Holy Trinity –Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — though they are not distinguished as to which is which:

And, of course, here is Alexandr Svirskiy:

Alexandr Svirskiy (1448-1533) was one of the monks of the northern Russian forests — the so-called “Northern Thebaid.”  He is called Svirskiy because he settled some 12 miles east of Lake Ladoga, in the vicinity of the Svir River, which runs between Lake Onega and Lake Ladoga. There he led an ascetic and rigorous life.  It is said that in 1508 an angel appeared to him, telling him to build a church and a monastery.  He did not do so.  Later, the angel again appeared, repeating the  instructions.  Again he did not.  Finally (here again is the “third time is the charm” motif we find repeatedly in these old tales of saints and icons) the Trinity appeared to him as three men in shining garments, each with a staff in hand, telling him to build a monastery and a church in the name of the Holy Trinity (Svyataya Troitsa).  This of course recalls the appearance of Yahweh, manifested as three men, to the patriarch Abraham on the plains of Mamre, according to the Old Testament story in Genesis 18.

That is the traditional account of the origin of the Trinity Cloister at what is now called the Alexandr Svirskiy Monastery (Александро-Свирский монастырь).  A body said to be that of Alexandr, and reputed to be “incorrupt” and to manifest miracles, was returned to that monastery in 1998.

TWO CIRCLES MAKE NICHOLAS

I have mentioned before that Nikolai/Nikola/Nicholas is one of the most common icon saints, and also one of the easiest to recognize.  Here is a well-painted example from the year 1908:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

One of the things that always amused me about icons of Nicholas is that his head down to the lips is a circle.  Have you noticed that?  Look at it:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)Hi

To paint Nicholas, all the iconographer had to do in beginning was to make a large circle for the main part of the head, and then add a smaller, partial circle to the base of that for the bearded portion.

The smaller, lower circle is sometimes not quite so obvious, either because of the shaping of the beard added over it, or because the painter was a bit more adventurous.  But if we look at the following example, the lower portion of the face (with beard) is quite obviously just a smaller circle imposed upon the larger to form the structure of the face of Nicholas:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Now let’s return to the first example.  As you know, Nicholas is known in Russian iconography as Nikolai (Николай) or Nikola (Никола) Chudotvorets (Чудотворец) — “Nicholas the “Wonderworker.”  A “wonder” (чудо/chudo) is a miracle.  It is the Slavic equivalent of Greek θαύμα/thauma, so in Greek a wonderworker is a θαυματουργός/thaumatourgos. We can see that Chudotvorets (Чудотворец) title written on the right side of the image:

ЧЮДОТВОРЕЦЪ

One often finds little variations in spelling (usually phonetic), such as the use here of Ю (the “iu” sound) instead of У (the “oo” sound) — often written as the combined o and у:

You will remember that in this “Nicholas of Velikoretsk” type, Jesus is seen at left with the Gospel book he gave to Nicholas, and Mary at right with her donation, his bishop’s stole (Russian omofor, Greek omophorion).

Now this Nicholas icon (the first example shown on the page) is painted considerably “fancier” than most.  And the inscription, instead of calling Nicholas Svyatuiy (Holy) Nikolai Chudotvorets, instead uses the Greek equivalent Άγιος/Hagios, though the rest of the title is written in Church Slavic.

Not only that, this icon in giving the standard Gospel text for Nicholas on the book he holds, actually identifies it in smaller letters at the top of the text, which is rather unusual in such icons.  It says on the left page:

Еvангелiе от луки
Evangelie ot luki
Gospel  of/from Luke

And on the right:
зачало к д е
Zachalo k d  e

Зачало/zachalo in Church Slavic means literally “beginning,” but it also has the sense here of an extract or quote from the Bible.  It is the equivalent of the term pericope (pronounced puh-RI-cuh-pee) used in biblical studies.

But what about the к д  (we can omit the “e” for now)?  Well, as you may recall, Church Slavic letters can also be used as numbers.  And note that on the icon, there is a curved line above the кд.  That means it is to be read as the number 24.  The problem, however, is that the text given is not from Luke 24, but rather is Luke 6:17.  So did the writer of this icon text get it wrong?  No, because here he is not going by the verse numbering of the Bible, but rather by the numbering of Gospel excerpts from the Lectionary, the book of readings to be used at various services during the Church year.  This is one of those tricky little things about icons involving the complex Eastern Orthodox liturgical books, and believe me, that subject gets really boring fast, so no need for details here.  Just remember that in the Eastern Orthodox Church services, there is another numbering system for Gospel texts other than that found in the Slavic Bible.  And in that system, this common Lukan excerpt is “Zachalo/Pericope 24″:

Here is how it is arranged on the pages (with a literal translation).
Left:
Во время оно                At time that
ста Исус на ме-            stood Jesus on [a] pl-
сте равне и                   ace level and
народ ученик                crowd of disciples
Его, и множе-                of him, and a multi-

Right:
-ство много                   -tude of many
людей от всея                people of all
Иудеи и Иерусали-        Judea and Jerusale-
ма, и помория                -m, and the coast
Тирска и Сид[онска]….  of Tyre and Sid[on]…..

The date inscription is found at the base:

It is given in an imitation of much earlier writing.  It says:
“This holy image was painted in the year 1908, the month of February, finished on the 15th day.”