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.