Today we shall look a bit more closely at this very popular form of Old Believer metal icon, which may be found both with (as here) and without added colored enamel.
Here is an example:
It includes icon types of major Church festivals, as well as the commemoration of four “wonderworking” icons of Mary.
If we look more closely, we can identify the scenes in each of the four panels:
The top image is the Crucifixion (Raspyatie), with a tiny image of the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus just above the cross.
The upper left image is the Annunciation (Blagovyeshchenie) to Mary.
The upper right image is the Birth (Rozhestvo) of Jesus.
The lower left image is the Birth (Rozhestvo) of the Mother of God (Mary).
The lower right image is the Entry (Vvedenie) of the Mother of God into the Temple.
At top is the New Testament Trinity, with the inscription, “He Ascended into Heaven and Sits at the Right Hand of the Father.”
Left: The Meeting (Sretenie) of Jesus in the Temple.
Right: The Theophany (Bogoyavlenie), that is the Baptism of Jesus
Lower Left: The Transfiguration (Preobrazhenie) of Jesus.
Lower Right: The Entry (Vkhod) of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Top: The Elevation (Vozdvizhenie) of the Cross.
Left: The Descent (Sozhestvie) to Hades (Resurrection (Voskresenie) of Jesus).
Right: The Ascension (Voznesenie) of Jesus.
Lower Left: The Old Testament Trinity (Troitsa); in some examples this is replaced by the Descent (Sozhestvie) of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).
Lower Right: The Dormition (Uspenie) of Mary.
Top: The Praise (Pokhvala) of the Mother of God.
Below that come four scenes of Poklonenie (Veneration) of Wonderworking icons of Mary:
Left: The “Tikhvin” icon with saints Maksim and Vasiliy (Maxim and Basil) Fools for Christ’s Sake, etc.
Right: The “Vladimir” icon with saints Aleksandr Svirskiy and Kirill Byelozerskiy, etc.
Lower left: The “Smolensk” icon with saints Antoniy and Feodosiy Pecherskiy, etc.
Lower right: The “Sign” icon with saints Antoniy Rimlyanin and Leontiy Rostovskiy, etc.
On the reverse side of such icons, one often finds a “Golgotha Cross,” which is discussed — as are the icons of major Church festivals and the individual Marian icons — in previous postings that may be found in the archives here through the “search” function on this site.
In Russian terminology, a “folding” icon — whether a diptych (two-panel), triptych (three-panel), quadriptych (four-panel) or simply several-panel (polyptych) form — is called a складень/skladen’.
Here is a Marian icon type that one might easily confuse with the Smolenskaya/Smolensk type.
Let’s look again at the “red” Smolenskaya icon in a previous posting:
If we compare the two, we see that the positions of Child and Mother are very much the same — except look at the difference in the position of the right hand of Mary:
In the first icon, it is thus:
And in the Smolenskaya, thus:
In the Smolenskaya type, the hand of Mary gestures toward the Christ Child, which is why it also falls into the category known as Hodegitria — meaning “Way-shower” in Greek.
In the first type however — called the Sedmiezerskaya or Sedmiezernaya — the hand is upright, and Mary does not gesture toward the Child.
Nonetheless, the type with Mary’s hand upright is often called the Одигитрия Смоленская Седмиезерная / Odigitriya Smolenskaya-Sedmiezernaya — the “Hodigitria Smolensk-Seven Lakes.” So though it does not exactly fit the usual Smolenskaya form, it is generally so classified, confusing as it may be.
Its origin story relates that near the end of the 1500s, a fellow named Evfimiy was born to a poor family. Being a pious individual, he went to live in a monastery. When his parents died, he inherited an icon of the “Smolensk” type from them, which he took with him to the region of Kazan. He eventually settled in a secluded place many miles from the city. It was surrounded by seven lakes. There he eventually founded a monastery.
Though some time later he went to live in the Metropolitan’s house in Kazan, he nonetheless continued to guide the monastic community he had begun, and he also decided to give up his inherited “Smolensk” icon to the Seven Lakes monastic community. The wooden church at the monastic site was eventually replaced by a stone church, and the “Smolensk” icon was placed in it, on the left side of the “Tsar Doors” that led to the altar.
In June of 1654, there was a severe plague in Kazan, and people were dying. It was decided to send the Seven Lakes — Sedmiezernaya — “Smolensk” icon to the city. It is said that a nun had a vision in her sleep, in which a shining old man who looked like St. Nikolai/Nicholas appeared to her, telling her that the people of Kazan should fast for a week and repent, and that the Mother of God was coming to the city to save the people from the plague. As is common in these tales, the nun did not do as she was told, so the old man appeared to her when she next slept, scolding her. Finally, she went to the city officials and reported her vision. According to tradition, all the citizens of the city went out, carrying their own “Kazan” icon, to formally meet and welcome the Sedmiezernaya icon some two miles from the city, where they fell to their knees and prayed for “her” help in ending the plague.
It is said the plague subsided when the icon was carried in procession around the city of Kazan. The city eventually returned the icon to the Seven Lakes Monastery, but again in 1656 there was a plague in Kazan, so the icon was brought back to Kazan, and supposedly again the plague subsided. After that, it became the custom to bring the icon from the Seven Lakes Monastery to the city of Kazan each year, when it would leave the monastery on June 25th and be brought into the city in a formal procession on June 26th.
Other tales of healing miracles were associated with the icon, which of course is numbered among the so-called “wonder-working” icons of Russian Orthodoxy.
It is not unusual to see some variation in the position of the fingers in the right hand of Mary in various examples of the Sedmiezernaya type. Here is an icon bearing the Sedmiezernaya/Semiezerskaya title, but the hand has its fingers in the distinctly Old Believer sign of blessing:
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.
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.
In the previous posting, we looked at noted saints associated with the city of Murom, among them the father-sons triad of Prince Konstantin and his sons Mikhail and Feodor. They are easy to recognize, but be careful — because of the similarity of names and iconography — not to confuse them with this other father-sons triad, seen here in a 17th century Russian icon:
At the top is the very common image of Jesus called “Not Made by Hands. It is not part of the type itself. Below it is a large central figure in monastic garb, but without an identifying name inscription:
However, if we look closely at the two others in the icon, we can make out what remains of their name inscriptions.
Here is the one at left:
The writing is damaged and faded, but if you are really clever, you might be able to recognize it as an abbreviation for КНЯЗЬ ДАВИДЪ — KNYAZ’ DAVID — “Prince David.”
And here the the one at right:
Again, the inscription is not fully there, but nonetheless it can be deciphered as КНЯЗЬ КОНСТАНТИН — KNYAZ’ KONSTANTIN — “Prince Konstantin.”
Those two names tell us — if we did not already know — that the central figure without a title inscription must be the father of these two: КНЯЗЬ ФЕОДОР — KNYAZ’ FEODOR — “Prince Feodor/Theodore” of Smolensk and Yaroslavl.
Here is how to distinguish the Murom saints Konstantin, Mikhail and Feodor from the Yaroslavl saints Feodor, David and Konstantin if inscriptions are damaged or missing:
Icons with the father Feodor and the sons David and Konstantin depict the father robed as a monk, as we see in the icon above.
Icons with the father Konstantin and the sons Mikhail and Feodor depict the father robed as a prince, as we see on the left side of this central image from a larger Russian icon (the saints on the right, by the way, are Petr, Fevronia, and Iulianiya Lazarevskaya, also discussed in the previous posting).
In it, the father (Konstantin) and sons Mikhail and Feodor each wear the ornate outer cloak called a шуба/shuba, and each wears the fur-trimmed cap called a шапка/shapka. The damask-ornamented shuba and the shapka are standard garb for noble or royal Russian saints.
For a better perspective on these two father-sons triads, here is the basic information. We will take them in chronological order. First, a brief review of the father Konstantin and his sons:
I. Prince Konstantin of Murom was descended from Vladimir of Kyiv/Kiev — the fellow who converted Kievan Rus to Eastern Orthodox Christianity by edict.
When Konstantin was given authority over the city of Murom — which at that time was still not Christianized, he sent his son Mikhail to convert the people — so tradition says. The Muromites, however, killed Mikhail by throwing him down from the city walls, so Konstantin then took the city by armed power. The story is that the people eventually relented — influenced by seeing the “Murom” icon of Mary carried in Konstantin’s arms. His son Feodor aided in the spread of Christian belief in the Murom region.
II. Feodor of Smolensk and Yaroslavl — also known as Феодор Чёрный/Feodor Chornuiy — “Feodor the Black” — was born at the time of the Mongol invasions and died in 1298. He was originally the child Prince of Mozhaisk, but upon his marriage he also became Prince of Yaroslavl. From this first marriage, he had a son named Mikhail, who on the early death of his mother was raised by his grandmother, Princess Xenia.
This was the period of Mongol control. Feodor became allied with the Mongols in their military battles, and gained favor among them. But when he tried to return to Yaroslavl after three years with the Mongols, he was looked on as what today would be called a “collaborator,” and the people would not let him enter, saying, “This is the city of Xenia, and Mikhail is our prince.” Feodor then returned to the Mongols, and was so highly considered among them that he was allowed to marry the daughter of Khan Mengu-Timur of the Golden Horde. She became a baptized Christian under the name Anna, and with her Feodor had two more sons — David (died 1321) and Konstantin. These later sons are the ones who commonly appear with Feodor in Russian iconography.
Eventually, Feodor got word from Yaroslavl that his first son Mikhail had died. Feodor then returned to Yaroslavl, and became its prince. In 1299 he became very ill, and was carried near death to the Savior-Transfiguration Monastery, and there he took the monastic robe — which accounts for why he is depicted in a monk’s robe in iconography. This “last-minute” entry into monasticism was done by a number of Russian saints — a bit reminiscent of the deathbed baptism of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. His son David succeeded him as ruler of Yaroslavl. It is thought that his other son, Konstantin, had already died by that time.
So that is how to distinguish the two father-sons triads — the “Murom” triad of Konstantin, Mikhail and Feodor, and the “Yaroslavl” triad of Feodor, David and Konstantin.
Now that the distinction is clear (I hope!), we can move on to an interesting related icon — related to the Yaroslavl father-sons triad, that is.
Here is an icon from the last part of the 17th century:
We can use it to practice reading inscriptions.
Here is the image at top center:
Now the first thing we can tell about this icon is that in spite of its traditional appearance, this is a State Church icon, not an Old Believer icon. That is obvious from the abbreviation of the name of Jesus at top left: IИС for Иисус Христос/Iisus Khristos. The Old Believers would have spelled it in the old way — IC XC for the form Ісус Хрістос/Isus Khristos. You will recall that the change came about when Patriarch Nikon insisted on a reform of religious practices and spellings in the middle of the 17th century, and that caused the Old Believers to keep to the old ways, while the State Church adopted the changes and began its persecution of the Old Believers. So we see that change already in this icon inscription.
Just below the Iisus Khristos inscription, we see another:
Ц[А]РЬ Ц[А]РЕМ И Г[О]С[ПО]ДЬ Г[О]С[ПО]ДЕМЬ TSAR’ TSAREM I GOSPOD’ GOSPODEM’ “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”
Now we can move to the main image. Usually the title of an icon type is at the top of the image in large letters, but in this example it is rather modestly beside the head of the main figure at left, and in small letters:
The triad at left is one you now know — Feodor, Konstantin, and David. You should have no trouble in reading their inscriptions:
You can see some abbreviation in the names Konstantin and David. The two sons in this example wear the damask shuba and robes, but their heads are bare, without the usual shapka — the fur-trimmed hat — on each. Their father Feodor wears the monastic garment he took at the “last minute,” when he became a monk just before his death.
Now we move to the right side of the icon:
At upper right we see the moon — ЛУНА/LUNA — just as we saw the sun –СОЛНЦЕ/SOLNTSE — on the far upper left, above Feodor.
You will recall that “good-believing” is the Slavic way of indicating that they are “Orthodox,” so благоверный/blagovyernuiy (the singular male form) is often simply translated as “Orthodox.”
Now we come to their names. The fellow at left is ВАСИЛИЙ/VASILIY, which you will recall is the Slavic form of Basil. The fellow at right is КОНСТАНТИН/KONSTANTIN, the Slavic form of Constantine. And of course he is a different Konstantin than the one in the triad at left.
Now all we need know is who these two fellows were.
Princes Vasiliy and Konstantin of Yaroslavl were brothers during the time of the Mongol/Tatar invasions. Vasiliy attempted to pacify the Mongol leader Batu Khan of the so-called “Golden Horde.” He fell ill in Vladimir, dying there in 1250. His younger brother Konstantin died in a battle against the Tatars in 1267. Some two and a half centuries later, their bodies were said to have been found incorrupt, which as you will recall, in popular Slavic belief can mean either a saint or a vampire, depending on circumstances. In this case, of course, they were considered to be saints, because their remains were believed to have been the cause of various “miracles.”
All of these “Yaroslavl Wonderworkers” are set against the background of the city of Yaroslavl.