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Russia, ca. 19th century CE. A half-length depiction of Saint John the Evangelist, beautifully painted in egg tempera and gold leaf on a wood roundel, carved with an integral raised frame. Saint John looks pensively at the pages of his Gospel, about to set quill to vellum or parchment, donning verdant green and white robes, the orb-like form of his haloed head mirrored by the surrounding gilded round frame. Size: 12.5" in diameter (31.8 cm)
Here we see Saint John presented as an elderly man; other icons present him as a beardless young disciple. Similar to the Baptist –as a bearded old man- he merits Jesus’ sobriquet for him – the “Son of Thunder.” John’s symbol is the eagle, chosen for the “sublime manner in which he described the godliness of the Word” according to Christian iconography expert Alfredo Tradigo, who writes, “of all the evangelists, he flew the highest.” (Tradigo, "Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church" Getty Museum, 2006, p. 262)
Also known as John the Theologian for his ability to channel divine wisdom, Saint John wrote the fourth Gospel (the Book of Revelation), while living in a cave on the isle of Patmos, exiled by Emperor Trajan. There he dictated a dramatic vision of the Apocalypse to the deacon Prochorus, his disciple and steadfast companion. John also wrote the “Gospel of Love” or the “flower of the Gospel” as Origen calls it – in addition to three of the Catholic Epistles. In the words of Patriarch Athenagoras, “John is the source of our loftiest spirituality. Like him, those who are silent know the mysterious confusion that can assail the heart; invoking the presence of John, their hearts catch fire.” (Tradigo, 262)
Exhibited in "Windows Into Heaven: Russian Icons from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art" at the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina (December 20, 2003 through February 22, 2004) which presented highlights of one of the world's great artistic traditions through an extraordinary group of sixty-five 18th and 19th century Russian icons on loan from the private collection of Lilly and Francis Robicsek.
Icons (icon means "image" in Greek) are sacred objects within the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition. Found in homes as well as churches, these painted images depict holy persons and saints as well as illustrate scenes from the Scriptures. Some icons are encased in precious metal covers (oklads) adorned with pearls and semi-precious stones or glass-fronted wooden cases (kiots). Icons are not worshiped, but are instead venerated for their ability to focus the power of an individual's prayer to God. As such they are truly "windows into heaven."
The “Windows Into Heaven” exhibition profiled a magnificent chapter of Russian artistry, the embrace of the Russian Orthodox faith of religious icons during the Romanov centuries. The Russian religious faith was an offshoot of Byzantine Christianity, which in 1054 parted ways from Roman Catholicism. Icons were and continue to be religious images created for veneration. As a focus for prayers and meditation for believers, icons serve as “windows into heaven.”
Provenance: Ex-Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art, Charlotte, NC; exhibited at Mint Museum of Art "Windows Into Heaven", Charlotte, North Carolina (December 20, 2003 through February 22, 2004)
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