Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. 19th century CE. A rather sizable icon, skillfully delineated in egg tempera and gold leaf on wood, depicting Michael the Archangel on the left and Saint Nicholas on the right, both standing in full length upon a tiled floor - this device traditionally used to demonstrate the artist's understanding of linear perspective - against a golden background. Archangel Michael is draped in a red cloak, with detailed battle armor beneath, a cross-adorned shield in his left hand and a grand sword in his left hand, his voluminous white wings behind. Nicholas, believed to possess special powers to protect the faithful as a Bishop and Saint, is dressed in sumptuous episcopal vestments, with a cross adorned omophorion, giving benediction with his right hand, and holding a Gospel in his left. Both figures are labeled in calligraphic lettering and there is an inscription on the lower right. Size: 28" L x 20.5" W (71.1 cm x 52.1 cm)
As Chief Commander of the Heavenly hosts, Saint Michael bravely challenged the Devil. Satan, after all, was Michael's opponent in the battle for Heaven. The figures' gestures and motion are characteristically dramatic. Archangels are understood to be helpers and allies who offer dedicated protection through life's trials and travails. Their names usually end in the suffix "ael" or "iel" meaning "Shining One" in Hebrew, e.g. Miguel, Rafael, Gabriel, Ariel, Ezekiel, Barachiel, Uriel, etc.
Nicholas, a Greek bishop of Myra, Anatolia in the 4th century and one of the most beloved saints of the church, who served as an intercessor, performing miracles of healing and rescue, has an interesting history. A strong opponent of the heretical bishop Arius at the Council of Nicaea, Nicholas, after slapping Arius in the face, was denied his holy insignia and tossed in jail. However, Christ and the Virgin appeared to him and gave him back his freedom and his episcopal office. Here shown with a serious countenance, a high furrowed forehead, concentrating eyes framed by arched brows, and a gray beard, Saint Nicholas is portrayed as a staunch champion of the Christian faith, a defender against heresy, and a healer.
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). This icon is impressive for its subtantial size, sophisticated painting technique, and generous use of gold leaf. 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."
Provenance: ex-Francis & Lilly Robicsek collection, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
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