Russia, ca. 19th century CE. Finely painted in egg tempera and gold leaf on wood, this icon features the miracle-working Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker at center - dressed in sumptuous episcopal vestments, wearing a cross adorned omophorion, giving benediction and holding the Gospel, with apparitions of Christ and the Theotokos (Mother of God) above. Surrounding this central panel are various apostles and saints. Size: 14" W x 17.5" H (35.6 cm x 44.4 cm)
The visages of each figure are delineated with impressive naturalism, their vestments in brilliant jewel tones, and their surrounds in intricately patterned gold leaf making for marvelous contrasts between figure and ground. Nicholas was a strong opponent of the heretical bishop Arius at the Council of Nicaea; after slapping Arius in the face, Nicholas was stripped of 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 short, gray beard, Saint Nicholas is portrayed as a staunch champion of the Christian faith, a defender against heresy, and a healer.
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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