Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. late 19th century CE. A breathtaking icon of the Prophet Elijah sitting in a desert cave after having predicted a famine, thankfully being fed by a crow, while above Elijah rides into heaven on a chariot of fire drawn by celestial horses, all finely rendered in egg tempera and gold leaf on wood with a stunning faux enamelwork border of rich navy blue, periwinkle, pink, and white and a gold leaf strapwork background. In Russia, according to scholar Alfredo Tradigo, Elijah replaced Perun, the Slavic deity of thunder, who also rode into heaven on a chariot of fire drawn by otherworldly horses. This composition is beautifully executed with boulders marking the distance between heaven and earth, flashes of light on Elijah's vestments, waters of the torrent Cherith (a gift from God that quenched Elijah's thirst), trees, foliage, and other rocks - this spiritual light symbolizing God's presence. Size: 14" W x 16" H (35.6 cm x 40.6 cm)
In addition to the naturalistic rendering of Elijah's grateful visage, wavy white coiffure, hands and feet, as well as his skillfully delineated body beneath the cascading folds of billowing robes, the artist of this icon was also particularly adept at rendering the landscape elements in perspective. Notice how easy it is to follow the scene, first catching glimpse of the foliage at the lower left, the viewer's eye is invited to follow the lit rocks to the seated figure of Elijah and then continue to the boulders of the cave, and finally to the tree-lined waterfall and rocky terrain of the distant background.
During the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, in the decade between 860 and 850 BCE, Elijah told his prophesies. Following his prediction of a famine, Elijah took refuge in a desert cave. There, a crow fed him, by order of the Lord, bread in the morning (visible in his left hand) and meat at night (shown being delivered by the crow to Elijah's upraised right hand). He then returned to the king's court and won a challenge and put 400 priests of Baal to the sword. Following this, he fled to the desert and prayed for death. However, an angel appeared and brought him food. The bread he ate strengthened him (Church Fathers interpreted this as a prefiguration of the Eucharist) and he walked for forty days until reaching Horeb, god's mountain. Here, he miraculously found God, "not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in a 'small voice.'" (Alfredo Tradigo, "Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church," J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2006, p. 81.)
Provenance: private Francis and Lilly Robicsek Collection, Charlotte, North Carolina USA
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