Icon: Birth of John the Baptist

Icon: Birth of John the Baptist
(click image to zoom-in)
Painting, Tempera on panel and gilding, 31x25.5 cm
Origin: Russia, 16th century

In this standard iconographical depiction of the birth of John the Baptist his mother Elizabeth lies in a bed while her husband, the priest Zacharia, writes the name of his son on a board; women bring gifts while the serving women get ready to bathe the child. Nonetheless, there is an unusual element in the five round roundels which complement the theological meaning of the scene. Here we see the Apostle Luke, author of the Gospel story of the birth of John the Baptist; Emperor Constantine, who put an end to the persecution of Christians; Constantine's mother Helen, who was said to have found the True Cross on which Christ was crucified in Jerusalem. The two Russian saints have their own significance: Paraskeva, saint of Good Friday, personifies the day of Christ's Passion, while St Nikita of Pereslavl was much revered in Moscow during the time of Ivan the Terrible. Stylistically, the icon is very close to 16th-century Moscow art.

Personage: St John the Baptist
Source of entry: State Hermitage Expedition, Belomorsk, 1958
School: Moscow
Theme: The Bible and Christianity

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