Icon: St Nicholas with Scenes from his Life

Icon: St Nicholas with Scenes from his Life
(click image to zoom-in)
Painting, Tempera on panel and gilding, 165x115 cm
Origin: Russia, First half of the 16th century

Icons often combined a central depiction of a saint or other important figure surrounded by scenes from their life, as in this excellent example from the first half of the 16th century showing St Nicholas. As more descriptions of lives of the saints appeared over the centuries, so the variety of such icons increased.

Nicholas is dressed in bishop's robes, his hands spread wide: with his right hand he makes a blessing, whilst in his left he holds an open Gospels and a cloth. To left and right of his head are small circles with half-length images of Christ and the Virgin. The band of scenes running around the edge forms an attractive border to the central image and illustrates the main events in the saint's life: nativity, baptism and the miracles he performed.

In ancient Rus Nicholas was revered by the ordinary people as a protector, the most popular figure after Christ and the Virgin themselves, and thus he was one of the most common subjects for icons.

Colour unites the otherwise fragmented surface of the icon, white being the dominant element. The traditions of Novgorod painting can be felt in the iconography of the small scenes, the facial types and in the bright colouring.

Personage: St Nicholas
Source of entry: State Hermitage Expedition, Severodvinsk, 1958
School: Novgorod
Theme: The Bible and Christianity
Exibition: Culture of Muscovite Russia: 15th - 17th centuries

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