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19th C. Romanian Icon w/ Saints & Russian Silver Oklad

Eastern Europe, Romania & Russia, ca. mid-19th century CE. Finely painted in egg tempera and gold leaf atop gesso on wood, a beautiful Romanian icon depicting Saint Nicholas and Saint Filoteia. The icon depicts the figures standing next to one another with their names written above their heads. Nicholas wears sumptuous episcopal vestments while holding the Holy Gospel, and Filoteia wears a shawl and robes while holding a fiery cross in one hand, all in front of a sky-blue ground. This beautiful painting is fitted with an impressive Russian silver oklad, its fine details in repousse with the radiating, triangular all-seeing Eye of God in-between the saints. The oklad depicts Filoteia holding a hatchet (see explanation below) in her free hand shown on the icon itself, with both figures wearing slightly different clothing and surrounded by a stippled border. The oklad bears two hallmarks between the legs of the saints, one being "TA" and the other reading "12." Size (w/ oklad): 4.725" W x 5.75" H (12 cm x 14.6 cm).

The oklad (also spelled oclad) or riza, sometimes referred to as a revetment in English, is a metal cover that not only protects the icon, but also serves to honor or venerate the figure(s) depicted on the icon. Oklads are usually adorned with repousse work and pierced to reveal elements of the underlying painting.

The icon is fitted with a stunning silver oklad, adding a three-dimensional quality to the images – the vestments and positions of the saintly figures elaborately detailed in repousse, their cloaks seemingly of billowing fabrics with cascading folds and hammered circular motifs, and wispy tufts of grass on the ground upon which they stand. A repeating peripheral border of diminutive dots and hammered pinpoints encase the figures, with spiraling tendrils and diamond-form shapes adorning each corner. Interestingly, the spelling of each figures’ name is different when comparing the icon (Nicolae & Filoteia) to those etched above their heads on the icon (Nikolae & Filotea).

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 short, gray beard, Saint Nicholas is portrayed as a staunch champion of the Christian faith, a defender against heresy, and a healer.

The Holy Martyr Filoteia (sometimes Philofteia) was born in the 13th century in the town of Tarnovo, the capital of the Roman-Bulgarian Empire at the time. She was raised to be a strong follower of the Orthodox faith by her Romanian mother, though her mother died when Filoteia was very young. Her step-mother was very suspicious of young Filoteia’s frequent church attendance and resented her donations of good clothes and food to the poor. While tasked with taking lunch to her father in the fields, Filoteia couldn’t help but share some with the poor children that surrounded her on her journey. Seeing this act of generosity her father became enraged and threw his hatchet at her, striking her leg and mortally wounding the young girl. Overcome with grief, her father tried to move her lifeless body but could not as it had become miraculously heavy. After a group of bystanders, her father, and a gathering of priests named aloud the place where her spirit wished to reside, that being the Monastery of Curtea de Arges, her body became light again and allowed her carriers to bury her at the named Monastery.

Condition: Age-commensurate surface wear and abrasions as expected, small perforations around icon surface, and minor nicks to interior and peripheries of icon. Oklad has slight bending to overall form and peripheries, with fading to some finer details, and light tarnishing, otherwise excellent. Nice craquelure to painted details. Icon has fabric cover on verso. Hallmarks still visible on oklad.

Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection

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