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19th C. Russian Icon - Beheading of John the Baptist

Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. 19th century CE. A beautiful icon, finely delineated in egg tempera and gold leaf on wood, venerating John the Baptist. The composition of this image flows in a wonderful rhythm that tells the narrative - from the left depicting King Herod about to behead John the Baptist, underscored by the diagonal of the sword, to the right where John the Baptist's head is presented on a platter to the king's daughter Salome who stands before a doorway to her opulent abode. Surrounding the scene is a striking strapwork border in red, black, green, and gold. Size: 10.5" W x 12.25" H (26.7 cm x 31.1 cm)

According to the Bible, King Herod's daughter Salome requested Saint John the Baptist's beheading. The heinous act was prompted by her mother, Herodias, who sought revenge, because the prophet had condemned her incestuous marriage to Herod. Also referred to as the Angel of the Desert (because he was a preacher and hermit in the southern desert of Judea), the forerunner of Christ, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and the first saint, John the Baptist is one of the most popular and venerated figures in Orthodox hagiography. Depicted next to Christ and his mother, John the Baptist also occupies a coveted position in the Deesis tier of the iconostasis.

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. 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."

Condition: Expected surface wear and slight losses commensurate with age; however, the imagery is quite vivid.

Provenance: ex-Francis & Lilly Robicsek collection, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

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