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19th C. Russian Icon - Dormition of the Virgin

Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. 19th century CE. A touching rendition of the Dormition of the Virgin showing the Holy Theotokos on her deathbed surrounded by mourning Apostles, Church Fathers, and pious women in egg tempera and gold leaf on wood and housed in a custom octagonal wooden frame finished with gold leaf. Christ has descended from heaven surrounded by angels, looking at his mother as he holds a small swaddled child who represents the soul of the Virgin Mary. In front of her deathbed, the Archangel Gabriel raises his sword to cut off the hands of the impious priest who wishes to upend the bier. So skillfully painted with naturalistic visages and hands, beautifully delineated drapery folds and billowing clouds, as well as Byzantine inspired pantomime gestures and liberal use of gold leaf. The flooring demonstrates the artist's interest in linear perspective, and the composition is impressively complex. Size: 15" W x 17" H (38.1 cm x 43.2 cm)

Donning garments of jewel tone blue and golden highlights that radiate hallowed golden rays, Jesus is presented in divine glory. The apostles are depicted standing in two clusters before architectural interiors of columniated arches which most likely metaphorically represent Mary's house and the Temple of Jerusalem (the destination of the procession), the apostles depicted in Byzantine fashion with their dramatic postures and gestures directing our attention toward Mary. The Dormition of the Virgin is among the most important feast days of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Commemorating the Virgin’s death or “falling asleep” and her resurrection prior to being taken to heaven, it is celebrated on August 15th. This is a fine example of the icon of this feast.

The story behind this iconography is as follows. On one of the many occasions when the Virgin was praying at Golgotha, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that her demise from this life to eternal life was fast approaching, and the Virgin prayed that the Lord would have the apostles come see her again and prepared for her deathbed. Then the apostles were carried miraculously from their locales of preaching to Jerusalem where they gathered together to mourn with Christ appearing behind the coffin carrying his mother’s soul. In the words of Theodore the Studite, “ You fell asleep, yes, but not to die. You were assumed into heaven, but you never cease to protect humanity.” (Alfredo Tradigo, “Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church” The Getty Museum (2004) p. 153)

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: Nice craquelure to the surface, some raising to the region of the Virgin's arm and lower robes of Christ. Just a few small nicks to the frame (which dates later than the icon itself) near the junctures between sections. Verso still possesses a vertical back slat.

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

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