2 December 2009
ROSTOV PROVINCES, END OF THE 16TH CENTURY TO CIRCA 1600
53.2 by 43.7 cm.
St Sergius of Radonezh (1314-1392) is the most venerated Russian saint, the initiator of the spiritual school of Russian monasticism, a great ascetic and a man of fervent prayer, and the father-founder and the first abbot of the Trinity Monastery (Troitse-Sergieva Lavra). Since his canonisation in 1449 and once a version of his life was compiled by Pachomius Logothete (Pachomius the Serb), a large number of such vita icons illustrating this literary work appeared in Russian art. These icons differ in the way the saint is depicted in the central part and by the rendering of the scenes of his life in the margins. The iconography represented here was established in the icons of the first third of the 16th century. It depicts St Sergius as a full-length figure, blessing and holding an unfolded scroll with his spiritual will.
The rarely depicted cycle of twenty consecutive scenes is based on the ancient, late 15th-century image of the saint from the Veneration Tier of the iconostasis near the saint’s shrine in the Trinity Cathedral of St Sergius’ monastery. It is possible to say that its artistic features connect it with the time of Boris Godunov. The icon-painting of that period is characterised by the diminished pro portions of the figure in the central part and the undersized scenes in the margins, as well as the miniature manner and the dimmed palette of the painting. The icon must have been made for a modestly-sized aisle of a church or a private chapel by a master working in the tradition of Rostov art. Despite its imperfect state of preservation, the icon is important for understanding the art of icon painting at the turn of the 17th century and of the evolution of Sergius of Radonezh’s iconography.
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