Icon of St Nicholas the Wonderworker

Hagiographical Icon of St Nicholas the Wonderworker

Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker is one of the most honorable saints of the Christian world. An icon of St Nicholas has a long-established iconography that, however, is very variable because of the scenes from the life of the saint, which can often be found on the icon’s borders. The number and placement of hagiographical scenes are also diverse. There can be two or over twenty scenes that can be placed in chronological or arbitrary order.

The iconography of a hagiographical icon of St Nicholas

A hagiographical icon of St Nicholas consists of a centerpiece with the saint’s image and icon borders or fields that are filled with the scenes of his life. The central image of the saint can be depicted as half-length or full-length. Saint Nicolas of Myra wears bishop robes: phelonion and omophorion with crosses; he can be depicted with or without a miter. His right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing, and his left hand holds the Gospel.

Borders of the hagiographical icon of St Nicholas feature three types of scenes from the saint`s life: childhood, ordination, and miraculous deeds. These include the nativity of Saint Nicholas, Saint Nicholas brought into monastic school, Saint Nicholas is ordained deacon, Saint Nicholas is ordained priest, Saint Nicholas is ordained bishop, Saint Nicholas sends the devils out of a tree, the miracle of the shipbuilders, the appearance of Saint Nicholas to Emperor Constantine in a dream, the appearance of Saint Nicholas to Eparch Eulavius in a dream, Saint Nicholas saves Demetrius, Saint Nicholas saves the city of Myra from famine, the delivery of three innocent men from execution, the scene of mercy in Bari, the miracle of the Polovets, and other.

Hagiographical icon of St Nicholas: appearance and development

A lot of hagiographical texts gave rich material for creating icon plots. The first recorded sources with the description of the saint’s life are dated from the 6 century, but only after the 10th century did they acquire features of completed texts, which would be used in the hagiographical scenes in icons.

Icons with the images of Saint Nicholas and scenes from his life are known from the 11th century (e.g., the icon from the Sinai monastery with the image of the Theotokos and two scenes of Saint Nicholas’ life). In the 12th-13th centuries, icon painters increasingly turned to painting hagiographical icons, including those of Saint Nicholas. The scenes from the saint’s life are quite variable; they come in different combinations, sometimes even interspersed with “Russian” miracles.

The hagiographical icon of Saint Nicholas is one of the rare examples of hagiographical icons that were popular both in the early periods of history and in the 16th-17th centuries. The development of hagiographical iconography continued in Moscow and major iconography centers, such as Pskov, Rostov, Yaroslavl, and Veliky Novgorod.