Icon of the Last Judgment: History and Description

Icon of the Last Judgment

Every icon of the Last Judgment depicts one of the most important biblical stories in the Orthodox iconography. It depicts intimidating scenes of the aftermath of the second coming of Christ when everyone is rewarded according to their deeds and merits. It is needless to say that such a dramatic plot has found its reflection in a multitude of the old Russian icons.

There is a variety of legends associated with the origins of the Last Judgement icon and the subjects that it depicts. It is believed that the first representation of this icon appeared on the wall of a Byzantine Cathedral before the iconoclastic period. According to this information, historians concluded that this icon of the Last Judgement dates back to the 4th century. The original story reflected on the cathedral’s walls also narrated the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The final version of the icon was established in the Byzantine Empire in around the 8th century.

The icon’s description was then presented to the inhabitants of Kievan Rus. In the 12th century, it was painted on the walls of another religious building, St. Cyril’s Monastery located in the center of Kyiv, and in the territory of several other monasteries at the same time. Historians claim that those images prompted Vladimir the Great to introduce Christianity as the state religion in the Kievan Rus.

The early version of one of the most valuable icons of Russia depicted plenty of apocalyptic scenes, which, however, were later separated. Besides that, scientists and historians have found that the original description of the icon of the Last Judgement was altered in its later versions.

The prevailing number of the Last Judgement icons have some common features. In the upper part of the icon, Jesus Christ is depicted with the Twelve Apostles on each side of Him, judging the souls according to their deeds. The left/right upper corner of the most influential art piece in the Russian icons history portrays angels awakening the dead with the help of their trumpets.

Under the image of Christ, there is etimasia – an empty throne prepared for His second coming, depicted with a sponge, a stick, a cross, and a Book of the Gospels. Each version of the icon of the Last Judgement has a different number of these attributes.

The lower part of the icon reveals what will happen to a righteous or a sinful person after they face the frightening Divine Judgment. It is where the image visually splits in two. On the right side of Christ, there are the righteous beings sent to Heaven where they are greeted by angels and the Blessed Mother of God. On the left side of Jesus, the sinners, demons, gates of Hell, and even Satan himself are depicted.

The icon of the Last Judgment represents a momentous image for all religious people and genuine fine art admirers. If you take an interest in collecting religious art masterpieces, want to know more about exquisite museum icons, or seek competent advisory on the topic, contact Russian Icon experts and get professional assistance.

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