Orthodox Icons of the Nativity

Orthodox Icons of the Nativity. Iconography

The Nativity is one of the most common iconography plots. Its early images are depicted in frescoes of Roman catacombs and Byzantine mosaics. Eventually, it was reflected in Orthodox icons and became a stable iconography tradition.

Orthodox icons of the Nativity. Iconographic features

Orthodox icons of the Nativity are complex compositions combining several scenes, including scenes from different time periods. Priority is given to the scene of the birth of Christ. This plot is always located in the center. Orthodox icons often depict this scene in the background of the cave. The Theotokos is shown sitting or reclining to put emphasis on the painless delivery, while the Christ Child is depicted swaddled like in a funeral shroud. Reference to the death theme is also made in one of the Magi’s gifts – myrrh, the fragrance used at funerals. Other gifts include frankincense for Christ as the Priest and gold for Christ as King. The Magi are located near the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary. An ox and a donkey are often depicted near Christ.

The scene of the washing of the Infant Christ is shown in the right bottom corner of the composition. The ritual is committed by one or two midwives. Saint Joseph and Saint Isaiah who predicted the miraculous birth of the Messiah are depicted in the left bottom corner.

The Star of Bethlehem and the angelic hosts praising God are shown at the top of the composition. There are also other angels nearby, proclaiming the birth of Christ to shepherds.

In the 17th century, more extended iconography versions appeared with new scenes. These include the scenes of the Magi’s journey to Bethlehem, the Massacre of the Innocents and their crying mothers, the flight into Egypt, the appearance of the angel to Joseph, the Magi’s dream, the murder of Zechariah, and the scenes with Elizabeth and John, and King Herod with scribes.

Orthodox icons of the Nativity are venerated in the entire Christian world. They decorate iconostases, temples, churches, and icon corners in the homes of believers. The variety of scenes in one composition makes the icon of the Nativity one of the most interesting examples of Christian iconography.