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Saint Sergius of Radonezh, with 16 hagiographical border scenes, in a silver oklad cover

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Saint Sergius of Radonezh, with 16 hagiographical border scenes, in a silver oklad cover

Antique Russian icon: second half of the 19th century. Moscow region (possibly Guslitsy).

Oklad cover: 1899-1908. Moscow.

Size: 31 х 27 х 2.5 cm

Wood (two panels), two incut border scenes (now lost), a shallow incut centerpiece, underlying layer of canvas is not visible, gesso, tempera.

Oklad cover: silver, embossing, engraving, etching.

Brands on the oklad cover: a woman’s head in a kokoshnik turned left, with the initials “ИЛ” and the silver hallmark “84” – the mark of the Moscow regional assayer (1899–1908); “И.В.З.С.я” – the S.I. and V.I Zakharov Brothers’ trade store; “пе” – the name brand of an unknown silversmith.

Small fallouts of paint on the religious icon borders and in the top part of the saint’s halo. Chafing and fallout of paint all over the surface. Restoration tonings with fake craquelure in places.

Diagram of the border scenes:

43 border scenes

  1. The Nativity of Saint Sergius;
  2. The Baptism of Saint Sergius;
  3. The Education of Saint Sergius;
  4. The Meeting of Saint Sergius (the child Bartholomew) with the Heavenly Elder. Bartholomew learns his grammar;
  5. The monastic tonsure of Bartholomew with the name “Sergius;”
  6. The Exorcism of the Demons;
  7. The Miraculous Calling of Waters from the Rock;
  8. Raising the youth from the dead;
  9. A villager shuns Saint Sergius because of his poor clothing;
  10. A Prince comes to the monastery. Saint Sergius blesses the Prince and leads him to his cell;
  11. The Conversation of Saint Sergius and the Prince;
  12. The Revelation of the Mother of God to Saint Sergius;
  13. The Vision of the Holy Fire in shape of an Angel at Liturgy;
  14. Saint Sergius names his disciple Nikon as Abbot;
  15. The Repose of Saint Sergius;
  16. The Discovery of the Relics of Saint Sergius.

The given piece of hand-painted Orthodox icons depicts Saint Sergius of Radonezh (born as Bartholomew, 3 May 1314 – 25 September 1392) – the most venerated Russian saint, a great ascetic and spiritual father to the entire monastic movement, the founder of the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra. According to his Vita, Sergius – still being a young man – renounced his home and heirlooms and left for the Radonezh forests, where he lived as a hermit alongside his brother. In 1337, he was tonsured a monk, and in 1344, he established the Holy Trinity convent in the Moscow region. This hermit saint won immense respect among both, the clergy and political leaders of Russia, inspiring people to fight against the Tatars. In 1380, he blessed Prince Demetrius Donskoy predicting his great victory at the Kulikovo field. For his sincere asceticism, Saint Sergius was rewarded by a series of visions and revelations. One of the greatest was the Revelation of the Mother of God who promised the convent Her Divine protection until the end of time. Saint Sergius’s incorrupt relics were discovered in 1422, and by the mid-15th century, he was regarded as one of the greatest Russian saints.

The hagiographic hand-painted Orthodox icons of Saint Sergius are known in a number of variations, with the artists following different narratives. The oldest version of Saint Sergius’s Vita depicted in religious icon paintings was written by his disciple Epiphanius the Wise in the first quarter of the 15th century. The oldest known hagiographic hand-painted icon of Saint Sergius is the one that is currently part of the iconostasis of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in the Lavra. This antique Russian icon was painted around the year 1480.

The hagiographic cycle of the published piece of saint’s icons is quite traditional: it begins with the Nativity and Baptism of the saint and carries on to tell the tale of the Education of the young Bartholomew, who encounters an Angel disguised as an Elder. This is followed by the scenes of the saint’s tonsure (and his acceptance of the name “Sergius”). The religious icon border scenes include only those miracles that the saint performed during his lifetime: the calling of the waters from the stone (7), the raising of the dead youth (8), the Vision of an Angel at liturgy (13). As a reward for his ascetic life, Sergius received the Revelation from the Mother of God who came to him with the Apostles Peter and John. This Revelation is among the most popular hagiographic scenes included in Saint Sergius hand-painted Orthodox icons.

Three scenes (9-11) depicted in this antique Russian icon tell us the story of a certain villager who heard a lot of Sergius and wanted to meet the saint. However, seeing the saint’s worn out, poor clothing, he did not believe the stories, as he expected to see a pious elder surrounded by awe and glory. The villager was greatly disappointed, but at that very moment, Sergius was called to meet the Prince with his courtiers humbly waiting at the monastery gates for the saint’s blessing. The saint gave his blessing to the Prince who then proceeded with his court to Sergius’s cell. By seeing this, the villager could not believe his eyes. After the high-ranked guests had left the convent, he approached Sergius with repentance. Sergius comforted him saying, “Child, do not be ashamed, for you are the only one who saw me correctly – as a simple man, while all others are mistaken, considering me great!” Thus, the saint showed his great humility, accepting and loving the scornful villager more than the Prince who showed such great respect. This tale, written down by Epiphanius the Wise, is rarely found in the religious icon paintings of Saint Sergius. Almost all known Eastern Orthodox icons of St. Sergius telling this story belong to the Old Believer tradition, and the given antique Russian icon is not an exception.

The subtle color scheme, the “miniature” painting style with the careful execution of faces and details, the clear composition – all attest to the fact that this hand-painted icon was created in the second half of the 19th century in one of the Moscow provincial workshops, possibly – in the famous Old Believer center of Guslitsy. The given piece of antique Russian icons of saints is also noted for its artificial craquelure placed over the author’s original paintwork. This trick was widely used by religious icon painters who not only restored but also “aged” holy icons so that they could pass for medieval works of art.

The silver oklad cover is noteworthy for the good silverwork and the original embossed décor in the Russian style. It was made in the last quarter of the 19th century by an unknown master. Judging by the brand, this antique Russian icon in the silver oklad cover was sold through the well-known store belonged to the Zakharov Brothers in 1896-1905.

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