Russian Icon of the Resurrection with Church Feasts and the Trinity

Russian Icon of the Resurrection with Church Feasts and the Holy Trinity

One of the most well-represented iconographic types in our collection is “The Resurrection – The Harrowing of Hades.” Icons featuring the image of Jesus Christ descending to Hell and rising from the tomb were incredibly widespread in the Imperial period of Russian history. This particular Russian icon was, most likely, created in Palekh, one of the main icon painting centers of the 19th century.

Russian Icon of the Resurrection, with Church Feasts and the Holy Trinity

The Resurrection iconography featured in the given Russian icon is part of a long-time tradition. Hand-painted images like this one were commissioned by people of various social classes, who used them not only as objects of religious significance but also as agricultural calendars. The scene of the Resurrection of Christ, which was always placed in the centerpiece of an icon, was usually surrounded by border scenes depicting the Twelve Great and Minor Church Feasts celebrated by Orthodox Christians. The Festive cycle was closely linked to the actual change of seasons and signified to believers when it was time to harvest crops, saw seeds, and prepare for the cold.

The composition of the given Russian icon features the border scenes depicting the events that took place before and after the Resurrection. They are organized in a traditional way, with the 16 border scenes retelling the Gospel in chronological order. However, the upmost tier includes the images of the Holy Trinity, both the Old Testament and New Testament variations. Such an unusual feature is commonly found in icons created by Palekh masters who often added scenes requested by their clients.

The scenes of the Rising from the Tomb and the Harrowing of Hades are placed in the middle of the centerpiece, with the procession of the Pious visually and symbolically connecting the two scenes. The traditional depictions of the Four Evangelists – John the Theologian, Matthew, Mark, and Luke – are placed in the corners of the icon.

The given Russian icon has several more traits that point toward its origin. Since the piece was painted in Palekh, it features the Feasts in honor of which two of the Palekh churches were founded: the Fiery Ascent of the Prophet Elias and the Elevation of the Holy Cross.  However, the tendency of many icon centers to imitate other icon painting schools, makes it difficult to say for sure where this particular piece was created. For example, the miniature-like painting style and the muted color scheme are often associated with religious images created by the followers of the 19th-century traditionalist icon painting movement, who were particularly known to imitate Palekh icons.