St. Nicholas Icon Types

Antique St. Nicholas Icon

The Russian proverb says, “There is no icon like Nicholas,” and this is rightly so. Saint Nicholas, also known as Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, is probably the most beloved saint in Russia since the adoption of Christianity. He is greatly revered as the protector of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed. For today, there are numerous churches, monasteries, and cathedrals dedicated to this saint across the former Soviet Union, as well as around the world. No wonder, Eastern Orthodox iconography has a great list of St. Nicholas icon paintings of different types. Here are just the most common among them:

Bust-length St. Nicholas icon type

The bust-length type of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christianity icons is the oldest and the most famous one. It appeared in the 11th century in Kievan Rus’. Traditionally, such religious icon paintings depict Saint Nicholas with a slightly raised right hand, showing a characteristic arrangement of the fingers called stavros blessing, and a closed Gospel in his left hand. However, there are also images of this saint with an open Gospel, which appeared in the 13th century. Besides, many hand-painted icons from this type also depict figures of Jesus Christ and the Mother of God shown in the top of the image.

Full-length St. Nicholas icon type

This iconographic type of St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox icons usually represents the images of the saint in full length, with arms spread apart. Its most recognizable example is the religious icon of St. Nicholas Zaraiskiy (St. Nicholas of Zarazsk), depicting the saint with a closed Gospel book in his left hand while his right hand is folded in a blessing gesture. Although such an image was most widespread in the 13th – 14th centuries, it still remains the favorite one among Russian people. Another example of the full-length St. Nicholas icon type is the religious icon of St. Nicholas Mozhaisky (St. Nicholas of Mozhaisk) that first appeared in the late 16th century. It shows the saint holding a church in one hand and a sword in the other.

Shoulder-length St. Nicholas icon type

Shoulder-length holy icons of Saint Nicholas (oplechny) are known in Eastern Orthodox iconography since the late 15th century. They appeared as a shortened version of the bust-length icons and were most widespread in Russia in the 16th century. However, in the 17th century, such close-up images lost their popularity and remained the least commonly used until the 19th century. Therefore, shoulder-length antique icons depicting Saint Nicholas are quite rare today, which makes them especially valuable for religious icon collectors.

In addition to the written above, there are several other types of St. Nicolas holy icons, including Nikola Winter and Nicola Vernal icons, showing the saint in the bishop’s miter and without headgear respectively, narrative icons based on the saint’s life, and icons of Nicholas “the Wet” that got such a name after the miracle taken place in Kiev. Each of them has its own meaning and characteristic features. Anyway, no matter which one you choose, it is sure to become a gem of your religious icon collection!

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