The Ladder of Divine Ascent Icon

The Ladder of Divine Ascent Icon. Origin and Iconography

The Ladder of Divine Ascent icon is a holy image that received its name and iconography after the spiritual literary work by Saint John Climacus. Before analyzing the icon, it is important to get acquainted with the original source that inspired icon painters on its visual interpretation.

The idea of the Ladder of Divine Ascent 

The Ladder of Divine Ascent was written by Saint John Climacus, a theologian and igumen of the Sinai Monastery. Its main idea is about the spiritual ascent of humanity to God through the metaphor of a ladder. The work is divided into 30 chapters and 3 conditional blocks devoted to monastic life and the benefits of asceticism, virtues promoting spiritual growth, and vices that prevent climbing the ladder. It appeals to its visual realization through structure and graphic signs on the manuscript fields, which illustrate the text.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent icon: iconography

The Ladder of Divine Ascent icon represents the image of a ladder positioned diagonally, usually rising from the lower left to the upper right corner of the composition. On the ladder stairs, there is a line of men in monastic robes. They climb toward Christ who is depicted half-length in the clouds, stretching out His hands to the righteous people.

According to the structure of the literary work, the Ladder of Divine Ascent icon depicts 30 stairs that symbolize the hierarchy of spiritual ascent. Saint John is the closest figure to Christ. He gives Jesus a scroll with his writings. It is interesting that the saint is depicted in the icon without a halo as an ordinary man on the way to receiving recognition from God.

Archbishop Anthony, the igumen of the Sinai Monastery, follows Saint John. He is the brightest figure of the procession, who stands out with a white bishop robe. At the foot of the ladder, there are monks looking at the actions of others to make a decision about their own rising.

Demon figures add dynamics to the plot. They pull monks down with their hands, hooks, and tongs. Demons embody the idea of the temptation of the righteous. In contrast to them, the icon depicts angels as a symbol of virtues. They cheer monks on the other side of the ladder.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent icon is an interesting example of icon painting, illustrating the literary work of the 6th-7th century. It is a metaphorical embodiment of ideas of moral and spiritual growth. It is also curious that this iconography can either occupy the entire space of the icon or be part of other plots.