Novgorodian Icon - Painting Book

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The fifteenth century was the classical period in the development of the Russian iconostasis. It grew quickly in size; new tiers of icons were added to it, and it became amazingly architectonic. With the growth of the icons' size and the appearance of full - length Deesis tiers in place of the old half - length ones, the altar screens grew higher and gradually concealed the sanctuary from the eyes of the worshippers in the body of the church.

That the vast composition of the iconostasis was about the development of this process on Novgorodian soil is very scant.

Praying Novgorodians

It would seem that Theophanes the Greek was the first to introduce the full - length built around full - figure Deesis icons is patently shown by an extremely interesting icon depicting praying Novgorodians. As early as 1849, G. L. Filimonov correctly read the inscription on the icon's lower part: "(Painted) in the summer of 6975 of the 15th indiction by order of God's creature Antip Kuzmin for veneration by orthodox believers". When the icon was cleaned, there was found beneath this later inscription a part of the original one reading: "In the 15th indiction, by order of God's creature Antip Kuzmin, for veneration by Christians". Consequently, the original date of the icon, which aroused such heated arguments, should be read 1467. The indiction, counting the year as starting in September, also coincides with the date suggested by G. D. Filimonov. Novgorodian chronicles for the seventies of the fifteenth century mention the Boyars Kuzmins: Vasiliy, Ivan and Timofey Kuzmins were present at the reception of Ivan III in 1476. The donor of the icon, Antip Kuzmin, must have come from this family. He commissioned the artist to paint himself with all his family, including the children (in the middle of the icon runs the inscription, "God's servants Grigory, Mariya, Yakov, Stefan, Yevsey, Timofey, Olfim and children pray to the Saviour and the Holy Virgin for their sins"). The figures are depicted in a row in praying attitudes. They are dressed in colourful garments and caftans with red collars, and high boots in Marocco leather.
The Presentation in the Temple

The woman on the right wears an ubrus (kerchief). The children are dressed in white shirts. The men's hair is plaited. Though the faces are not portrait like - nesses, they are extremely animated. The Boyars Kuzmin are praying to Christ, who is seated on a throne surrounded by the Virgin, St. John the Baptist, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel and the Apostles Peter and Paul. We see here a Deesis row venerated by a boyar family. The second tier of the icon depicts an area further removed from the spectator. However, instead of developing the composition in depth, the Novgorodian artist builds it up vertically. In his choice of colours he is no less sensitive than his predecessors: his combinations of red, green, azure, pink, yellow and cherry - red tones are amazingly bold. The faces are painted freely, without any dryness. The colouring and the manner of painting are directly descended from the traditions of the first quarter of the fifteenth century, but the proportions of the figures contain many novel elements: there is an elongation unusual for the earlier period, the figures have become delicate, fragile and unstable. They barely touch the ground and seem to be balancing for stability. This is particularly true of the angels, which are indicative of the approach of the epoch of Dionisiy. By the end of the fifteenth century, these features will.have become even more pronounced in Novgorodian painting.

It is precisely this elongation of proportions that leads one to date the feast - day from the Volotovo church in that same period, i.e. approximately the sixties.

The Transfiguration

The complexity of architectural backgrounds also speaks in favour of this relatively late dating. In the Presentation in the Temple we see in the background a curved wall with a ciborium above it, a temple with an apse, and behind St. Symeon a very elongated ciborium with four steps leading to it. As St. Symeon leans over, his head stands out against the light background of the building, and its sharply pronounced vertical lines stress the interval between him and the Virgin, behind whom come St. Joachim and St. Anna. This conglomeration of architectural forms is not very organic, and the compositional links between the figures in the foreground and the architectural setting of the background are not very strongly pronounced. It would seem that the somewhat unusual format of the feast - day tier icons from the Volotovo church, with their pointed elongation, confused the painters and hampered them in finding natural compositional solutions (this is particularly felt in such icons from the same ensembles as the Raising of Lazarus and the Bormition, with their crowded composition).
The Annunciation

The Transfiguration, which by the nature of its iconography fits well into the elongated form of the panel, is much more successful. Very expressive, as usual, are the dynamic figures of the apostles lying on the ground blinded by the light emanating from Christ. Complexity of architectural form is also typical of the scene of the Annunciation decorating the upper part of the royal doors. The figures of the Virgin and the Archangel Gabriel are set off by buildings of fanciful architecture in the background. To balance the composition and fill in the gaps on the sides, the artist introduces two more structures, with a red velum, reminiscent of ancient Hellenistic painting, stretched toward one of them. The figure of the Virgin, frightened by the sudden appearance of the angel, is shown in an elaborate contraposto in which nothing is left of the static nature of the figures in the early fifteenth - century icons. The famous icon showing the Battle between the Novgorodians and the Suzdalians from the Novgorod Museum, must also have been painted in the sixties. This subject became especially popular in the period of tense political struggle between Novgorod and Moscow. Suzpalians meant Muscovites, and it was against them that, according to the legend, celestial forces had come to aid Novgorod. Moscow, it will be recalled, won in this unequal struggle, and Novgorod in the end was stripped of its independence. But the legend lost nothing of its attractiveness because of this.
Battle Between the Novgorodians and the Suzdalians

On the contrary, it became widely popular, for it reminded the Novgorodians of their erstwhile power. The icon from the Novgorod Museum is one of the earliest works on the subject. It is divided into three horizontal bands which tell how Andrey Bogolyubskiy besieged Novgorod with his Suzdalian army in 1169, and how the icon of the Virgin of the Sign came to the Novgorodians' assistance. In the upper band we see the icon carried from the Church of the Saviour in Il'yin Street to the Novgorod Kremlin, in the Cathedral of St. Sophia. On the right, churchmen bring the icon out of the temple; in the centre the procession crosses the bridge over the Volkhov River; and on the left it is met by a crowd of people coming out of the Kremlin. In the middle band the artist shows Novgorodians taking cover behind fortress walls; the ambassadors, who have come together for talks; and the Suzdalian army which has opened hostilities: arrows are flying "like a heavy rain" toward the icon held forth in the manner of a battle standard. Below, the Novgorodian army is shown emerging from the fortress gate, led by Sts. Boris, Gleb, George and St. Demetrius of Thessalonica, who, according to the legend, were sent by the Virgin to aid the Novgorodians under her protection. The Suzdalians falter, their ranks turn back, the bodies of the dead and discarded weapons lie on the ground.
The Archangel Michel

Though all the forms are strongly stylised and episodes taking place at different times are shown on the same plane, the depicted events are presented so vividly, so eloquently, that they are immediately understandable. In building his composition on a plane, the artist skilfully coordinates its component elements. Elongating the fortress walls out of all proportion, he uses them as the background for both the ambassadors and the troops riding out of the gate. An extremely felicitous use is made of the intervais between the welcoming people and the procession, between the ambassadors, between the opposing armies. By placing the lines of warriors one above the other and encircling them with a single continuous line, the artist achieves the effect of countless numbers locked in mortal combat. The numerous buildings in the Kremlin are used to set off the Church of the Saviour with its bell tower, thereby showing exactly where the action took place. His mature and exquisite art denotes a highly developed sense of colour and also a wonderful ability to give a striking expressiveness to austere and clear - cut silhouettes, whether of buildings, horsemen, a cross or a banner. As a rule, the silhouette is given as a bright. patch of colour which stands out clearly against a lighter background.

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