St Nicholas of Mozhaisk


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reference number: RI_017

1830s

tempera on wooden panel, silver-gilt gem-set oklad

36 x 31 cm

oklad:

maker’s mark: Cyrillic initials I.T. of unidentified master

assay master’s mark: Cyrillic initials N.D. of Nikolai Dubrovin

assay mark of Moscow, 1838

silver standard: 84 zolotnik

A traditionally painted icon, encased in a heavy gauge silver-gilt and high-relief repoussé oklad, mounted with two descriptive enamel plaques. St Nicholas’s halo is set with rock crystals.

 

St.Nicholas is shown as a warrior and protector, standing in a frontal pose with arms outstretched. In his right hand he holds a sword, in the left is a model of the city of Mozhaisk. On the outer borders the central figure is flanked by four family saints (St.Antipas, the healer of toothaches, Venerable Sergius of Radonezh, St.Prophet Elijah, and St.John the Warrior). Christ and the Virgin appear within circular reserves in the upper section of the composition.

 

The lower border contains a plaque, inscribed in Old Church Slavonic from the Troparion of St.Nicholas, Tone IV: “The truth of thy deeds hath revealed thee to thy flock as a canon of faith an icon of meekness, and a teacher of abstinence; for this cause thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty, O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.

 

Worship of St.Nicholas had reached Russia from Byzantium even before official Christianisation and by the 11th century gained an exceptional place in the Russian tradition.

 

Along with St.Nicholas of Myra and St.Nicholas of Zaraisk, St.Nicholas of Mozhaisk is one of three main iconographic types of the saint developed in Russian icon painting. The iconography of St.Nicholas of Mozhaisk has no Byzantine prototype, it first appeared in the fourteenth century and became one of the most popular depictions of the saint.

 

St.Nicholas is believed to be the miraculous protector of the city of Mozhaisk from the Tatar invasion. During the 1302 Tatar siege of Mozhaisk, its desperate residents gathered in the cathedral to pray to St.Nicholas, their protector saint. As drama unfolded, he materialised above the church, a gigantic figure wielding a sword in his right hand and a model of the church building in his left. The terrified Tatars immediately retreated.

 

St.Nicholas remains extremely venerated in Russia as a champion of the poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged. St.Nicholas is commemorated on December 6th, May 9th and July 29th.

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