A large, traditionally-painted icon, encased in an impressive chased and high-relief repoussé silver-gilt oklad with two engraved and repoussé plaques contained within floral and foliate cartouches in the top of the icon denoting the saints’ names. The border of the oklad is decorated with a repetitive foliate design and four florettes in the corners.
The icon portrays two of Russia’s most venerated saints. St Nicholas and St Alexander Nevsky stand on a decorative chequered floor. Above them, looking down from amid scrolls of clouds, is a half-length figure of the Mother of God of the Sign (Oranta in Greek; Znamenie in Russian), her arms outstretched. St Nicholas carries the Book of Gospels, his right hand raised in blessing; his tasselled bishop’s robe is ornamented with crosses. St Prince Alexander Nevsky is portrayed in warrior’s garb; a luxurious ermine cloak covers his chain mail, while in his left hand he holds a luminous orb. Both with haloes signifying their divine status.
Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod lived in the thirteenth century, a tumultuous time for Russian princedoms, which were under continuous attack from the Mongols in the East and Germans, Swedes and Poles from the North and West. In 1240, Alexander Nevsky vanquished the Swedes in a battle on the river Neva. Two years later, his forces defeated Teutonic knights in the battle on the thick ice of the Chudskoye Lake. Veneration of Alexander began soon after his death in 1263. His incorrupt remains were said to have been uncovered before the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380, and his relics remain to this day in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St Petersburg. Alexander was canonised as a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547 and remains among the great heroes of Russian history.