Deesis with St. Nicholas and Unknown Saint
  • Deesis with St. Nicholas and Unknown Saint

    TitleDeesis with St. Nicholas and Unknown Saint
  • Technique/ MaterialTempera on wood (lime)
  • DimensionsDimensions: (h x b x dj) 93,5 x 103,5 x 3 cm
    Frame: (h x b x dj) 98 x 104 x 9 cm
  • DatingMade c. 1400
  • Artist/Maker Artist: Unknown Russian
  • CategoryPaintings, Icons
  • Inventory No.NMI 279
  • AcquisitionGift 1959 Åke Wiberg
  • ExhibitedNationalmuseum, Room 1614 17th century
  • Description
    Images and media

    Description in Icons, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2004, cat. no. 38:
    Late 14th - early 15th century, Novgorod
    NMI 279

    Wood: Linden (Tilia sp.), egg tempera
    on canvas. Panel made of three boards
    with two splines inlaid across the panel
    (both replaced); back covered with
    thick varnish.

    PROVENANCE: Vilhelm Assarsson (”Theo -
    phanes the Greek, end of 14th century”).;
    Åke Wiberg; Gift of Å. Wiberg 1959
    EXHIBITIONS: Gothenburg 1970, no 3; Helsinki
    1970, no 3; Stockholm 1988, no 3
    BIBLIOGRAPHY: Assarssons samling (3:2);
    NM annual report 1959, pp 14–15, 24; Titov
    1968, p 841; Smirnova 1982, p 364; Smirnova
    1984, pp 77–82; Abel 1989:2, p 12
    CONSERVATION: Restored prior to entering
    NM: crack through panel mended with
    metal clips on top and bottom edges; lower
    part with feet and portions of green ground
    reconstructed partly made on top of original;
    gold on background retouched;
    insertions and retouches on upper border and
    on top of Christ’s head; cleaned; NM 1960:
    panel thinned and flattened with impregnation,
    new splines and new wood inserted
    in joints, heavy paint loss in joints and
    blistering remedied (B. Titov)1; 1966: conservation
    for blistering; 1980: severe blistering
    of paint layer and ground in lower half
    of central section remedied. Cracks in
    joints, losses of ground and paint layer
    along borders; paint layer flaking along
    borders; background gold abraded; above
    the standing figures, cinnabar fragments of
    original inscriptions.

    The core of this image is a traditional,
    full-length Deesis, with Christ enthroned,
    flanked by the Mother of God
    and John the Baptist. St Nicholas
    stands behind the Mother of God and
    an unknown saint behind John. Both
    saints face the beholder. The unknown
    saint carries an open book, the text of
    which comes from Luke XII: 16–17:
    “And he spoke a parable unto them,
    saying, the ground of a certain rich
    man brought forth plentifully. And he
    thought within himself, saying, What
    shall I do?” The saint is not Luke himself,
    nor is he John the Evangelist, as
    noted by the Museum in the inventory.
    In a comprehensive study of this icon,
    E. Smirnova puts forward the hypoth -
    esis that, judging by the iconography,
    it may represent the prophet Sophonius,
    whose feast day, 3rd December,
    has coincided with the 26th Sunday
    after Whitsun, on which day this text
    from Luke was prescribed three times
    between 1380 and 1450, namely in
    1419, 1430 and 1441.2
    The distinctive, somewhat manner -
    ist drawing, the predominance of clear,
    cold shades of blue, green and mauve
    combined with gold and cinnabar, like
    the high emotional temperature of the
    figures, all clearly tie in with Byzantine
    Paleologue art. Alternatively, the stylistic
    affinity of this icon to Byzantine art
    has suggested that it was the art of a
    Byzantine artist active in Novgorod,
    e.g. Theophan the Greek. At the same
    time, there are features placing this
    icon in the Novgorod region, namely
    both stylistic qualities and, for
    example, dialectal ones, the latter
    occurring in the Bible passage quoted.3
    This icon was probably commission -
    ed by an individual or group in Nov -
    gorod. It may have been executed as a
    commemorative icon, in the tradition
    of the funeral Deesis; the idea of the
    vanity of riches expressed in the
    parable had long been popular in Novgorod.
    4 It may have been hung separately
    on one of the walls of the church
    or chapel or included in the iconostasis.
    The content of the iconostasis had
    not yet been finalised at this time, and
    examples occur of this type of patronal
    figure in the Deesis tier.

    1 Boris D. Titov (1902–1981), officer in the Russian
    army who left Russia in connection with the
    revolution, living mainly in Germany, Trieste
    and Sweden, where he died. Painter and icon
    restorer. Working in the NM restauration studio
    between 1957 – 1976.
    2 Smirnova 1984, p 79.
    3 ibid., p 72.
    4 ibid.