About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."

2014/12/18

Medieval (Russian) Christmas

This year as our Advent and Christmas art I picked an orthodox medieval icon painted sometimes around 1405 by a famous Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev. It is an excellent example of early Christian didactical iconography.
     In the center is a newborn Jesus in a cave with Mary reclining on a royal divan and looking away. Theological reference brings in an ox and a donkey from Isaiah 1 thus highlighting presence, wisdom and devotion of animals. Theological consideration also makes the trough to look like a casket and swaddling cloths to resemble a shroud thus already foreshadowing another cave story of the Easter message. Cosmic significance is highlighted by a star’s long ray which points to baby Jesus. Nearby grows a tree or bush - a royal stump of Jesse which is springing out (Isaiah 11).
     All four corners also have their traditional content and meaning. Lower corners are inspired by non-biblical early Christian legends - left lower corner is occupied by Joseph who is tempted by a devil, visualizing our constant human inner dialogue with doubt and unbelief. The right lower corner depicts two midwives (Zebel and Salome) preparing a bath for baby Jesus, thus underlying true bodily incarnation which included a baby bath. The upper corners are reserved for canonical gospels: Matthew’s corner has arriving magi while Luke’s corner shows angelic choirs bringing good tidings to shepherds. The countryside on the background is intentionally barren in order to highlight our human state, a life in an inhospitable world after we lost the verdant Paradise.
     Isn’t it interesting how little has changed over the centuries? These icons are like a window into our human perception of Christmas: oddly arranged theology and legends, naivete and sincere spiritual reflections. This one old masterpiece is just like that, it is loaded with meanings and theological lessons cobbled together, and yet it remains light, delicate, almost ethereal and certainly spiritually mesmerizing. Enjoy!


P.S. And of course, Orthodox Christmas are celebrated  according to Julian calendar ;-)

1 comment:

John Forrester said...
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