Russian icon | Nativity

Icon: Nativity E-13

Northern Russia / Karelia, 17th century
Tempera on panel, 32.4 x 26.3 cm

Sotheby’s London, December 1972, Lot 165
Zerlin Collection, Germany
Morsink Icon Gallery, Amsterdam
ALR Ref. No.: 7723.WK

Galerie Ilas Neufert, Frühjahrskatalog Ikonen 1973,
München, cat. no. 185, pp. 12, 13
Ikonen aus Rheinischem Privatbesitz, (, Cologne 1990, cat no. 95

The icon is painted in an expressive and lively northern style. The bright palette against the dark ochre coloured background, the bold, linear style and the archaic character of the painting all point to the Russian north, where the traditions of medieval Russian icon painting flourished until the 17 century. The icon is a fine example of icon painting from that area and period.

At the centre, the new born Christ Child lies swaddled in a cave, immediately behind are an ox and a small white horse. The Mother of God is lying on a red bed in front of the cave. To the left, Three Wise Men kneel down to offer their valuable gifts. At the top, three rays of light fall down from the Star of Bethlehem. Two angels with covered hands, one to the left and one to the right, bring the good news. To the right stands a shepherd. In the lower part of the icon sits Joseph, deeply in thought and his head resting on his right hand. The old man wearing a sheepskin opposite him is open to several interpretations. He is sometimes interpreted as the devil disguised as a shepherd, casting doubt in Joseph's puzzled mind. He is also seen as the Prophet Isaiah, who reminds Joseph of his prophecy (Isaiah 7, 14) where he tells that a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a child. To the right, the naked Christ Child is sitting on the lap of the nurse, in order to receive his first bath.