Icon: Saint Nicholas Velikoretsky K-1

Russia, Moscow, mid-16th century
Tempera on panel, 58 x 47.7 cm

De Wijenburgh, The Netherlands, 1970s
Private Collection, The Netherlands, 1980s
Jan Morsink Ikonen, Hengelo, The Netherlands, 1986
Private Collection, The Netherlands
2008-2020: Ikonen Museum Recklinghausen, Germany, long term loan.
ALR Ref. No: S00202154

Ikon Inspired Art, H. Roozemond van Ginhoven (ed.), exhib. cat., De Wijenburgh, Echteld 1980, cat. no. 32.
Ikonen uit Noord-Rusland / uit Netherlands Bezit, exhib. cat., Museum Catharijneconvent Utrecht, Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle 1992, p.79, cat. U-49.
“Icon painting in Sixteenth Century Moscow”, S. Morsink, article in TEFAF catalogue 1998, pp.33-40.
A. Blom, Nikolaas van Myra en Zijn Tijd, Uitgeverij Verloren, Hilversum 1998, p. 127.
Het Goddelijke Nabij, Oude Ikonen uit Particulier Bezit, S. Morsink (ed.), exhib. cat., Bijbels Museum Amsterdam, Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle 2000, pp. 56, 57, cat. no. 55.
K. Braamhorst, Ikonen lexicon, Uitgeverij Terra, Warnsveld 2004, p. 266.
The Power of Icons, Russian and Greek Icons 15th 19th Century, S. Morsink (ed.), Snoeck Publishers, Ghent 2006, pp. 78-81.
Eva Haustein-Bartsch (Ed.): NIKOLAUS. Ein Heiliger für alle Fälle Leben - Legenden - Ikonen, exhib. cat., Recklinghausen 2013, cat. no. 26, pp. 76
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Icon St Nicholas Velikoretsky
Dated 1556, 58.3 x 47.7 cm
Vologda Museum, Russia

Icon St Nicholas Velikoretksy
Mid-16th century, 58 x 47,6 см
Kirillo-Belozersky Museum, Russia

According to legend, the prototype of  the icon of St Nicholas Velikoretsky appeared on the bank of the river Velikaya in the Vyatka region in 1383. A man saw a glimmer in the woods and after investigating, discovered the St Nicholas icon there. In 1551, this icon was brought to Moscow on the orders of Tsar Ivan the Terrible owing to its miracle-working powers, and several copies of the icon were made. Within a short period of time, the icon became famous all over the empire. The present icon is an excellent example from this period. Other icons of the same iconography, size and style of painting can be found in the Vologda Museum (58.3 x 47.7 cm, ill. 1), which was painted in 1556 and in the Kirillo-Belozersky monastery (ill. 2), dating just like our icon from the mid-16th century.

The remarkable choice of vita-scenes on the icon—it lacks, for instance, such important events as the birth of Nicholas and the transfer of his relics to Bari—points to a well-considered concept. Here, St Nicholas is portrayed as a wise man, saving the innocent (scenes 2 and 6), helping young children (scenes 3 and 7), and rescuing the drowning (scenes 3 and 5). The fourth scene, which shows Nicholas celebrating liturgy, is extremely unusual. The text in the open book, in Church Slavonic, reads: And he came down with them, and stood in the plain (Luke 6, 17). This passage is read during the liturgy honouring St Nicholas. This scene is very rare on early Russian icons. The inclusion of this image is connected with Makary, the influential Metropolitan of Moscow in the times of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. In the Velikiye Minei-Cheti he compiled (consisting of twelve volumes, these formed a kind of liturgical calendar for the months of the year), he connected Nicholas saying the liturgy with the story of building the Temple in Jerusalem. He regarded this as a symbol for building the Christian Church and the Empire of God. The image of a fully concentrated Nicholas bent over the book typifies the era of Makary, who had a keen interest in literary texts and saw the book as the bearer of truth and the source of enlightenment.

1.Nicholas’s parents, Epiphanios and Nonna, take him to school, where he is taught by his uncle and namesake, the monk Nicholas.
2.Nicholas appears to the Emperor Constantine in a dream and orders him to release three unjustly condemned generals, Ursus, Nepotian and Apilion, who had prayed to him.
3.The rescue of Dmitrii from drowning at sea. Nicholas pulls the boy out of the water after his boat had capsized on its way to Constantinople on Nicholas’s holiday.
4.Nicholas celebrates the liturgy, bent over a large, open Gospel book on the altar.
5.The rescue of shipwrecked sailors during a storm.
6.Nicholas prevents the execution of three innocent men. Just as the first one is about to be beheaded, Nicholas grabs the executioner’s sword.
7.Nicholas returns the young Basil, captured by Arabs as a slave for the emir, to his parents.
8.Funeral of Nicholas.

The icon is a fine example of Moscow painting around the middle of the 16th century in the age of Ivan the Terrible and Metropolitan Makary. Not only does the iconography correspond closely to this period, so does the painting style. Makary, who was himself trained as an icon painter in his youth and who continued to paint all his life, established a workshop in the Kremlin, which was very influential on icon painting in Russia. Characteristic of the icons from this period are the rhythmic structure of the composition, the refined, graphic elegance and the bright colouring.