Russian icon | Nativity

Icon: Nativity S-9

Origin :
Northern Russia / Karelia
Period :
17th century
Size :
32.4 x 26.3 cm
Provenance :
Sotheby’s London, December 1972, Lot 165 | Private collection Germany
Published :
Ikonen aus Rheinischem Privatbesitz, (exhib.cat.), Cologne 1990, cat no. 95

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, to the left and 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.  

The icon is of relatively small size and has been made for private devotion. The panel, the bold, expressive execution of the painting and the warm earth tones point towards a workshop in Northern Russia, probably Karelia.

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