Russian icon | St Nikita the Stylite of Pereslavl

Icon: St Nikita the Stylite of Pereslavl N-2

(Nikita Stolpnik)

Origin :
Northern Russia, Vologda
Period :
late 16th century
Size :
68 x 47.5 cm
Provenance :
Private Collection, Germany
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The present icon in all probability depicts the Russian pillar saint Nikita the Stylite of Pereslavl, who is identifiable by his long narrow beard, piercing eyes and hollow cheeks. St Nikita the Stylite lived in the 12th century and became famous as a pillar saint at the Nikitsky Monastery not far from the town of Pereslavl-Zalessky. Before his conversion took place, Nikita worked as a sinful tax collector. As a monk he bounded himself in chains and lived on top of a pillar in Pereslavl. He followed the tradition of famous pillar saints of antiquity such as St Simeon and devoted his entirely to prayer and repentance.

On the icon only the top of the pillar is visible which is hexagonal in shape. St Nikita is depicted frontally and half-length,. He is dressed as a monk and makes a blessing gesture with one hand while holding an open scroll with his other hand with the following text in church slavonic (Тропарь, глас 1): Терпения столп был еси, ревновавый праотцем преподобне, Иову во страстех, Иосифу (во искушениих, и безплотных жительству, сый в телеси, Алипие отче наш, моли Христа Бога, спастися душам нашым).

The simple and expressive style of painting is typical for the northern Russian lands in the 16th century. The deep colour blue was popular in the Vologda region in particular. The style of painting of the face of St Nikita on the present icon shows close parallels with the face of the bishop saint Vlasy (Blasius) on a 16th century icon in the Korin collection in Moscow, which is attributed to the Vologda-region too.  

Pillar-saints were especially revered in Russia. They were considered the foundation of Christian belief. The pillar was not used simply to distance the monk from earthly society, but to raise him closer to God. Long, narrow icons depicting stylites were sometimes included in the iconostasis and placed to the left and right at the end of the Deesis tier. They formed a 'solid' closure of the tier.