Russian Icon - Angel Uriel at the gates of Eden
This stunning 19th-century Russian icon was painted using tempera gesso and canvas on panel. The top of the image features a mandylion depiction of Christ wrapped in the veil of Veronica (a relic consisting of a piece of cloth bearing the image of the Holy Face, produced by mystical rather than human hands). Below this depiction is the archangel Uriel, noted by his flaming sword and Russian Orthodox cross, meeting with a king at the gates of Eden. Angel Uriel is known for standing at the gates of Eden to “watch over thunder and terror.” Russian Orthodox tradition considers him to be the “Angel of Repentance,” and one of the seven major archangels. During prayer, people would have such a painting nearby to serve as a visual reminder of the virtues of Christ. One does not have to be religious to appreciate the vivid colours and figures this artwork depicts. Angel Uriel’s wings are rendered from hundreds of delicate brushstrokes, and the king’s robe features beautifully detailed leaf patterns, which would have taken a patient, steady hand to create. Although the artist is unknown, it is evident this painting was crafted with care and precision, as well as respect and grace.
At this time in Russia, Tsar Alexander II (1818–1881) issued the Emancipation Reform of 1861, the first and most important of the liberal reforms enacted during his reign (1855–1881). The reform proclaimed the emancipation of serfs on private estates. Serfs gained the rights of free citizens, including the right to marry without gaining consent, and the right to own property and businesses. State owned serfs (those who lived and worked on imperial lands) were emancipated later, in 1866.