Russian Icon- Descent From the Cross
This rare 18th-century Russian icon depicts the biblical scene of the descent from the cross, painted on linen and gesso-covered hardwood. Gesso is a white paint mixture originally made using chalk dust and a powdered white pigment mixed with animal-skin glue. The descent from the cross shows the moment when Christ’s body is removed from the cross to be taken away for burial. Jesus is pictured wrapped in a burial shroud, framed by Mary the Mother, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, John the Evangelist, and Nicodemus. These figures all have halos above their heads to represent spiritual character through the symbolism of light. The scene is flanked by servants and two seraphs who swing frankincense above the crowd of people. Although the painter is unknown, their craftsmanship is particularly evident in the careful rendering of Christ’s burial shroud, and the facial features and cloaks of the mourning figures. Despite the fact that sections of this painting are cracked and flaking, this is an extremely rare and important icon for those part of the Russian Orthodox church and art collectors and lovers alike.
At this time in Russia, the city of St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great (r. 1682–1725). Beginning as a simple log hut constructed for the use of the tsar, St. Petersburg was built with the intention of removing the country’s spiritual leadership from Moscow, and grew to be a symbol of the “New Russia” Peter had created. The city remained the imperial capital for two centuries, until the Russian Revolution of 1917.