17. THE DESCENT INTO LIMBO (THE ANASTASIS)
76 x 56.5. Egg tempera on lime wood.
From the Church of the Intercession in the village of Polyana, Lviv region. Lviv National
According to an old Byzantine tradition, the subject of the Resurrection was often
represented in Ukrainian art as the Descent into Limbo. Its content follows texts of the
Psaltery, St. Nicodemus' version of the Gospel and St. Peter's Epistle, as well as other
Jesus, after His sacrificial death on the cross, resurrected and descended into Limbo to deliver
Adam, Eve, Kings David and Solomon, biblical prophets, forefathers and other righteous
because through His sufferings Christ expiated all sins of men. One of the first
representations of this theme in the art of Kyivan Rus' can be found in a fresco in Kyiv's St.
In the icon from the village of Polyana the righteous are grouped symmetrically. The
center features Christ seated in a mandorla, with the Holy Cross, the symbol of the victory
over death. His hand reaches out to Adam whom He delivers from Limbo. To the right Eve
stands kneeling like Adam. The left group presents kings Solomon and David, St. John the
Baptist and Abel. Behind them hills are rising with forked tops. Under Christ's feet there are
the gates of Hell battered by Christ down.
18. MASTER OLEXIY. THE DORMITION
117 x 84.5. Egg tempera on lime wood.
From the Church of the Archangel Michael in the village of Smilnyk (Poland).
Lviv National Museum.
This subject was derived from apocrypha. Scholars hold that it appeared in Byzantine art back in the 6th century when the feast of the Dormition became established. Churches consecrated to the Dormition were specially revered in Kyivan Rus'. The Church of the Tithes (996), Kyiv's first made of stone, was possibly the Dormition Church, as was the main cathedral of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, built in 1077.
The icon by master Olexiy presents a comprehensive version of the subject which became widespread from the 14th century. The center of the composition features a bed with dormant Mary (the Dormition in contrast to the death emphasized the divinity of the Mother of God). It is surrounded with groups of the Apostles, Church Fathers, women, and two deacons. To the left two biblical prophets, David and Solomon, are standing. All of them are imbued with the feeling of grief and mourning. In the center, behind the bed, there is the figure of Christ in Glory who holdsthe soul of the Virgin in His hands. Behind the wall there is the city of Jerusalem.
The upper section of the icon illustrates the event of the miraculous transference of the Apostles by angels to Jerusalem: at the moment of Mary's dormition they happened to preach in different parts of the world. They are placed in twelve medallions on narrow cloudlets, each of them having a head with on open bill resembling either a bird or a fish. Scholars maintain that such a metaphor follows an antique tradition according to which various creatures found their reflection in various outlines of clouds. In religious art birds were symbols of angels while in Ukrainian folklore a swallow used to herald the coming of the Lord. In the upper center of the icon master Olexiy represented the Mother ofGod enthroned; above, angels set in the medallion open to her the Heavenly Gates.
A scene in the foreground follows apocryphal narrations about a Jewish priest Auphonius who had an evil intention to desecrate Mary's body. But the Archangel Michael cut off his hands which grew fast to the Virgin's bed.
19. THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
131 x 97. Egg tempera on lime wood.
From the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Drohobych, Lviv region.
The subject of the icon represents the festival of the Christian Orthodox Church - Holy Cross Day. It is based on a story set in the 4th century. It tells how Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the aim of finding Christ's sepulcher and the cross on which He was crucified. Though the Emperor Hadrian made every effort to ensure the cross would not be recognized, Helena's excavations were successful. She managed to discover the cross and, most important, to find out on which of the three excavated crosses Christ was crucified (for, as is known, the same penalty befell two robbers at the same time as Christ). Helena understood that the Calvary cross should be miracle- working, each cross was applied in turn to a dead woman (according to some sources she was gravely ill) and the cross on which Christ had been crucified resurrected her. Hence it is called Life-Giving. Helena sent a part of it to her son Constantine, while the cross itself she mounted in a precious case and installed it in Jerusalem where a church was built (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) in its honor in 335. The day of the church's consecration became Holy Cross Day. On that day a bishop raised it over the heads of believers, so that all people who came to celebrate the holy day could see it. The story's main personages were very popular in the Ukraine, the more so as the first Christian Princess Olga was given the baptismal name of Helena.
The Drohobych icon has a number of original peculiarities which come from apocrypha. Along with the Exaltation of the Holy Cross the icon also presents the:
Dream of Emperor Constantine
Among the subjects is a rare one, that of Emperor Constantine Falling ILL. According to an apocrypha, Constantine fell ill while still a pagan and when his doctor proposed that he bathe in the blood of infants the Emperor refused outright.
Constantine and Helena ask Where to Search for the Cross
The Apparition on the Location of the Cross
The Discovery of the Cross
The Identification of the Cross
Constantine and Helena Bring the Cross to the Patriarch
The Adoration of the Cross
20. THE PASSION
257 x 218 (257X42; 257X42; 257X50; 257X42; 257X42).
The icon consists of five lime panels painted with egg tempera, and is kept in the Church of
the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Drohobych, Lviv region.
The theme of the Passion appeared in visual arts at the dawn of Christian iconography and at various times it represented, more or less fully, the Passion of Christ described in the Gospels by St. Matthew and St. John. The theme was elucidated in various kinds of both West-European and Byzantine art. Separate subjects usually comprise cycles which chronologically reproduce events according to evangelical texts.
Under the influence of theological meditations on the act of redemption which found their reflection in numerous literary works including Ukrainian, most of The Passion icons incorporated the Crucifixion in the center of the composition as an apotheosis of the cycle. In the Ukraine such icons were widespread even before the 15th century, which is evidenced by written sources. The oldest frescos on this theme belong to the 11th century (St. Sophia Cathedral of Kyiv).Almost every Ukrainian church had either murals or icons on the Passion theme.
In the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, The Passion icon is situated in situ, in the place for which it was intended, which is very rare in our time. Thanks to the gold background it is reminiscent of Old Rus' frescos with gold background, and looks especially spectacular in the wooden church. The Passion cycle comprises 24 subjects placed around The Crucifixion:
The Raising of Lazarus
The Entry into Jerusalem
The Last Supper
The Washing of the Feet
The Agony in the Garden
Christ Before the Sleeping Apostles
Christ Before the Host
The Betrayal of Judas
Christ Before Annas
Christ Before Herod
The Scourging of Christ
The Mocking of Christ
In the Praetorium
The Judgment of Pilate
The Synedrion Trial
The Bearing of the Cross
The Entombment; The Resurrection
Christ Appearing to the Holy Women
The Descent Into Limbo
Sending the Apostles to Preach the Gospel
The Doubting of Thomas.
Return to Christus Rex
The Icon Gallery pages are designed by Andrii Borovets --- M.A.K. Ltd., Lviv, Ukraine.