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Nativity

Icon painting, 1410-th , 81×62 cm

Description of the artwork «Nativity»

Work on the icon "Christmas" was completed, it is believed, in 1405. It is written on a board, carved from linden. Work has reached our days with significant damage. The levkas are partially lost (a white ground of special preparation), several through cracks pass along the front side of the icon at the junction of the boards, and the damage from nails is sealed with wax and levkas. Time was merciless and to the colorful layer: in many places it is very thin and destroyed. However, in this form, the icon not only did not lose its spiritual significance for believers, but also occupies a prominent place in the treasury of Russian Orthodox painting.

Colors. The icon of the “Nativity of Christ” refers to the festive row and is therefore painted in bright colors in a warm gamut: greenish-yellow, white and olive tones with cinnabar (red) spots predominate. Combining, colors enhance the richness of each other. Due to the color scheme, the image seems airy, unearthly. All this reflects the joy, the triumph of earthly and heavenly about the miraculous birth of the Savior.

Iconography. The plot of the icon only at first glance seems simple: a closer examination of its content reveals the whole and unique world of the Gospel events in all their richness of images and meanings. The icon shows not only Christmas itself, but also evangelism to the shepherd, the Magi (the wise men of the East), following to Bethlehem at the call of the star, washing the baby, praising angels. Adding all these different-time events to Christmas is following the iconography, and not the arbitrary decision or fantasy of the master.

Of course, many artists turned in their work to such an event as the birth of Jesus Christ, which divided the world and the countdown of time on “before” and “after”. His earliest images were made by the first Christians in the Roman catacombs. And only later, Byzantine art gradually developed a clear iconography of the Nativity of Christ. Subsequently, Russia, who inherited the Orthodox faith from Byzantium, adopted its iconographic style. It should be noted that he was very dogmatic. A certain artistic freedom for the icon painter was reflected only in the fact that he could creatively locate all the necessary images and components. Russian Orthodox icon painters actively used this. So Andrei Rublev, following the Byzantine rules, gives a bit of a new compositional construction. His angels are depicted not only at the top right, but also near the baby.

The master in his work wanted to achieve a full and deep disclosure of the meaning of the event, the idea - of the incarnation of God. The Lord becomes flesh and fully fulfills the role of man on earth. Before the arrival of Christ, the ancient world was in spiritual decline. The debauchery in the Roman Empire (representing then the entire European civilized world) was the result of the perversion of morality, religion and consciousness of the masses. Integrity was not in society as a whole, nor in its individual classes. The icon is divided into different plots, as if showing this fragmentation, disunity. There are no ordinary concepts of space and time: the nature of people has changed, they have become children of God in the full sense of the word, and together with nature, as it were, threw off the shackles of materiality.

Composition and characters. When looking at the icon of the first, we mark the figure of the Mother of God in the center - it is the largest. The Virgin Mary is dressed in purple robe or, as it is correctly called, maforium. The face of the Virgin Mary is calm, it does not show fatigue, because a wonderful birth is painless for the body, although it is difficult for human consciousness. In fact, it is located in a cave, but according to the laws of space, adopted in icon painting, its bed is “highlighted” to the fore.

In the cave behind the bed of the Virgin in the manger lies a swaddled baby - the smallest figure on the icon. The cave symbolizes the dark, sinful world of people into which God enters, therefore on the icon she replaced the shed. The snow-white dress of the newborn contrasts sharply with the blackness of the cave. Here the words of John the Theologian are recalled: "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overtaken him." A manger for animals serves as a manger for Christ - the icon shows how an ox and a donkey have already bent over him.

The star of Bethlehem points to the Christ figure. For this unusual star followed by three of the Magi, depicted by Rublev in the uppermost left corner. They are using science to calculate the time of birth of the Messiah. Having come a long way, the wise men came to the baby with gifts: gold, incense, and peace. Every gift is not accidental: gold symbolizes the King, frankincense - God, and myrrh - the person who must die. The age of the Magi is different: one is young, the other is already mature, the third is old. After all, you can be saved at any age, but the youngest of the wise men points to the baby: it is better to find the Lord as soon as possible.

The angels are depicted in the top right row of the icon “Christmas”, Rublev has three of them. One of them stooped and announced to the shepherds a miraculous birth. Not being scientists, unlike the Magi, shepherds find God in the simplest way - in their hearts. And the fact that they are depicted already near the cave proves that this path is also the shortest.

There is nothing accidental in the icons; every detail matters. Rublev has not only details, but the whole icon as a whole has a global unifying, renewing meaning. Magi and shepherds are depicted on opposite sides because they represent different nations. The wise men are pagan, and the shepherds are Jewish. Both of them go to Christ, unite and give rise to a new world - the Christian. Another group of angels, Rublev, is placed right next to the nursery-trough with the baby, making of them no longer heavenly, but earthly participants of what is happening. As Jesus, having come to the earth, united the divine and the human in his personality, so the icon of the Nativity of Christ depicts in Rublev the union of these two worlds in one, renewed.

In the lower left corner is a sitting and meditating Joseph the Handcuffer about something (formally married husband of Mary). This illustrates the gospel story of how Joseph decides to secretly release his wife. The fact is that in Israel a woman who committed adultery was stoned after giving birth to a child. Here Rublev and showed reflections tormenting the righteous, who does not want to subject Mary to shame. But all the agony is resolved by the angel who told Joseph who this one was born. Next to Joseph is a man in goatskins. There are different opinions about this figure. Some researchers believe that this is one of the shepherds, others see him as the son of Joseph Jacob, still others - the devil, tempting the saint, bringing doubts to his soul about the purity of Mary. The last option is the most common.

And finally, on the lower right, on the icon, there is the washing of the Infant Christ, performed by two women. The scene recalls the tradition of the baptism of Christian children.

Work Rublev is a unique example of Orthodox iconography. Currently, it is stored in the Blagoveshchensk Cathedral of the Kremlin, anyone can see the icon.

Author: Irina Frykina
from 1450 rub
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About the artwork

Art form: Icon painting

Subject and objects: Landscape, Portrait, Religious scene

Style of art: Byzantine style

Technique: Tempera

Materials: Wood

Date of creation: 1410-th

Size: 81×62 cm

Artwork in selections: 7 selections

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