A catalogue of the Russian icons in the British Museum

By Yury Bobrov / Edited by Chris Entwistle

Search this Catalogue

Advanced search

Sophia – Divine Wisdom

Icon painted in egg tempera on wood prepared with linen and gesso. Subject: an unusual form of the Deesis. Within a central mandorla, seated on a throne, is the winged and crowned figure of Sophia, wearing a dalmatic, and holding a wand and a scroll; at l

AN103062001001

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Department: Britain, Europe and Prehistory

Registration number: 1998,0605.21

Additional IDs
IC 54 (Icon Collection number)

Bibliographic reference
Bobrov 2008 25
Cormack 2007 No. 54

Back to search results

Back to catalogue

Object types
painting (scope note | all objects)
icon (scope note | all objects)

Title (object)
Sophia – Divine Wisdom
Materials
wood (all objects)
gesso (all objects)
Techniques
painted (scope note | all objects)
gilded (scope note | all objects)
Production place
Made in Russia (scope note | all objects)
(Europe,Russia)
Made in Novgorod (?) (all objects)
(Europe,Russia,Novgorod (oblast),Novgorod)
Date
17thC
19thC (restoration)


Description
Icon; painted; in the centre, within a mandorla, a fiery red angel, crowned and nimbed, sits on a throne. The angel is dressed in the imperial robes of the Byzantine dynasty. Above the angel, in another mandorla, is Christ blessing with both hands. The angel is flanked by the full-length figures of the Virgin Mary (left), holding at her breast a medallion of the Christ child, and John the Baptist (right) holding a scroll. In the upper part is the 'scroll of heaven' supported by six angels who are also adoring the 'Hetoimasia' in the centre.
Inscriptions: in gold in Church Slavonic in the centre of the upper border: СОФИЯ ПРЕМУДРОСТЬ БОЖИЯ (Sophia – Divine Wisdom); in Greek above the Virgin's halo: MP ΘV (Mother of God); in Christ's halo: [O] WN (He Who Is); by Christ's head: ΙC ΧC (Jesus Christ); in Russian by John the Baptist: ИОАНН (John); traces of an inscription on John's scroll.
Egg tempera, gesso on wood.

Inscriptions
Inscription Type: inscription
Inscription Script: Greek
Inscription Position: above figures
Inscription Language: Greek
Inscription Comment: identifying figures

Inscription Type: inscription
Inscription Script: Cyrillic
Inscription Position: above figure
Inscription Language: Russian
Inscription Comment: identifying figure

Inscription Type: inscription
Inscription Script: Cyrillic
Inscription Position: border
Inscription Language: Church Slavonic
Inscription Comment: identifying figure

Inscription Type: inscription
Inscription Script: Greek
Inscription Position: Christ's halo
Inscription Language: Greek
Inscription Comment: identifying figure


Dimensions
Height: 31.5 centimetres
Width: 26.5 centimetres
Depth: 2.6 centimetres
Weight: 1 kilograms


Condition
Made from a single panel with ‘kovcheg’; two inserted battens on the reverse; the paint layer on the borders and around the gold inscription has been scraped down to the gesso. The painting and the title was restored in the 19th century.

Curator's comments
The symbolic image of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, is based on the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, in which Solomon says: ‘Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens; she crieth upon the highest place of the city. Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him. Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled’ (9:15). Byzantine theologians treated these words as a prototype of the Church on Earth and a symbol of the Eucharist. St Paul called Christ, ‘Divine Wisdom’ (I Cor. 1:30), which explains the combination of Sophia and Christ within two mandorlas. The Virgin symbolizes both Divine Wisdom and the Temple of Christ, the founder of the Divine Church on Earth. The image of the fiery angel is inspired by the prophecies of Isaiah and by words in the Book of Revelation: ‘And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire’ (Rev. 10:1). John the Baptist at the right, the nearest forerunner of the Divine realm, holds a scroll with the words: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29).

The composition of the Museum’s icon follows the so-called Novgorod type, first seen on an icon from the St Sophia cathedral in Novgorod and then known from 16th-century copies in the Russian Museum, St Petersburg (Vilinbahova and Pleshanova 1995, no. 35). Icons with this image were often employed in blessing members of the aristocracy.

Published:
Cormack 2007, 126, no. 54


Subject
virgin mary (scope note | all objects)
saint/martyr (scope note | all objects)
christ (scope note | all objects)
angel (all objects)

Associated names
Named in inscription & portrayed St John the Baptist (Prodromos) (biographical details | all objects)
Named in inscription & portrayed Virgin Mary (biographical details | all objects)
Named in inscription & portrayed St Sophia (biographical details | all objects)
Named in inscription & portrayed Jesus Christ (biographical details | all objects)


Acquisition date
1998

Acquisition name
Bequeathed by Sir Frank Kenyon Roberts (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Cella Roberts (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
See 1998,0605.1 Most of the items catalogued under 1998,0605 were acquired by Sir Frank Roberts’ wife, Cella.


Exhibition History
Exhibited:

2015 15 Sep-10 Jan, USA, Norfolk, Chrysler Museum of Art, Byzantium to Russia: The origins and development of Russian icons 1200 to 1900
2015 30 Apr- 22 Aug, USA, Clinton, Museum of Russian Icons, Byzantium to Russia: The origins and development of Russian Icons 1200 to 1900


Noticed a mistake? Have some extra information about this object? Please contact us


To bookmark this page select "Bookmark this page" or "Add to favourites" from the web browser menu.


Loading...