- Museum number
- Object: Sophia – Divine Wisdom
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.
- Production date
Height: 31.50 centimetres
Weight: 1 kilograms
Width: 26.50 centimetres
Depth: 2.60 centimetres
- 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.
Cormack 2007, 126, no. 54
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
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
- 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.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- See 1998,0605.1 Most of the items catalogued under 1998,0605 were acquired by Sir Frank Roberts’ wife, Cella.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: IC 54 (Icon Collection number)