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Theology in colors: Icon of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross [Ecumenical]
Russian Orthodox Church Ourside Russia. Moscow New Martyrs parish ^ | September 26, 2013

Posted on 10/05/2013 1:06:11 PM PDT by annalex

Theology in colors: Icon of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

b7In the Middle Ages there was no audio and video recordings, photographs, Internet. Historians worked on the basis of tradition and written documents, the lives of the saints were written according to the "literary decorum." Visual imprinting of historical events occurred sometimes many years later, and sometimes centuries, and was conducted in accordance with the canon. Studying the works of art, you can learn a lot about the events themselves, and on the attitudes of people in different eras.


Illuminated gospel [Urbin. gr. 2] page 21.
AD 1122.
Apostolic Library of the Vatican, Rome, Italy. Detail

This decorative initial (the Greek letter "B") is composed of two elements: the figure of the Equal to the Apostles Empress Helena and the image of a beautiful tree. Attentive reader will recall the initial of one of the main acts of Helena: searching for and finding the greatest relic - the Venerable Wood of the Cross on which the Lord was crucified. The Empress led the kind of ecclesial-archaeological expedition. For a woman of that time it was an extraordinary service.


The torture of Judas Cyriacus.
Giovanni da Piemonte after cartoon by Piero della Francesco.
1458-1459, 1466.
Fresco of the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy. Detail

One version of the tradition says that the expedition tried to find out the location of the Cross from the people of Jerusalem. One of them, an elderly Jew named Judas, who knew this place refused to disclose it stubbornly. Times were very tough, disobeying an imperial order was punished severely. Jude was tortured - he was thrown into a well and then he pointed out the place. The Renaissance artist painted this scene with curious details. Young men are lowering Judas into the well with the help of blocks. Judas does not look elderly. The Imperial officer is grabbing the stubborn man by the hair. All of the characters are dressed after the Italian fashion of the middle XV century. And the action unfolds against the backdrop of the familiar [to the Russians especially] silhouette of a red brick wall: the "dovetail" form of the teeth of the Moscow Kremlin wall had been borrowed from the Italian medieval architecture.


Illuminated works of Gregory Nazianzen
[gr.510], L.440. AD 879-882
The National Library, Paris, France. Detail

In order to carry out excavations on the orders of Helena a pagan temple was demolished. The miniature of the "words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus," depicts the moment of the opening of the cave.


Russian icon.
End of XVI century.
Sergiev Posad History and Art Museum-Reserve

As it is known, not one cross, but three were found in a cave, as well as the title of the Cross of Christ, lying separately. In the lower register of the XVI century Russian icon the subsequent events are shown: the introduction of the three crosses in Jerusalem and the identification of the Holy Cross by laying it on a dead man.


Agnolo Gaddi.
Ca. 1380.
Chapel Maggiore Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy

Italian artist Agnolo Gaddi, a contemporary of Theophanes the Greek, depicts the events of obtaining the Cross. His murals are crowded, "noisy", replete with details.


Agnolo Gaddi.
Chapel Maggiore Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy. Detail

Beside the main plot, the master with amazing attention draws a scene of contemporary life. Against the backdrop of a pastoral landscape, supplemented by medieval castles and churches, are episodes of monastic and village life: one of the monks pulling water from the well, the other monk fishing from the bridge, the geese grazing in a haystack. The cozy world which, however, has its dangers, for example, a dog is watching the goose dog, or a lion is hiding in the rocks.


Icon-tablet of the Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod.
End of XVc.
Novgorod Museum

In Byzantine art the basis for the iconography of the holiday was originally set not to the real historical episode of the Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem and the Empress Helena, but rather the image of the celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross, which was made annually at the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople. For this reason, the Cross is often depicted as an altar cross. The first of these images have appeared at the end of IX - beginning of XI century. This iconographic variant is used also by Russian iconographers. On the two-sided icon-tablet the scene is shown against the background of a large domed temple; in the language of iconography, this means that the scene is taking place inside.


Two-sided processional icon.
Novgorod. XVI century.
The State Historical Museum, Moscow

The patriarch, standing at the pulpit, raises high the cross, decorated with green branches. On the right, under the ciborium on the "royal place," depicted the Emperor and Empress. The foreground shows great many people: we see the member of the choir in their peaked caps, and the bishops, and the nobility, and the lay people praying.


Line drawing
"Front-facing iconographic stencil" from the collection of S.T. Bolshakov.
Russ. XVI century.

On the original tracings of the XVI century stencil the artist combines two events: the gaining of three crosses and the Exaltation. Here you can see an interesting detail - the equestrian monument of a Tsar is likely of Saint Constantine the Great. Such statues of Roman emperors and generals were usually destroyed and melted down in the Christian era. But the statues of the pious Christian emperors were not touched. So, in Rome the bronze equestrian monument to the emperor Marcus Aurelius was accidentally preserved, who in the Middle Ages was mistaken for a statue of St. Constantine.

Paired Images



St. Constantine and Helena.
XI century.
Martirievskoy portico of the Sophia Cathedral, Novgorod

The fresco depicting Constantine and Helen was one of the first paintings of St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod. For 50 years after the construction of the cathedral there were no frescoes, there were only icons inside. Probably at the end of XI century on the walls of the cathedral were made "insets" - painting in some areas, in a kind of "dry" graphical style. One such image is preserved on the column of the cathedral’s Martirevskoy portico. Perhaps this image was made on the occasion of the consecration of the Novgorod cathedral, which was on September 13 (Old Style), the feast of the Renewal (i.e., consecration) of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. The remembrance of the discovery of the Holy Cross was a part of the Renewal celebration.


Circle of Gury Nikitin.
Approx. A.D. 1681.
From the Chapel of St. Varlaam of the Church of Elijah the Prophet in Yaroslavl.
Yaroslavl Art Museum

The researchers believe that under the influence of paired images of Constantine and Helen, the historical version of the iconography of the Exaltation of the Cross develops further. The Emperor and Empress are on the side of the Patriarch, stretching their hands in prayer. Often kneeling worshipers were depicted in the foreground. The Yaroslavl Icon done at the end of the XVII century showcases new trends that appeared in the Russian art. For example, the artist is very interested in the realistic portrayal of space. Therefore, the temple is represented as a cross-sectional: we see the roof with the eaves and the domes, and the interior of the church is shown with strong supporting pillars.


1771. From festive row of the iconostasis of the church of St. John the Baptist in Roschenye.
Vologda regional museum, Vologda, 1771.

The Russian artists of XVIII century tend to present what is happening in a more "realistic" manner, so they show the cross of Christ as a monumental structure, such as it was in reality. It is significant that in the Vologda icon the action is shown in the interior of the church, and behind the patriarch erecting the Cross windows in which we see two churches are depicted. The artist knows that according to tradition the scene should be presented against the background of the church, but he poorly understands what such a background should mean: to wit, that the action is taking place inside the building depicted in the background. So he finds a solution in the spirit of "realism" and draws two windows in which the fragments of facades of buildings that are on the street are visible.


End of XVIII century.
From the festive row of the iconostasis of the church of the village Selezeniha, Tver region.
National Institute of Restoration, Moscow

TOPICS: History; Prayer; Worship
KEYWORDS: colors; cross; exaltation; holy; holycross; icon; icons; theology
Let us pray for the intentions of the Christians of the Middle East.
1 posted on 10/05/2013 1:06:11 PM PDT by annalex
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To: Salvation; NYer; narses; Pyro7480

For your pinging pleasure.

2 posted on 10/05/2013 1:10:13 PM PDT by annalex (fear them not)
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To: annalex

Interesting Post. thank you.

3 posted on 10/05/2013 1:23:10 PM PDT by johngrace (I am a 1 John 4! Christian- declared at every Sunday Mass , Divine Mercy and Rosary prayers!)
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To: annalex

I can't see that going anywhere.

I do find the 14th century Agnolo Gaddi image very interesting.

4 posted on 10/05/2013 2:44:39 PM PDT by Lee N. Field ("You keep using that verse, but I do not think it means what you think it means.")
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To: Lee N. Field
Neither do I, but I did not want to deal with the generic aversion to iconography that has nothing to do with the subject on hand.

Interesting that they did not show his Triumph of the Cross:

The Triumph of the Cross

Agnolo Gaddi

Santa Croce, Florence

The Gothic apse of the Santa Croce was decorated by frescoes in the 1380s. On the two side walls the story of the Saint Cross is depicted, the Triumph of the Cross being the final and most significant scene of the cycle. There are three scenes depicted beside and above each other. On the left side the beheading of Chosroes, King of Persia, for the occupation of Jerusalem and robbing the Cross; behind and above Heraclios arriving to Jerusalem with the regained Cross; on the right side Heraclios bringing the Cross barefooted into Jerusalem.


5 posted on 10/05/2013 3:17:15 PM PDT by annalex (fear them not)
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To: annalex
Again, wow. Looks like something that would have been produced in the 20th century.

I'll run that by the wife. She has a minor (I think) in art history.

6 posted on 10/05/2013 3:33:44 PM PDT by Lee N. Field ("You keep using that verse, but I do not think it means what you think it means.")
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To: Lee N. Field
20th century.

I hope not; this is classic medieval understanding of art as a form of prayer, which the 20th century destroyed.

7 posted on 10/05/2013 3:44:52 PM PDT by annalex (fear them not)
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