UNKNOWN ICON PAINTER, Russian
(2nd half of 18th century in Palekh)
The Baptism of the Eunuch of the Ethiopean Queen by Philip1751-1800
Egg tempera on wood, with gilt frame, 39 x 36 cm
This icon, distinguished by the quality of its painting and wealth of detail, is striking not least on account of its oval shape and its gilt Rococo frame. But it is the theme that is really unusual. On the left is a baptismal scene, and on the right a chariot drawn by two horses, and carrying two men in conversation, one of whom has an open book in his lap. Only the golden inscription in Old Church Slavonic top left reveals that it records the event reported in chapter 8, verses 26-39 of the Acts of the Apostles. The saint with the golden halo is Philip, one of the seven deacons of the Jerusalem congregation. In the Byzantine Church he was included among the 70 apostles, but often confused with his namesake, one of the Twelve.
Acts reports that on the almost deserted road from Jerusalem to Gaza, Philip met a high-ranking eunuch of the Ethiopian queen. He had been to Jerusalem to pray to the God of Israel, and was now on his way home in a chariot. He was reading aloud the passage in the book of the prophet Isaiah, where it says that "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth." Philip offered to explain the incomprehensible scripture, and preached the gospel of Jesus. When they came to "a certain water", the Ethiopian requested to be baptized. They entered the water, and Philip baptized him.