(late 15th century in northern Russia)

St Nicholas with Scenes from his Life

Egg tempera on wood, 93 x 71 cm
Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen

St Nicholas is one of the most popular Christian saints, both in the West and in the Christian East. Because of the large number of miracles attributed to him, Nicholas is highly venerated, and called upon by believers in every conceivable distress. The Byzantine Church venerated Nicholas from as early as the 6th century, especially in Myra and Constantinople. With the Christianization of Kievan Rus' from the end of the 10th century, the cult of St Nicholas was also introduced to Russia, where it spread unusually strongly, with numerous churches being dedicated to him.

In the art of the Eastern Church, Nicholas is always depicted in bishop's garments and with a short, white beard and hair; a characteristic feature is an almost impossibly large forehead, signifying his unusual wisdom. Nicholas always wears the omophorion, the distinguishing episcopal vestment, and holds the book of gospels, likewise the characteristic episcopal insignia.

As early as about 1200, the half or full-length figure of the saint in the centre of the icon was surrounded on the margins by scenes from his life and the miracles he had worked. From the early 14th century, numerous biographical icons of Nicholas were painted in Russia too, more than of any other saint.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.