Thursday, December 06, 2012

St Nicholas - Russian Statuette

For the feast of St Nicholas, here is an unusual representation of the saint. It comes from the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. It is not generally part of the iconographic tradition to have sculpture, although relief carving is common. I am told that statues are not banned in Eastern churches, but it is not part of the tradition. This makes sense to me. The iconographic tradition seeks to portray man partaking of the divine nature in union with God. In accordance with this, icon painters seek to destroy the illusion of depth in icons to represent the heavenly realm which is outside time and space. Sculpture by its nature is three-dimensional so would undermine this convention. Relief carving, is common, however, this is really creating a two-dimensional image in shadow rather than creating three dimensional images; and so is consistent with the iconographic prototype.

At the Museum of Russian Icons they have a large collection of Russian St Nicholas statuettes. I am always intrigued by these. They are not fully three-dimensional, but neither are they as flat as a relief carving. They remind me of early gothic sculpture in their degree of three dimensionality and because they are polychrome.  I have explanation as to why these statues were made. Or why it only seems to be in connection with certain saints. St Nicholas is one and at the museum they have a lot of similar statues of another Saint Nil, but only these two.

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