Sunday, January 27, 2008

Alexander Boguslawski: More on Seraph in Bosom of "Christ the Blessed Silence"

Christ the Blessed Silence
Russian, circa 1700 (30.7 x 27 cm)
(Image from The Temple Gallery)

Christ the Blessed Silence
Detail with Seraph
(Image from The Temple Gallery)

In my Thursday post providing Alexander Boguslawski's fascinating and useful, detailed information about this Russian icon showing a seraph nestled in the bosom of Christ the Blessed Silence, I closed with these words:
Perhaps some reader who knows the explanation to this puzzling image of the the seraph in Christ's bosom will take the time to lead us through the labyrinth to the answer.
Well, a reader did step forth with more information, none other than, once again, Professor Boguslawski himself, who provided "Some news on the Blessed Silence":
I contacted Richard Temple (an old friend) and discovered from his reply that he had on his site two other icons featuring seraphim (or cherubim). I am attaching a series of pictures for you, as well as Temple's commentary on those icons. He has no idea why the iconography changed or allowed these variations (there are, for instance, blue cherubim in one of the icons).
I'd like to post those images that Boguslawski sent, but I couldn't locate them at The Temple Gallery, and I don't yet know how to copy them from my computer onto my site at Photobucket, the online service that I use to store the images that I post here on my blog. If I figure that out, I'll post them, for the two mentioned by Boguslawski differ from the icon above in that they each show three seraphim -- one in the center and two on each side.

Meanwhile, here's what Richard Temple has written:
BLESSED SILENCE. ("Blagoe Molchanie")

Christ depicted as an angel is based on Isaiah 9:5 who refers to "The Messenger ("Angelos") of Great Counsel". He is the "Word in Eternity" and, according to Coomber in The Icon Handbook, (Springfield Illinois, 1995), the iconography is "associated with the Creation and the Plan of Salvation, ordained from Eternity".

Other references from Isaiah are relevant: 42:2 "He shall not...cause his voice to be heard in the streets"; 53:7 "He was afflicted yet opened not his a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth".

Two four pointed stars, one superimposed on the other, are seen within Christ's halo; their eight points are said to symbolize Eternity and the whole of Creation. (The Octave is the symbol of completion).

Christ is clothed as a bishop (cf Hebrews 4:14 "...we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus Christ, Son of God...". Seraphim, six-winged, bodiless and traditionally red, adorn the upper part of his chest and arms. The Seraphim, according to Dionysius the Areopagite, are the highest order of Angels and stand at the entrance into Paradise. Below Christ's navel is a Cherub, also bodiless and regarded as second in the angelic order. Christ holds the traditional Russian eight pointed cross and an inscribed scroll: "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

The subject was introduced into the iconographical canon in Russia in the 16th century. At that time Moscow, which had recently declared itself the Third Rome, was a milieu of intense theological and iconographical activity. (See N.P. Kondakov, The Russian Icon, OUP 1928, Chapter Mystical and Didactic Subjects).
I'm not sure which of the three images depicting a seraph in the bosom of Christ that Temple is referring to, for I don't see the cherub above Christ's navel, but given this information and the two additional images, Boguslawski has concluded:
Therefore, my statement that the icon was "absolutely unique" needs to be changed to "unusual." My explanation that it indicates the closeness of the heavenly forces to Christ still holds... Well, and now we have a nice collection of images...
And we may soon have one more, for Boguslawski tells me:
I am even tempted to paint my own icon of the Blessed Silence, since I am a modern day iconographer (see an example of one of my works -- the recently finished Mother of God of Kazan).
Again, I would like to provide that Theotokian image, but it is stubbornly stuck on my computer rather than 'unstuck' on Photobucket. You can, however, visit Boguslawski's own website for exhibiting his art, including several of his icons, but I don't see his "Mother of God of Kazan" included.

In his closing remarks, Boguslawski added some kind words:
And one more comment -- I love your blog! What a relief to find a literate person!
To this, I replied:
I'm glad that you like my blog. I don't know that I'm really so literate, but I do have a lot of interests -- mostly of things that I can't so easily comprehend, but a man's reach must exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?

I wish that I had even a modicum of your linguistic and artistic talent . . . and your other talents as well. Perhaps mine is a talent for blogging. But like the winged Christ with seraph, I am not unique. I've found a host of intelligent, literate bloggers. My own blog might be unusual for the range of things that I post on. Just today, I blogged about my Ozark home...
But I'll leave the degree to which my blog is 'unusual' to the judgement of my peers, those who peer here.

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