Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Icon of Winged Christ the Blessed Silence with a Seraph in His Bosom

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

I am inspired this morning to make some brief remarks on this icon to which Brandon Watson (who blogs at Siris) drew my attention some days ago when I was blogging about various depictions of Christ as a winged figure.

Especially intriguing for me in the above icon is the seraph held in the bosom of Christ. In response to Brandon, I wondered if the seraph were an allusion to the story of St. Francis receiving the stigmata from a six-winged 'Christ' in a baffling vision in which Christ, a seraph, and the soul of St. Francis all three appear identical. Readers will recall that I devoted several blog entries to this puzzling vision.

But perhaps the icon above is presenting the Holy Spirit as emanating from the bosom of the Son -- except that I've never heard of the Spirit being depicted as a seraph. A dove, yes; but a seraph, no . . . which may suggest nothing other than my ignorance.

I'm hoping that Alexander Boguslawski, professor of Russian Studies at Rollins College might have some illuminating remarks on this icon, for he noticed that I had quoted his remarks on the depiction of a winged Christ in Rublev's famous icon presenting the Old Testament Trinity, so he posted an interesting comment on that particular blog entry.

But we'll just have to wait on that.

Meanwhile, here's a modern-day icon, a beautiful, angelic Sophie revealing words about her role in creation -- and one can also find this same Sophie linked to Milton's Paradise Lost.

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At 1:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffrey,
I can answer some of the questions you posed, but, unfortunately, not all... The seraphim is definitely not an allusion to St. Francis, even though St. Francis did have a vision of a seraphim! The icon from the Temple Gallery seems to be absolutely unique; I looked through my extensive book collection and through the Russian Orthodox sites and found not even one similar icon of the Holy Silence. On all icons, the angelic figure is shown with hands crossed at the bosom. So why the seraphim at this particular icon? The only possible explanation I can think of would be that the author of this icon wanted to stress the closeness of the seraphim to God.
The God-loving six-winged SERAPHIM stand closer than all before their Creator and Maker, as the prophet Isaiah saw, saying: "And the seraphim stood around Him, each having six wings" (Isaiah 6:2). They are fire-like since they stand before That One of Whom it is written: "For our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. 12:29); "His throne was a flame of fire" (Dan 7:9); "the appearance of the Lord was like a blazing fire" (Ex. 24:17). Standing before such glory, the seraphim are fire-like, as it said: "Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire" (Ps. 103:4). They are aflame with love for God and kindle others to such love, as I shown by their very name, for "seraphim" in the Hebrew language means: "flaming".
Icons of Holy Silence (Blessed Silence)were most popular among the Old Believers, but they, as dedicated traditionalists, would not accept any significant change in iconography. Therefore, the question why the seraphim was included in this icon remains unanswered... I wonder whether Richard Temple realized what kind of a unique work he had in his gallery.
I hope all this helps. Looking forward to finding more about this and other icons.

At 4:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Alex, thank you for your reply to my query about the seraph in this icon.

I looked more closely at the icon at Richard Temple's website, and since the site allows close-ups of details, I was able to see the seraph more clearly. Although the figure is clearly a seraph, given the six wings, it seems to have no body and looks more like an image of the sun -- which would connect to the Hebrew meaning of "seraph" as "flaming."

This looks like a topic for an article, but I lack the expertise in icons. Perhaps you will write something?

Meanwhile, I'll post your comment as a blog entry, for this is informative stuff.

Thanks again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffery,
1) Sorry for misspelling your name
2) In Russian tradition, seraphim are always represented this way (they can be larger in size)
3)Returning to the Trinity icon with overpaintings, the seemingly "overimposed" face of an angel on the right is actually the face of the original angel. Restorers often reveal just a little piece of the old icon; I believe they do it particularly when they do not want to destroy the ovepainting completely, that is, when the overpainting possesses artistic and cultural significance.
4) I will continue my search for Blessed Silence icons with a seraphim and I will try to contact some Russian Orthodox sites dealing with iconography. I discovered that there is an article devoted to this iconography, but I haven;t yet discovered how to get it.
5) Writing an article about it would be tempting, but first I would like to look at what is available (the article).
Take care,

At 6:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Alex, thanks for the update. I've already posted another blog entry, which -- I see from your comment here -- will itself require an update.

Keep me posted on that article mentioned.

Jeffery Hodges

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