Proceeds from this icon sale will help the Sister Mura Foundation in Johannesburg. The Foundation assists migrants living with HIV/Aids by providing income generating schemes. They also provide educational bursaries, helping eighty families to pay for primary, secondary, and higher education.
The icon is one of an ensemble originally consisting of the heads of the Archangel Michael, the Archangel Gabriel and Christ Emmanuel; the three panels comprising the so-called ‘Angel Deesis’. The present whereabouts of the other two icons is unknown.
Emmanuel is a representation of Christ as the Son ‘begotten of the Father before all worlds,’.1 The iconography seems to have emerged in Vladimir in the twelfth century, that is in the ‘Kievan’ or pre-Mongol’ period. It is erroneously referred to as the ‘Angel Deesis’, due to a superficial similarity with the Deesis iconography that represents Christ in Majesty flanked by John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary. This icon is from a group more properly known as ‘The Saviour Emmanuel with Angels’. The name Emmanuel derives from the Hebrew ‘God is with us’ and this title is taken from Isaiah 7:14: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel,’. Christ, when depicted as Emmanuel, is shown to be a young boy under the age of twelve. For theologians, it has a very different symbolic meaning: they saw it as a very early image of the Holy Trinity, and a liturgical symbol of Eucharistic sacrifice.
The earliest example of this iconography is a twelfth century icon, now kept in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow (Fig.1). According to the great Russian historian Viktor Lazarev, this icon probably came from Vladimir, along with other highly venerated icons such as the famous Virgin of Vladimir, to Moscow in 1518, the period of the rise to its pre-eminence.2
This iconography was not used widely before the so called ‘late’ period of Russian painting, with only a couple of examples, such as the one kept in the Tretyakov. After the seventeenth century, this iconography became increasingly commonplace, which corresponds with the dating of our icon. There are some other examples of this iconography, such as one sold on the German art market recently (Fig. 2). Although that one does not demonstrate the same painterly skill as ours, the similarities allow us to envision how our ensemble would have originally looked. The format of having the image in three panels, as opposed to one, seems to emerge in the seventeenth century and is the format used in later examples of this icon, dating from the nineteenth century.