Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Saint Nikita the Stylite - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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SS019. Saint Nikita the Stylite of Pereslavl

Russian, Moscow, (Silver Chamber?)
Second half of the 17th century
Panel: 31 x 27.3 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

Provenance:  Dusseldorf art market

£4,000 [Sold]Click here to convert price to USD or EUR

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St Nikita the Stylite is perched on top of a hexagonal pillar and dressed in the Great Schema - the hooded garment hanging down his chest and decorated with red crosses. This is worn by monks who have attained the highest level of perfection. He is identifiable by his long narrow beard and serious countenance. His right hand blesses the viewer, while his left holds a scroll.

St Nikita was a Russian saint of the 12th century. As a youth he led a dissolute life and was a tax collector. On one occasion when he entered a church he heard a verse from the Book of Isaiah: ' 'Wash you (of your sins), make you clean;' (1:16). A dramatic conversion took place. He became a monk, bound himself in chains and lived on top of a pillar in Pereslavl' in the Yaroslavl' district following the tradition of the 'stylites' or 'pillar saints' of antiquity. Symeon the Stylite, a Syrian from the 4th-5th century, is regarded as the first pillar saint. But soon many followed his example of living on pillars for years without coming down, living a life entirely devoted to prayer and repentance. Yet the pillar was not used simply to distance the monk from earthly society, but to raise him closer to God (fig. a).

Fig. a. Symeon the Stylite, Russian, 16th c. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The style of our version suggests the second half of the 17th century. The naturalism of the face echoes the works of Simon Ushakov, the most famous Russian icon painter of this era. Icons of the Mandylion (fig. b), St Nicholas (fig. c) and St Sergius of Radonezhky (fig. d) by Ushakov all show stylistic similarities with the current example.

Fig. b. Simon Ushakov, Mandylion, 17th c. Russian Museum, St Petersburg.

Fig. c. Simon Ushakov, St Nicholas, 17th c. Sergiev Posad Museum

Fig. d. Ushakov, St Sergius of Radonezhky (detail).[1] Temple Gallery SS019 detail.

It is thus possible that the current icon was produced in the workshop of Ushakov. In addition, Moscow has an historical association with St Nikita. During the late 16th century there was a cult of Nikita during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Several 'icons of Nikita were painted in the imperial workshop during Ivan's reign.' In 1560 a chapel dedicated to Nikita was sponsored by Tsar Ivan.[2] Our icon follows in the tradition of these earlier examples (see fig's e & f).

Fig. e. St Nikita, Russian, 17th century. Archaeology Office of the Ecclesiastical Academy, Moscow.[3]

Fig.f. St Nikita, Russian, 17th c. Private Collection. Shapiro Auctions, New York, May 2015, Lot: 7.

1. Unknown location. Image found at:
2. See Новые направления и результаты в международных исследованиях по русистике, 2005, p. 58
3. Published in Father Vladimir Ivanov, Russian Icons, (New York, 1987), pl. 108

Detail Images