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The Archangel Michael stands in a dark brown space, dressed in the prototypical garments of a warrior saint: knee-length boots, incised gold armour and a red cape tied around his shoulders. He gazes at the viewer with a sideward glance. His upward posture and large gold and red wings impart a powerful, immovable presence. Yet the delicate manner in which he has been painted also suggests a body of lissom weightlessness, which correlates to the inscription on the open scroll that Michael holds in his left hand: 'Immaterial substance glorifying God...' the phrase 'Immaterial substance' refers to the spiritual nature of the angels. This effect of weightlessness derives from Palaeologan art of the late Byzantine period.
The iconography of the Archangel Michael as a 'warrior saint' is classical and refers to the saint's status as the leader of the heavenly warriors who fight against evil forces, as we find in the Book of Revelation (12:7-9). An early Russian example from the late 13th century of the Archangel as a warrior saint can be seen in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin (see fig. a).
The upright, commander-like pose of the figure directly recalls works on this subject from the 15th century (fig. b).
The style of the current icon seems to be influenced by the works of Propoky Chirin - the famous icon-painter of the late 16th - mid 17th century and part of the Stroganov School: 'A Novgorodian by origin, Chirin worked in Moscow in the late 16th and first third of the 17th century. Among those who commissioned his work was the powerful Stroganov family from Solvychegodsk.' Chirin is mentioned in 1620-21 list of the Tsar's icon-painters, and was awarded the rank of 'Sovereign's Master' in 1627. In addition, his icon of 'St Nicetas the Warrior' in the Tretyakov Gallery (fig. c) further attests to his connection with this family as this saint was the 'heavenly patron' of Nikita Grigoryevich Stroganov.
As we can see in this icon of St Nicetas the Warrior (fig. c), Chirin's style is notable for its immaculate precision, fine detail and miniature size - a style Tatiana Vilinbakhova rightly describes as 'refined and highly involved'. The intricate gold armour and the folds of the cloak have clear similarities with our icon of the Archangel Michael. While Chirin's icon of St John the Baptist (fig. d), also in the Tretyakov Gallery, further highlights similarities with our object, in particular the style of the wings (see details below and compare).
The face of Michael on our icon is very close to the face St George in another icon from this period in the National Museum of Art in Stockholm (fig. e).
The decorative, floral riza that encases the main image is contemporary with the painting. A similar pattern and application can be seen on the riza of a 17th century Virgin of Vladimir in the Recklinghausen Icon Museum (fig. f) and on the halo of a 17th century icon of St John the Baptist (fig. g).