Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Descent into Hell - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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UU035. Descent into Hell

Russian, Yaroslavl
17th century
27.7 x 25.6 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

£7,500 [Sold]Click here to convert price to USD or EUR

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The event is known in Russian as Bogoyavlenie i Voskresinie, in Greek as Anastasis. It is celebrated on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, and is the Orthodox Church’s greatest feast. It depicts Christ descending into Hell to rescue Adam and Eve from tombs. On Christ's right are Kings David and Solomon (identifiable by their royal crowns), St. John the Baptist and other Old Testament figures. To the left of Christ the Apostles can be seen discussing the mystery of the event, which is based on passages in the New Testament, especially Ephesians 4:9, 'Now that He ascended, what is it, but because He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?'; and 1 Peter 3:19–20: 'God hath raised up Christ, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that He should be holden by it'. The fourth century apocryphal Book of Nicodemus is also a major source for this tradition, dealing with the theme in greater detail. The Orthodox understanding of the event is that it anticipates the general resurrection of mankind at the Last Judgement[1].

Beneath the main image in our version, we have two scenes from the events that precede the Descent into Hell. In the bottom right corner, we see Christ rising from the tomb while the soldiers sleep - a common theme in Western art. At bottom left we see archangels, dressed in the Byzantine imperial loros vestment, and tying the devil in chains within the black abyss of Hell.

The style and composition of the current version can be compared with examples created in Yaroslavl in the 17th century. For instance, a version in the Art Museum of Yaroslavl (see fig. a and details below) is very similar, especially in the earthy colours and the faces with their subtle lighting and delicate features. They also both follow a similar iconographic composition, which is slightly different to the classical version.

Fig a. The Resurrection and Descent into Hell, Russian, Yaroslavl, 17th century, The Art Museum, Yaroslavl, Russia

Detail of UU035 Detail of fig. a.

1. For a study of the 'Descent into Hell' from the Orthodox perspective, see: Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from the Orthodox Perspective, (New York, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2009)

Detail Images