30 August 2017

Special iconography features of the Holy Martyrs of Vilno

Author: Andrei Zharov

The special veneration of Martyrs Antony, loann and Evstaphy has survived since 14 century untill nowadays. The pious sentiments were revealed also in writing their icons. However, the images of these Saints show considerable difference, which can be caught by a watchful eye – especially when talking about loann and Evstaphy, whose images as a beardless youth and a middle-aged man with a beard are often mixed.

The mixing of the images and names can be traced from 17 century on, having relatively stability before that time. This is why we believe that it’s high time for the thorough professional analysis of the iconography, comparing the images survived with icon writing «podlinniks» (example drawing and descriptions) with guidelines for writing icons of the Martyrs of Vilno.

The earliest image of the martyrs can be found in so called “Bolshoy Sakkos” of 1414-1417 (GMMK), which belonged to Photius, Metropolitan of Kiev. The pictorial embroidery shows Antony, loann and Evstaphy in the lower part in the front, waist-high, with the cross in the right hand and the left hand with the palm towards the praying believer, head uncovered. The iconographical type is highly individual with portrait features. The most important are the inscriptions of the names in Greek next to the images, which is extremely helpful for the attribution. The Saints are depicted as follows: loann is a young man with no beard, Evstaphy has a short beard, Antony has fair hair and short long beard.

Embroidering. Sakkos of Metropolitan Photius. 1414-1417

In «Stroganovsky lizevoy podlinnik» (Stroganovsky icon writing instruction book) of 16th century the same regularity in attribution of the images to the inscriptions can be found.-The type of Evstaphy is the only one with some difference as he has a forked beard that is a bit longer. The same variation of image of the Saints of Vilno can be seen in the icon of 19th century, painted on the basis of the “Stroganovsky podlinnik” of the end of 16th century, which is kept in ZAK at Moscow Theological Academy.

All the mentioned above images follow the one principle in inscriptions of each Saint: loann is a young man with no beard, Evstaphy has a short beard, Antony has a longer beard.

In writing instruction book «Podlinnik» of Novgorod (16th century) a considerable change happens in martyrs’ iconography. In order to describe the appearance of each Saint, an identification with well-known Russian Saints is used.

For example, St Martyr Antony should be painted «like St Boris», loann ‘like St Gleb’ and Evstaphy ‘like St Vladimir’. In ‘Text Podlinnik’, edited by Filimonov in 18th century the iconography of the Martyrs of Vilno undergoes even more substantial changes: St Antony should be painted like Prince Boris, the Passion-bearer; St loann also should be painted like Prince Boris, but ‘with a longer beard’; Evstaphy should be painted as a young man, with no beard. Such a new perception of their portrait features appeared under strong influence of personal perception of their “Lives” by the author. An interesting quotation can be used as a support to this view: «They write in Minea that Evstaphy was young and handsome but in many Podlinniks they write that Evstaphy was old and grey-haired like St Prince Vladimir, but it is wrong».

So, the author changed and mixed the portraits of loann and Evstaphy, trying to find his reason in Minea. It’s important to add that these are not the only inaccuracies of the author of Filimonov’s Podlinnik as he mixed up the matching of their Christian and pagan names: «those Saints, Antony, loann and Evstaphy had the following pagan names: Krugletz, Kumetz, Nezhilo».

In course of time, the influence of iconography of St Great Prince Vladimir and SS Princes Boris and Gleb on the iconography of martyrs of Vilno grew up. Such icons of St Great Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-apostles, and SS Princes Boris and Gleb the Passion-bearers, depicted together, appear in Russia in 16th century. It should be highlighted that the influence of this type of iconography can be seen in not only typology of martyrs’ faces but also in the whole icon composition including the garments of Princes (which were hardly worn at Lithuanian court), swords and other details that are present in the icon of St. Great Prince Vladimir, Equal-to- the-apostles, and SS Princes Boris and Gleb the Passion-bearers.

The icon that has been created in our workshop as the practical result of the research given above

In “Podlinnik” by Fartusov in the begin­ning of 20th century the author followed the iconography of 18th century.

To sum up, the latest text «podlinniks» for icon writing have contribute a lot into unification of portray­ing Saints, depriving them of their origi­nality. Therefore one should take into the consideration the his­tory of iconography of the Holy Martyrs of Vilno when creating their icons and to follow the earliest protograph.