The Saviour

Publish date 23-05-2023

by Chiara Dal Corso

Of wonderful workmanship and small dimensions, just 24 x 19.5 cm, made on double plastered canvas, this icon belongs to the group of the so-called "Tablets of Santa Sofia". 25 works of art, painted on both sides, which make up one of the most refined iconographic treasures produced by Novgorod Russian spirituality in the 15th century. It is an icon of Christ the Savior, represented according to the classic model of the Pantocrator, but with new features: half-length, with an open book, his right hand in blessing, the envoy's clavius ("messiah"), the red tunic (color of the blood, life and kingship of Christ) and the blue mantle (representing the divinity, the celestial mystery of God), which we have already found and recognized in other icons.

However, we find some peculiarities. The text written in the book – which is always a quotation from the Gospel, but changes from icon to icon – is in ancient Cyrillic and the translation is: «Come to me, all of you, that you are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28), and this explains the direction of the right hand turned towards his heart.

The color of the clothes is very significant, as in all the icons of Novgorod: the lights are rigid and geometric, as if the clothes were not made of fabric but of semi-precious stones, crystals, i.e. the material that in nature, more than any other, it allows light to pass through and spreads it, and which, therefore, lends itself more to portraying the glorious body of Christ, which houses the light of grace within itself and expands it.

But the most interesting characteristics are found in the face. The eyes have deep dark circles: he is the one who watches over us, our guardian who does not fall asleep (Ps 121, 3-4). Here too the lights (also from the hair) highlight the most prominent points, giving the sensation that the light comes from inside the face and not from outside: it is the divine light that belongs to it. The beard is tufted, like the beard of a boy, of a young man: God is ancient and always new, always young. And again looking closely we see that the cheeks in the upper part and the neck are very swollen, while the mouth is small and ajar: Jesus blows towards us, He continuously, moment after moment, in every instant of our life, gives us the Spirit, it gives us the air to live on, the life that animates our bodies, that makes our hearts beat, that makes the blood circulate in our veins, that allows our heads to think, our mouths to communicate, our hands to act…

A small, singular and unique icon, which – if we contemplate it in silence and let ourselves be looked at by it – puts us in relationship with the Son of God, who loves us with the love of the Father, who continually gives us the Spirit, and helps us to enter the room of our heart where we know that it is like this, that he is there, and where everything becomes thanks, I love you, prayer.

Chiara Dal Corso
NP February 2023

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