Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Region: Russia
Period: Early 17th century
Size: 72.5 x 55.5 cm


Evidence that monumental icons do not necessarily have their origin in a church iconostasis is provided by this icon of the Nativity of John. The image of Christ Pantocrator, placed centrally at the top, as well as the two saints Floros and Lauros in the margins, suggest that this icon used to be placed autonomously in a house or monastic space. Composition, architecture, palette, and the elongated figures are characteristic of the 15th-16th centuries, but most likely this icon was produced in the early 17th century.

We can see the parents of John the Baptist facing each other. Two maids and a midwife are looking after the mother and her newborn child. Father Zechariah is seated behind a table on which an inkwell and pen are placed – Zechariah had been unable to speak from the time he had doubted the angel Gabriel’s message that he would still become a father in old age. The outstretched fingers of his right hand indicate that he is about to say something: the name of his new-born son. Elizabeth rises from her childbed and tilts her head in listening. Then Zechariah announces the name: John, or “God is merciful”.