Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A Once Popular Icon of Fear and Mortality

In Russian iconography during the 17th and 18th century there was icon to remind Christians that they are mortal beings and taught them how they ought to direct their fear. It tells about the futility of human transitory hopes and efforts, about the inevitability of death. The hero is a man endowed with power and wealth. This plot was popular throughout the 19th century.
There are two plot variations. The hero of the first image is a merchant known as a mortal man who has spent many years and efforts to accumulate earthly riches, as depicted before him. But on his face there is sadness, anxiety and fear of death. The image of Death with a scythe behind him and a coffin beneath him reminds him of the impending punishment for the mortal sin of greed. Christ is above, the Judge of all.

Another image depicts King Ptolemy II, who ruled Egypt in the third century BC. In the picture, the king rests his hand on a skull, before him are the attributes of the frailty of being, the transience of human life. Behind the king's back - Death as a symbol of the inevitability of punishment for sins.
The inscription on the scroll depicted in the icon above reads: 
O man, fear the one above you. Do not place your hope in what is before you. You will not get away from what is behind you. You will not escape what is under you. Our life like a candle shines merrily and like smoke will soon disappear.