Novgorodian Icon-Painting (part 13)
I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X XI XII XIII
Very indicative is the complication of the traditional composition in the Assembly of the Archangels. Instead of the usual two archangels holding a shield with the image of Christ, we have here a whole throng of archangels complete with a seraphim. As a result a simple scene becomes a complex multifigured composition with numerous rows of angels placed one above the other and the dynamic spread of the seraph's wings.
The most interesting of the tablets, however, is probably In Thee Rejoiceth. As can be seen from its very title, the image of the Virgin is rendered here in its cosmic significance, as the "joy of every living thing". The central part of the icon is enclosed in a circle. In the background, for almost its entire width, is a snow - white temple with shining vermilion cupolas jutting upwards into the sky. The temple is surrounded with luxuriant vegetation. The Virgin, the "joy of every living thing", sits on a throne in the middle, holding the Child in her hands. The rejoicing in Heaven is symbolised by the Virgin's halo of angels. Below, outside the circle, we see apostles, prophets, bishops, hermits, saints and virgins flying toward the Virgin from all directions. The idea of a world - encompassing temple is conveyed here with the utmost plastic expressiveness. The onlooker sees not cold and indifferent walls but a joyful inspired temple which participates actively in the jubilation of which the Virgin, seated in the centre, is the object.
The Sophia tablets, most of which were executed by first - class artists (which is not surprising, considering that they were made for the Cathedral of St. Sophia), show at what a highlevel Novgorodian icon - painting remained at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. Soon afterwards, however, a quick decline set in. After losing independence in 1478, Novgorod began to lose its traditions which were gradually absorbed by the Muscovite traditions brought in from the outside. It was a difficult and painful process for Novgorod which was proud of its great past. And though excellent individual works continued to be produced in the city and surrounding area in the sixteenth century, they could not compare in quality with the frescoes and icons of the twelfth - fifteenth centuries. For icon - painting, the end of the fourteenth and nearly the entire fifteenth century were an epoch of the greatest flourishing of Novgorodian art. Novgorodian painting will remain forever one of the most brilliant pages in the history of not only ancient Russian, but all Russian art.