The Archangel Michael – the Commander of the Fearsome Horse is commonly featured as the red-faced archangel flying on a red winged horse. In the upper field of the composition, in a segment of heaven, is shown a throne and medallion with the Savior Emmaneul. The Archangel is dressed in an armor suite; on his head is a crown, he holds a book, cross, censer and lance with which he is piercing Satan lying under the horse’s feet. The Archangel’s arms are spread wide apart; between them is a rainbow, with a trumpet at his mouth and a cloud at his feet. Such is an image of the Archangel – the protector of praying people from visible and invisible enemies both in the terrestrial life and after death. It also contains the symbolic images of the key Christian dogmas – the precreational plan of God, the embodiment of the Son of God, and the Final Judgment.

Prototypes and parallels of the Archangel Michael iconography are found in Byzantine, post-Byzantine and Russian art of the 11th – 16th centuries representing the Archangel as a leader on the way to salvation. The iconography has no parallels in Western art. In the opinion of P.A.Tychinskaya, the Archangel the Commander iconography first appeared in Moscow art, in the circles close to top clerical and state authorities. It developed simultaneously with other themes such as Blessed is the Host of the Heavenly King and theological and didactic works of the mid-16th century. The earliest examples of the Archangel Michael iconography are basically encountered in the Moscow art circles. First icons of this kind were possibly created by masters from Metropolitan Macarius’s entourage and subsequently became widespread in the Russian provinces.

The first images of the Archangel Michael – the Commander of the Fearsome Host that haven’t survived to this day were created in ca. mid- / second half of the 16th century; as late as the first third of the 17th century they were displayed in some of provincial Russian churches and became relatively famous in other Orthodox Christian countries. The 17th century saw the greatest spread of the St. Michael the Commander image which was being reproduced in various artistic forms. However, in the late 17th century the depictions of St. Michal the Commander lost sophistication, especially in provincial art. Throughout the 18th – 19th centuries the image of the Archangel the Commander was one of the most popular themes in the folk iconography. Depictions of the mounted archangel with apocalyptic attributes were particularly widespread in the Old-Believer culture. Most of the later icons of the Archangel the Commander were produced in the Old-Believer communities.

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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