The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the closed tomb happened on the third day after His death on the cross as Christ Himself had told to his disciples and as an angel had told to the Myrrh-bearers who came to anoint the Savior’s body (Mark, 16: 1). “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke, 24: 5–7; Matthew, 28: 5–6; Mark, 16: 6).

None of the four Gospels gives an account of this event as the Resurrection of Christ is regarded as Mystery of the Divine omnipotence. In the first centuries of Christianity, the Resurrection of Christ scene represented only the Myrrh-bearers at the Holy Sepulcher. Later, in the post-iconoclastic period (since the 9th century), a new iconography of the resurrection developed, namely the Descent of Christ into Hell vividly presenting the central event of the Gospel story – the Savior redeems the first man’s sin by his death and saves him. In Russian medieval art this iconographic variant was widespread until the 17th century. In Western European art since the 14th century a different iconography of the Resurrection of Christ became widespread, known as the Resurrection of Christ from the Tomb. It depicted the naked Jesus Christ, with a banner in the hand rising above the tomb with grave clothes lying thereupon.

A more complicated version of the Resurrection of Christ iconography in Russian art appeared in the 17th century. It is composed of two scenes – The Descent into Hell and the Resurrection from the Tomb. In the center of both compositions the Savior is shown against the background of a mandorla (“shining glory”), yet in the scenes of The Resurrection from the Tomb, unlike the Western European specimens, the Savior is depicted wearing vestments. Both compositions are unified by a group of the righteous walking up from the left bottom corner to the right upper corner towards the paradise where, at the gates, may stand the Wise Thief with a cross. The next composition depicts the scene of Eden, in which the Wise Thief is shown speaking to Enoch and Elijah. The Savior rising from the tomb sends the heavenly host, walking from the upper left corner downwards, to battle with Hell. A depiction of Hell, located in the bottom part of the icon, can be divided into several scenes: the righteous in Hell are raising their hands in prayer to the Savior; angels defeating the infernal host and the satanic host enchained. The composition may include the scenes illustrating Gospel events from the Crucifixion to the Ascension, such as the Myrrh-bearers at the Holy Sepulcher, The Doubting of Thomas, The Resurrection and others. The earliest example of this iconography is an icon of The Resurrection – the Descent into Hell.

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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