0433 Sts Vaarlam, Zossim and Savatti

0433 Three Saints Sts Varlaam Zossim Savatti


18th cent. 26.8×25.7×2.3 cms.

The Icon dates from the last quarter of the 18th cent. It is written on a single axe cut board. It originated in the isolated, dark, inhospitable region of north-west Russia. Although there was migration of ideas their impact on iconographic disciplines was slow. Additionally, the iconographer was forced to rely on the pigments of the earth, plants and pebbles the harsh environment could provide. As a result the iconographer’s palette was more limited than that available elsewhere with earthy greens and browns predominating. The overall result was that the icon’s tone was soft, warm and engaging.

In the 16th cent, migration had helped to populate the region. However, despite the presence of icon workshops in the great monasteries, demand far exceeded supply. Consequently, the demand was met by relaxing the strict rules and the emergence of gifted ateliers.  This icon was probably one such with a gifted, local monk creating the icon to aid him in the keeping of strict ascetic rules.

Support for this view is given by the unusual choice of subjects: Sts Vaarlam, Zossim and Savatti. All three were ascetics. The central figure is St Vaarlam, a 12th cent. monk who despite founding and giving his name to a monastery in Khutyn was also honoured by an eponymous monastery in Karelia. In his hand he has an open scroll with his mantra for a Christian life.

A century later St Savatti served in the same monastery but left in 1431 to co-found with St Herman the Solovetski monastery within the Arctic Circle.  After his death in 1435 St Zossim became the Abbot of the Solovetski.

Finally, there is the presence of Christ himself presented as the “Image Not made by Hands”. Light is rising from the horizon symbolising not only the perpetual presence, love and forgiveness of God but of the Northern Lights themselves.