0644 Exaltation of The Cross

0644 Exaltation of The Cross


17th cent. 31x25x2.5 cms

The icon commemorates the discovery of the True Cross at Calvary in 325. The director of the enterprise was St Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine. She stand to the left of the elevated  Cross. On the other side is St Macarius who had lobbied the Emperor the excavation. Behind them are two unidentified figures believed to be Byzantine royalty. Empress Helen was deoted iconophile and a driving force to restore their presence in Orthodoxy. The other figure is usually the Roman Emperor Constantine. However, it is believed in this instance it represents Helen’s son, Constantine the VI. Roman images always showed Emperor Constantine clean shaven whereas images of Helen’s son commemorating his presence at the second Council of Nicea show, as here, a beard framing his face.

There is also a hidden message in the icon’s composition. It is the triumph of Church over State. It is Archbishop St. Macarius who stands with St Helen in the front row. Byzantine Empress Helen and  Roman Emperor Constantine who are in the second.

The icon is Russian, probably southern Russia.  However, the image itself is far more stylised than its Russian contemporaries. It has a Byzantine feel. The answer could be that the icon was written by a “Madonnari”, a group of itinerant iconographers who left Byzantium with the expulsion of its Christian community and drifted into southern Europe. Other hints also exist. The Cross itself is four sided not the six sided of Russian Orthodoxy and is very elongated in the Balkan manner. The provenance of the icon is southern Russia.  Finally. St. Macarius himself,as Bishop of Jerusalem had contacts with the Armenian Church.

On purchase, the original had suffered losss of paint though the original lines remained to allow sensitive restoration of paint along the original lines. There was considerable insect infestation which has been treated. Some reconstruction of the board was necessary which accounts for the right-angled sharpness of the top right corner wheras the others are less precise.