The hagiographic cycles of St. George the Victorious have been encountered in temple monumental paintings since the 11th century. The earliest icons with border scenes date back to the 13th century.
The hagiographic cycles feature the scenes both from the canonic Life of the Saint and the apocrypha. They can be conditionally divided into three groups: the scenes from the saint’s life, his lifetime miracles and posthumous miracles. The life cycles traditionally begin with the scene of the saint meeting the emperor (or consul). The saint is shown denouncing his pagan delusions, professing the Christian faith or giving his property away to the poor. A great deal of the scenes depict the torturing of St. George, such as stone torturing (the saint lays with a huge heavy boulder on his chest), breaking on the wheel (the saint is being stretched out on the wheel), whipping at the pillar, ox vein torture, poisoning (the magician Aphanasius handed a cup of poison to the saint who drank it after a prayer and stayed alive) and others. Other hagiographic scenes feature the imprisonment of the saint, St. George praying in the cell and his meeting with the Emperor Alexander’s wife who openly professed Christianity after all pagan idols had been demolished by the saint’s sign of the cross (from apocryphal accounts). His lifetime miracles include the scene of raising the dead man (after the saint’s prayer a tomb split apart letting out a risen man who had died centuries ago); St. George reviving an ox of the poor farmer Glicerius (the saint revived the farmer Glicerius’ ox who fell dead on the field, which led Glicerius to believing in Christ) and his destruction of pagan idols; the postmortem scenes feature St. George Slaying the Dragon and St. George Saves the Young Paphlagonian from Prison. The cycle ends with scenes of the decapitation and burial of the saint.
In medieval Russian art the earliest images of the hagiographic scenes of St. George are located in the St. George chapel of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev (the 1040s). Icons with hagiographic border scenes are encountered since the 14th century. Apart from the scenes featured in Byzantine monuments, the hagiographic cycles on Russian medieval icons include the scenes, which are absent in Byzantine images, such as the scenes of St. George being tortured by hot iron boots or inside a hot copper ox monument. Among his postmortem miracles is the miracle of the Saracine (a Saracine shot the saint’s icon and fell wounded by his own arrow after which he believed in Christ, repented and was healed by the St. George icon) and the miraculous appearance of the saint before the emperor and his court and their punishment by heavenly fire. One of the hagiographic images of St. Great Martyr George the Victorious is a 1510 icon of the saint with 16 border scenes by Theodosius, now located at the Andrei Rublev Museum in Moscow.
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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