The icons entitled Abraham’s Bosom depict Saint Forefather Abraham seated in paradise with the righteous Lazarus on his bosom or, in some cases, with souls of the righteous portrayed as small human figures. Some icons portray Abraham with forefathers Isaac and Jacob seated beside him, sometimes also with souls of the righteous.

The composition is based on a Gospel parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that Jesus Christ told in a Pharisee’s house. This is a story of a rich man who would wear rich clothes and live in luxury, while a beggar lay at the gates longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. The time passed and the beggar died and “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Luke 16: 22). The Rich Man also died and got to Hell. In torment, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue with water. Refused, the Rich Man appealed to Abraham requesting him to send Lazarus to his father’s house and warn his brothers so that they wouldn’t come to this place of torment. But Abraham said: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16: 31).

In monumental painting Abraham’s Bosom was sometimes included as part of the Final Judgment composition. In easel painting, it is encountered on altar doors. For example, the border scene Abraham’s Bosom is painted on the upper part of the altar door of the late 16th – early 17th centuries from the Resurrection Church in the village of Leshchevo in the former Kadnikovsky uezd, the Vologodskaya gubernia, presently held at the Vologda State Museum.

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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2. Рыбаков А. Вологодская икона. Центры художественной культуры земли Вологодской XIII–XVIII веков. М., 1995. № 162/163.