The icon of The Great Martyress Catherine Praying for the People / The Great Martyress Catherine Praying to the Savior depicts St. Catherine praying before the execution. This iconographic variant shows the great martyress full-length, turning left in a devotional pose, with a scroll in her hand. She appeals to the Savior, depicted in the upper part of the icon in a segment of heaven. The scroll is inscribed with the words of the prayer St. Catherine said before her death. Beside the saint stands a soldier with a sword, prepared to perform an execution. Some icons include figures knelt in prayer at the saint’s feet. Sometimes the scene unfolds itself against the background of a conventionally depicted fort, which some researchers regard as the Sinai Monastery that housed the saint’s relics, while others consider it Alexandria where the saint was executed.
The scene is derived from the hagiography of St. Catherine that Metropolitan Macarius included in the mid-16th century into Great Menaion Reader that tells us that crowds of people accompanied St. Catherine as she was led to the execution yard. Seeing so many weeping women around her, St. Catherine asked the soldiers to allow her to pray before her death. The soldiers permitted her to do so, and Catherine raised her arms to heaven and prayed to the Lord that all those lamenting her be given earthly goods in their lifetime and forgiven all sins if they mention her name on the deathbed.
The depictions of this scene first appeared in the Russian iconography in the early 16th century and had not been encountered in Byzantine and post-Byzantine art. The composition is encountered on the central panels of both the hagiographic and individual icons. Scholars link the emergence of such hagiographic icons in Rus to the veneration of St. Catherine as patroness of the dead people’s souls. The development of the St. Catherine iconography was also possibly impacted by the iconographic variant known as The Prayer for the People. The earliest example of this image is an icon of St. Catherine Praying for the People, with Life Scenes dating back to the 1530-40s, from the collection of M.E.Elizavetin.
The Great Martyress Catherine is commemorated on December 7 (November 24, O.S.).
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.
3. Меняйло В.А. Агиология великомученицы Екатерины на Руси в XI – XVII вв. // ИХМ. 2000. Вып. 4.
4. Иконы из частных собраний: Русская иконопись XIV – начала XX в.: Кат. выст. М., 2004.
5. Шесть веков русской иконы: Новые открытия: Выставка из частных собраний к 60-летию ЦМиАР. М., 2007.
6. Большаков С.Т. Подлинник иконописный. М., 1903.