Gallery Decapitation of the Head of the John the Forerunner

30. july 2017

The Icon comes from Russia. It was written in the second half of the 18th century. On the elevated edge of the icon, kovcheg (“ark”) – as if above the whole event – we find an inscription, the name of the icon: Усекновение честной главы святого пророка Иоанна предтечи; Decapitation of the Honourable Head of the Holy Prophet John the Forerunner. In the middle, the inscription is divided into two halves by the depiction of Lord Sabaoth – Lord of hosts, sitting amid the heavenly clouds. The Lord is dressed in a white coat which symbolizes His absolute spirituality.

On the right shoulder, we can see a stripe on the tunic - clavus, the symbol of Jesus' royal dignity. Clavus underlines the power of the blessing that Lord Sabaoth gives with his right hand in the name of Jesus Christ to John and all creatures. In his left hand, he holds the ruler's sphere which the life-giving cross rises from. Lord Sabaoth has the face of Jesus Christ that is filled with life, long hair is a sign of mysterious powers. His long chin expresses His integrity and wisdom. In the Nimbus, there are two squares – a blue one and a red one - the symbols of Jesus´ Divine and human nature. These two squares together form an octagon reminding of the eighth day of creation - Parousia. The Lord is depicted on golden background accentuated by assist as if all the light was coming from Him. "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12)

 

In the upper left corner, we spot John in jail behind the wooden fence. From his posture, we can sense a kind of communication (a prayer) between him and Lord Sabaoth. As if John was saying: "I have accomplished the task. I have announced the Saviour’s coming." And the Lord replies: "You are blessed, John. You are yet to announce the arrival of the Saviour in Sheol." John responds with the words of the Psalmist: "I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants." (Psalm 116:13-15)

 

The icon is very finely written in pastel colours on golden background. The fineness of pigments and artistic workmanship prove the iconographer’s high skilfulness. Despite the central theme, the icon gives the impression of quietness and even joy. Even here we can reminisce about the Easter singing: "Happy is the blame for which such a noble Forerunner of the Lord has come to us".

 

 

As the central scene of the icon we find the depiction of the cruel execution of Saint John and the handover of his honourable head to Salome, the dancer. John is completely immersed in the dialogue with God as if the reality of the execution did not even exist for him. His face is calm, his hands are tied, he has sandals on his feet. His garment from the fur of camel is covered with a coat. After the execution, his body falls to the ground. His hands are now free. The executioner hands his head over to the dancer Salome on a golden tray. She is watching the decapitation dressed in a pink gown of pride and pleasure, decorated in accord with the contemporary royal taste. In the background, there is a silhouette of the royal palace, also in pink colour. The executioner is dressed in a white-blue tunic symbolizing his human nature. A scarlet coat is tied up around his neck, as a symbol of the sin he has taken up on himself by exercising the malicious and cruel execution.