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The Prophet Elijah in the Desert, with scenes from the story of his life

Central Russia

1730-1750 ca
Room 3
Tempera on wood
31,9 x 26,4 cm
1890 n. 6174

This icon illustrates the most prominent scenes from the life of the prophet Elijah taken from the Old Testament. The prophet is depicted in the centre with a long beard and grey hair wearing fur with a kerchief around his neck and a hermit's staff, elements typical of ascetics and prophets. Elijah turns his gaze to God: he is in retreat in the desert, on the banks of the Kerith Ravine, where he was prodigiously fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:1-6).


The episodes recounted are arranged clockwise starting from the left, where Elijah is kneeling and praying to God to send fire to burn the sacrifice offered on the altar (1 Kings 18:36-38). In the scene below, Elijah, having fled to the wilderness where he awaits death, is awakened by an angel who invites him to eat and set out on a journey (1 Kings 19:5-7). On the bottom right, Elijah stands on the banks of the Jordan River with his disciple Elisha: with his mantle, he strikes the water of the river, which opens, allowing them to cross it (2 Kings 2:7-8). The story ends at the top of the image, with Elijah raptured to heaven by a chariot of fire, while Elisha observes the marvel and receives the prophet's mantle (2 Kings 2:11-12).

The first icons depicting various scenes from Elijah's life beside the main image were painted in the 17th century in Yaroslavl, and these prototypes are referenced in this icon, which also aligns with Yaroslavian tradition in its colour choice, where warm tones of red, ochre and brown prevail. The somewhat schematic and simplified pictorial drafting exposes the provincial origins of the master who executed this work, painted within the same sphere that depicted the Ascension of Christ (inv. 1890 no. 9357).

Text by
Daniela Parenti
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