The Entombment icon depicts one of the episodes of Good Friday that occurred after the death of the Savior on the Cross. The Evangelist Luke writes about this event: “Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.” (Luke, 23: 50–53). John adds: “He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs... The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. ” (John, 19: 39–40, Luke, 23: 55).

Originally, notes N.V.Pokrovsky, the Entombment scene was depicted in compliance with the Gospel account and represented the Hebrew burial ritual. In the center of the composition were depicted Joseph and Nicodemus, carrying Christ’s body, wrapped in white burial cloth, to a rocky cave. Some images showed the Mother of God walking beside Christ’s body or supporting his head. This composition is encountered in the miniatures of illuminated manuscripts, such as the Code of Gregory the Evangelist, compiled in the 1080s (National Library in Paris, gr.510), or in the Passion cycle in the Church of St. Andrew on the river Treska, executed by Metropolitan John II (Zograph) and his assistant, the monk Gregory in 1388 – 1389.

The later iconographic version of The Entombment features a cross in the central part of the icon and, at the foot of the crucifixion, a casket with Jesus Christ’s body, wrapped in the burial cloth. At the Savior’s head are the weeping Mother of God and John the Theologian, at His feet is St. Joseph, behind them are three weeping women and Nicodemus. Under the cross are two angels. This version became widespread in the Russian iconography, such as the Entombment icon from the festival row of an iconostasis at the Dormition Cathedral in the St. Cyril of Belozersk Monastery, dated 1497 (The Andrei Rublev Museum). A similar composition in Byzantine monuments is known as The Lamenting of Christ.

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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