The icon The Way to Calvary depicts one of the episodes of Good Friday – the way of Jesus Christ to the place his crucifixion. The Roman soldiers “when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him” (Mark 15: 20). The Evangelist John briefly describes this event saying that “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)” (John 19:17). The most detailed account of the Way of the Cross is found in the Gospel of Luke: “As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?’ Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.” (Luke 23: 26-32). The Evangelists Mark and Matthew also give an account of this event (Matthew 27: 32-33; Mark 15: 21-22).

The icon of the Way of Jesus to Golgotha is part of the Passion Cycle. The passion cycles were widespread in the Byzantine monumental art and mosaics. One of the earliest examples is the mosaics of the Basilica Sant Appollinare Nuovo, executed before 526 CE. In the upper tier of its southern wall are 13 depictions of the Passion of Christ, among which is the scene of the Way of Jesus to Golgotha.

The icons depicting the scenes of the Passion of Christ may have been included in the festival row that was placed on the altar screen. The festival rows on the altar screen of Byzantine temples have been known since the 11th – 12th centuries. The earliest Russian festival tiers are dating back to the 14th century. Since the 15th century, the festival tier was incorporated into the high iconostasis that has established itself in Russia since that time. The most developed among those surviving since the 15th century is the festival tier of the iconostasis of the Dormition Cathedral in the Monastery of Cyrill of Belozersk, dating to ca. 1497. It was composed of twenty five icons, nine of which were dedicated to the Passion of Christ. One of them, the Way of Jesus to Golgotha, is presently kept in the Andrei Rublev Museum. The icons depicting the Passion of Christ could be later incorporated into a special Passion tier.

The icons of the Way to Calvary are encountered among the analogion icons such as two double-sided tablet icons with sixteen scenes from the Passion cycle from a set of the 15th century analogion icons, formerly kept in the St. Sophia Catherdral in Novgorod. The Passion tablets were put on the analogion of the St. Sophia Cathedral on Good Friady for veneration during the reading of the Twelve Gospels.

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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