Jesus Washing the Feet of the Disciples

John 13:1-38

Pskov, Early 16th century

This icon is a panel in an iconostasis (icon screen) now in the collection of the Pskov Museum. An ancient city of Northern Russia, icons from Pskov and Novgorod have many attributes in common, including great theological depth of meaning.

The iconostasis from which this icon comes stood in the Thirteenth-century Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Gorodets, Pskov District, until 1927, when it was confiscated by the new Soviet regime.

During WWII, it was looted by the Nazi invaders of the region, but was returned to the people of Pskov after the War.

The faces of the characters in the icon are typical portraits of people from the Pskov region in the Middle Ages, with dark skin and hair coloring. One of ten panels located in the Church Feast Tier of the large iconostasis, this icon includes many interesting features.

Note the cock sitting on a column, waiting for his cue to crow, at the top of the composition.

It is a detail known from Byzantine icons since the 13th century, when the church was built, but one that is rarely found in old Russian icons. Peter points at himself, objecting to Jesus’ humbling act.

The font holding the wash water resembles the baptismal fonts in old Russian churches, and the laver in which the midwives wash the infant Jesus, as depicted in Russian icons of the Nativity.

The towel Jesus uses is bordered with decorative striping that looks like traditional Hebrew textile weaving; but it also resembles the ritual towels of the Eastern Orthodox church, symbols of God’s protection and care for people, that are used to drape icons and decorate domestic altars in Russian and Ukrainian homes. These towels are an interspiritual parallel to the marigold garlands used in Hindu practice and the white prayer scarves used by Buddhists, as signs of love, respect, and veneration.

All the disciples are looking at Jesus, or speaking with each other, except for Judas. He is facing out toward a doorway topped by an iron porticullis. This detail offers a portent of the next part of the story, the betrayal and brokenness that is present even in this moment of Communion.

“A new Commandment I give you:
that you love one another, as I have loved you.”

Written by St. Matthew’s Parish Iconographer, Lisa Bellan-Boyer
One Spirit Interfaith Seminary Class of 2011


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