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The Fiery Ascent of Elijah

17th Century
30 7/8 x 33 1/4 x 1 3/8 in. (78.5 x 84.4 x 3.5 cm)

Unknown, Russian
Russian

Object Type: Painting
Medium and Support: Oil on wood panel
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Sibley Watson
Accession Number: 1933.1
Link to this object
Location: Not currently on view

This icon depicts events in the life of the prophet Elijah as told in the Old Testament book of II Kings. According to the story, God commanded Elijah to seek refuge from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He was protected by ravens, or, in this picture, an angel, who brought him food every morning and evening. At God’s instruction, Elijah chose the prophet Elisha as his successor. Elisha walked across the Jordan River with Elijah, and was on the ground on the eastern bank of the river when Elijah ascended to heaven in a whirlwind, or, as tradition has it, a chariot or great ball of fire. Elijah threw his cloak down as he ascended; Elisha picked it up and used it to separate the waters of the Jordan as he crossed back to begin his prophetic mission.

At the lower left of this icon, Elijah is represented in the desert being fed by an angel. To the right, Elisha washes Elijah’s coat in the river Jordan. The focal point of the image is the ascent of Elijah in a horse-drawn chariot within a ball of fire.

In the Christian tradition, the story of Elijah was often seen as a herald to that of Jesus Christ; Elijah’s ascent to heaven foretold Christ’s Resurrection.

[Gallery label text, June 2013]

Provenance
Czar Nicholas II and Czarina Alexandra of Russia; Armand, Victor J. and Harry J. Hammer, 1921 or later; purchased from the Hammer Collection by Mrs. James Sibley Watson for the Gallery in 1933

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