with viewers of differing levels of sophistication. A rhythmic combination of shapes and colours attracts the eye. The gleaming white of the saint's prancing horse contrasts with the dull colours of the fallen dragon. A dramatic folk narrative - the warrior-saint saves the maiden (not shown in this particular icon) by slaying the dragon - is underpinned by a theological discourse about the struggle between good and evil on earth, with the threatening cave of hell below and God's hand directing all the affairs of humankind pointing from heaven above.
There was no secular art, no freestanding portraits, landscapes or history paintings. Even when an icon illustrates recorded historical events, as for example in The Battle of the Novgorodians with the Suzdalians (mid-late fifteenth century) (fig. 12.1), which refers to a campaign against the city in 1170, at the heart of its message is divine grace.12 The icon of Our Lady of the Sign, the palladium of Novgorod, miraculously intervenes to protect the city, summoning the warrior-saints George, Boris and Gleb to smite the enemy. Painted at a time when Novgorod's independence was under threat, the icon draws inspiration from the past in the firm belief that the actions and decisions of men were ever subject to the divine will. Force of arms was useless without the assistance of prayer and the intervention of saints.
Novgorodians prayed to icons for all aspects of their lives. For example, the iconography of the Byzantine saints Florus and Laurus, patrons of horses, evolved there in the fifteenth century. At the foot of the icon horses drink from a holy well near the saints' relics: at the top the Archangel Michael, another protector of livestock, gives a blessing.13 Elijah protected against fires and brought rain. A famous early fifteenth-century icon shows a frontal view of the stern prophet against a bright red background. In other compositions he ascends in his fiery chariot into a red circle, the symbol of heaven.14 St Paraskeva Piatnitsa was a patron of women's work and traditions. In her icon she wears a red cloak and holds a martyr's cross in her right hand and a spindle in her left.15 One of the most universally venerated saints was St Nicholas, whose protective powers encompassed the health of humans and livestock, crops, bees and cities.16
The painters of Pskov used a distinctive palette of dark green and orange with white highlights and often incorporated elements of folk decoration into
12 See Alpatov Early Russian icon painting, plate 114.
13 Ibid., plate 120.
15 Grierson, Gates ofmystery, 175-7.
16 See ibid., 165-9, for an early fourteenth-century example.
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