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Metal Icon Pendant of the Nativity, 6x8cm

Metal icons were popular in the 18th and 19th century, and are largely associated with the Old Believers, a conservative sect of Russian Orthodox Christians.  These icons were portable and durable, with the ones portraying patron saints usually given to travellers and soldiers for protection, and were often worn on a string around the neck despite being relatively heavy.  Small metal icons and crosses had been introduced from Byzantium during the 10th century, and came into production following Russia’s conversion to Christianity.  At the centre of the Nativity composition is the recumbent figure of the Virgin Mary, with the star at the top that leads the magi to the birthplace of Jesus.  He is depicted in swaddling clothes in a manger within a cave, reminding us of the tomb He was later buried in.  Joseph is portrayed at the bottom left-hand corner next to midwives attending to bathe the Child, a detail that is derived from the apocryphal Gospel of Matthew.  The bath is styled as a baptismal font that symbolises the immaculate womb of the Virgin, and rebirth through purification.

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