Friday, July 8, 2011


Title: St. Panteleimon the Healer
Artist: Nicholas Roerich
Medium: Tempera on canvas
Size: 44.5 x 78.5 cm
Date: 1931
Location: Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York.


Saint Panteleimon, or Saint Pantaleon, counted in the West among the late-medieval Fourteen Holy Helpers and in the East as one of the Holy Unmercenary Healers, was a martyr of Nicomedia in Bithynia during the Diocletian persecution of 303 AD. Pantaleon was the son of a rich pagan, Eustorgius of Nicomedia, and had been instructed in Christianity by his Christian mother, Saint Eubula; however, after her death he fell away from the Christian church, while he studied medicine with a renowned physician Euphrosinos. He was won back to Christianity by Saint Hermolaus, who convinced him that Christ was the better physician: "But, my friend, of what use are all thy acquirements in this art, since thou art ignorant of the science of salvation?” By miraculously healing a blind man by invoking the name of Jesus over him, Panteleimon converted his father, upon whose death he came into possession of a large fortune, but freed his slaves and, distributing his wealth among the poor, developed a great reputation in Nicomedia. Envious colleagues denounced him to the emperor during the Diocletian persecution. The emperor wished to save him and sought to persuade him to apostasy. Panteleimon, however, openly confessed his faith, and as proof that Christ is the true God, he healed a paralytic. Notwithstanding this, he was condemned to death by the emperor, who regarded the miracle as an exhibition of magic.

In the Eastern tradition, this saint is canonically depicted as a beardless young man with a full head of curly hair. It is interesting, then, that a Russian painter should diverge so profoundly, and give us a wizened old Panteleimon, appearing to gather flowers and herbs from the flourishing mountain meadows. Medicinal ingredients, perhaps, for his work as a healer. And then, in keeping with Roerichs deep spiritual connection with the mountains, one wonders if the Saint is not taking from the earth, but rather giving back to her.

Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich (October 1874 - December 1947), was first-born son of lawyer and notary, Konstantin Roerich and his wife Maria. He was raised in the comfortable environment of an upper middle-class Russian family with its advantages of contact with the writers, artists, and scientists who often came to visit the Roerichs. His father did not want him to pursue painting as a career, but rather to study law. He made a compromise, and after finishing his studies in 1893, Roerich simultaneously entered the Saint-Petersburg University (he graduated in 1898) and the Emperor’s Academy of Arts. From 1895, he studied in the studio of the famous Russian landscape painter Arkhip Kuindzhi. This training undoubtedly came to fruition later in life when, in 1928, he settled his family in the Kullu Valley at an elevation of 6,500 feet in the Himalayan foothills, with a magnificent view of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Here they established their home and the headquarters of the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute.

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