The only thing known about the ancient iconostasis of the Archangel Cathedral is that some part of its icons was burnt in “the big fire” of 1547 and no later than in 1554 “Tsar [Ivan IV] ordered their replacement with new ones”.
The Archangel Cathedral iconostasis, remaining to the present day, embodied the diversified and laborious search of the 17th century during the church reforms. The iconostasis made by the decree of Tsar Feodor Alexeevich is one of a few implementing the church reforms by Patriarch Nicon.
The Archangel Cathedral iconostasis consists of four tiers: Prophets’, Deisis, Festive and Veneration. The iconostasis is topped with the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist Interceding, carved from wood and painted by masters Fyodor Zubov and Mikhail Milyutin.
According to the Greek style a three-step solea was arranged in the Archangel Cathedral and an absolutely new iconostasis of "frame" construction with a magnificent polychrome carved decor was mounted. The tier location changed to meet the Byzantine tradition. The Festive tier was placed under the Deisis one. The composition of the Local tier has been worked up: in the centre there are the Holy Doors with the Annunciation composition and images of four evangelists. The northern and the southern doors bear images of Archdeacon Stephan and the guardian angel.
The Greek custom to place the icon of Christ the Saviour on the right of the Royal Gates and that of the Mother of God on the left, introduced by Patriarch Nikon, was fixed. The patronal icon of the temple, as a rule, is mounted near the image of the Saviour. Another innovation was in finishing the iconostasis with a carved scenic composition The Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist Interceding.
The icons of the three upper rows were painted in 1679-1682 by royal icon-painters under the supervision of Feodor Zubov, one of the best Armoury masters and the closest assistant to the famous painter Simon Ushakov. The 17th century icons are executed with the innovative brushwork, using the rules of linear perspective and active three-dimensional modelling of light and shade.