These Russian icons depict the Madonna with Christ as a child, one of the most common and beloved subjects of religious art. These images are painted in the manner that owes much to early Byzantine icons, for, according to iconographical history, each copy of an icon should be an exact replica of the very first icon of the Madonna painted by St. Luke. And yet, great variations were possible. Three types of positions can be seen in these works: the Madonna as Theotokos, or "Bearer of God", the Madonna depicted in the gesture of the Hodegetria, and the Madonna as the "Virgin of Tenderness." Each of these positions portray the importance of the Madonna to Russian believers, not only as the "Mother of God," but as a guiding maternal figure.
Individual icons of the Madonna and Child became famous objects in their own right, working miracles and extending protection over the places that owned them. Icon No. 531 is a copy of the renowned Vladimir Madonna. Other such images came to have their own feast days, and as such are commemorated in the far left panel of our Festival Icon.
Virgin and Child (Theotokos)
Russian. Early 19th Century
This icon type specifically evokes the Virgin as Theotokos, or "bearer of God," by placing Christ in such a way that his body is completely contained within hers. The background of clouds and fiery light in predominantly gold and red indicates that the scene is a heavenly court. The angels are of the first hierarchy called Seraphim, representatives of Divine Love whose duty is to love and adore God. They are traditionally portrayed wearing red and holding burning candles. At either side of the throne are griffins, winged creatures with the head of an eagle and body of a lion, symbolic of Christ the Savior. The composition and painterly style recall the grandiose compositions developed in the sixteenth-century to illustrate the liturgical humn of St. Basil to the Virgin, "The Whole of Creation Rejoices Over Thee." Yet its small size suggests that it was a family icon.
Virgin and Child ( with Okhlad )
Russian. Early 20th Century
An inscription on this icon identifies the Virgin as Maria, " most pure God bearer, and most holy Theotokos ." She wears celestial blue and points to Jesus cradled in her left arm, in the gesture of the Hodegetria, meaning "She who shows the way." In this position, Mary represents the Church that leads believers to God. This piece also includes a silver okhlad , which protects the piece as well as encouraging additional adoration through decoration.
Icon of the Virgin of Tenderness
Russian. Late 19th Century
The Virgin and Child are represented here with their cheeks pressed together, and Jesus is nestled in the embrace of His mother's right arm. This position is that of the Virgin of Tenderness (Eleusa in Greek or Umileniye in Russian). This image may be intended as a copy of the famous icon Our Lady of Vladimir and closely copies the Byzantine style of the original. Mary is shown in blue and her maphorion is detailed in gold. Inscriptions identify her as Maria Theotokos.
The figures shown on the frame are most likely the patron saints of the family to whom the icon belonged. The apostle Peter is shown at bottom left, St. Agnes is shown at top right. St. Stephanida is depicted at the bottom right, and the guardian angel at the top left could possibly be meant for an unborn child.
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This page has been researched and compiled by Jason Brock, with additional research provided by the original exhibition catalog text by Stephanie McCabe, Christy Allbee, and Janine Confer.