Virgin of Vladimir
The Virgin of Vladimir[a] is a 12th-century Byzantine icon depicting the Virgin and Child and an early example of the Eleusa iconographic type. It is one of the most culturally significant and celebrated pieces of art in Russian history. Many consider it a national palladium with several miracles of historical importance to Russia being attributed to the icon. Following its near destruction in the thirteenth century, the work has been restored at least five times.
The icon was painted by an unknown artist most likely in Constantinople. It was sent to Kiev as a gift before being transferred to the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir. It is traditionally said that the icon did not leave the city until 1395, when it was brought to Moscow to protect the city from Tartar invaders, although the historical accuracy of this claim is uncertain. By at least the sixteenth century, it was in the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow where it remained until it was moved to the State Tretyakov Gallery after the Russian Revolution.
It was subject to an ownership dispute in the 1990s between the gallery and Moscow Patriarchate, which ended with its relocation to the Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi. An arrangement was made to operate the institution under thedual status of the house church and museum. The icon remains there today and is only accessible via an underground passage from the state gallery to the church, where liturgies are still held.
The icon is dated to the earlier part of the 12th century, and arrived in Russia around 1131. This is consistent with the account given in the Russian Chronicles. Similar to other high quality Byzantine works of art, it is thought to have been painted in Constantinople. Only the faces are original, with the clothes repainted after suffering damage when a metal cover or riza was placed over them and in a fire in 1195.
At about 1131, the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople sent the icon as a gift to Grand Duke Yuri Dolgorukiy of Kiev. Academic Sona Hoisington attributes this in part to a greater effort by Byzantines to convert and Christianize the Slavic peoples at the time. It was kept in a Vyshgorod nunnery until Yuri's son, Andrey of Bogolyubovo, brought it to Vladimir in 1155. Andrey placed it in his Bogolyubovo residence and built the Assumption Cathedral to legitimize his claim that Vladimir had replaced Kiev as Russia's principal city. In 1169, he plundered Kiev and stole much of its religious artwork including the "Mother of God" icon. The icon was moved to the Assumption Cathedral after its consecration in 1160.
By traditional accounts, the horses transporting the icon stopped near Vladimir, refusing to go further. For many Russians, this was interpreted as a sign that the Theotokos[b] wanted the icon to stay there. The place was named Bogolyubovo, or "the one loved by God". To house the icon, the Assumption Cathedral was built, soon followed by other churches dedicated to the Virgin. However, its presence did not prevent the sack and burning of the city by the Mongols in 1238, when the icon was damaged in the fire. It was restored soon after the event, and again in 1431 and in 1512.
Transfer to Moscow
A legend formed that the icon was painted by Luke the Evangelist from life; the first written account of this story dates back to 1512. The intercession of the Theotokos through the image has also been credited with saving Moscow from Tatar hordes in 1451 and 1480.
The image was brought from Vladimir to Moscow in 1395, during Tamerlane's invasion. The site where the Muscovites met the Vladimir delegation is commemorated by the Sretensky Monastery[c] which is considered to be built where it occurred. However, no archeological evidence supports this claim, and much of the fifteenth-to-sixteenth century church was destroyed after renovations by the Russian Orthodox Church. Vasily I of Moscow spent a night crying over the icon, and Tamerlane's armies retreated the same day. The Muscovites refused to return the icon to Vladimir and placed it in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.
David Miller suggests that the icon was in fact normally still in Vladimir, with some excursions to Moscow until the 1520s. Crediting the icon with saving Moscow in 1395 does not appear in sources until the late 15th century and the full version of the story until accounts of 1512 and then the 1560s. There is less doubt that, by at least the 16th century, the Vladimirskaya was a thing of legend and associated with the growth of Russian national consciousness based on the Muscovite state.
Under the Bolsheviks, the icon came into the possession of the State Tretyakov Gallery. In 1993, it was moved to the Epiphany Cathedral for a Divine Liturgy in the wake of tensions between President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Duma. Though it was damaged during the excursion, it was soon restored and given to the Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi.
The icon is a tempera painting on wood, 106 by 69 centimetres (42 in × 27 in) in size, with the central 78 by 55 centimetres (31 in × 22 in) portion being original and the rest being a later expansion undertaken possibly to accommodate a larger riza. The icon depicts Jesus Christ as a child being held in the arms of his mother, Mary. They embrace cheek to cheek, with the child gazing towards and reaching for Mary. She holds him with one arm and solemnly looks out towards the viewer. The faces and hands are painted with greenish olive sankir, a mix of ochre pigment and soot, and transparent layers of brighter ochre; the child's face is rendered in a lighter shade than the mother's, perhaps to reflect the difference in their age. The child's clothes are painted with dark ochre and gold. The original painting bore the inscription ΜΡ ΘΥ, an abbreviation for 'Mother of God', of which only parts of it still survive.
In its nine centuries of existence, the icon has been restored and overpainted at least five times to deal with damage and deterioration, including a fifteenth century restoration thought to have been led by Andrei Rublev. It is mainly the faces of Mary and Jesus and the gold background above her head that are original twelfth-century paint. In the past, the icon has been covered with several elaborately designed oklad and riza (revetments) which caused damage to the frame. The reverse, which is much less well known, contains an image of Hetoimasia ('prepared throne') and instruments of Christ's Passion that was painted in ca. 14th century (prior to that the reverse side had a painting of an unidentified saint).
Among icons of Virgin Mary with Jesus, Our lady of Vladimir is classed as a Eleusa icon (Russian: Oumilenie), due to the tender attachment between mother and child. Theologians and believers have also commented upon the icons symbology and the religious sentiments it inspires. Contemplating the icon, theologian Henri Nouwen, remarked that the Virgin's eyes glance at neither the child or the viewer but appear to "look inward and outward at once"; that her free hand gestures towards the baby to "open a space for us to approach Jesus without fear"; and, that the child is shown as "a wise man dressed in adult clothes." Literary scholar, S. S. Averintsev interpreted the mix of maternal tenderness and poignant sorrow seen in Mary's expression, as representative of the emotions generated by the events of Nativity and Calvary, respectively. Jesus's bare feet are seen as symbolizing his physical reality; his garments of gold, the Kingdom of Heaven; and the three stars on Mary's dress (one occluded by the child), "her virginity before, during and after her son’s birth."
Its artistic quality has been highly praised. Art historian David Talbot Rice said that "[Our Lady of Vladimir] ...is admitted by all who have seen it to be one of the most outstanding religious paintings of the world." Art historian George Heard Hamilton praises its "craftsmanship and conception", and notes how in its representation of the subject's faces, the icon subtly transitions from its normal use of contour lines to a refined surface texture. It is painted in an artistic style typical for Byzantine art of the period with features including smaller mouths, refined eyes, and elongating Mary's nose. However, by avoiding the use of demarcating line, as became common in later Byzantine art, and by setting up the complex interplay of the mother and child's glances, the icon adds to the illusion of life in the piece. The child's features are reminiscent of classical sculpture, though the artist renders an expression truer to an actual infant's. The expressive and humanistic character of the icon differentiates it from earlier Byzantine art and exemplify the artistic developments seen during the reign of Komnenos dynasty.
In Russian history
The icon is generally considered to be one of the most cherished symbols in Russian history. Academic David Miller has ascribed this to its close connection to Russian national consciousness throughout its existence. Its transfer from Kiev to Vladimir was used by Bogolyubsky to legitimize Vladimir's claim as the new center of government in the Rus'.
Additionally, its intimate association with important Russian historical events gave Our Lady of Vladimir the distinction of being a national palladium. During the Battle of Moscow, Joseph Stalin allegedly had the icon flown around the city as the Germans began to invade.
As a religious icon
Our Lady of Vladimir's veneration is also likely enhanced by the fact that the Theotokos is regarded as the holy protectress of Russia. The venerated image has been used in celebration of coronations of tsars, elections of patriarchs, and other important ceremonies of state. The icon has three feast days held throughout the year in celebration to specific events it is associated with:
- 3 June [O.S. 21 May][d] to celebrate Moscow's protection from Crimean Khan Mehmed Giray in 1521.
- 6 July [O.S. 23 June] for, in 1480, for their victory against Khan Ahmed during the Great Stand on the Ugra River.
- 13 September [O.S. 26 August] to commemorate the Muscovite deliverance from pending invasion by Tamerlane.
Location and display
Our Lady of Vladimir is on display at the Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi. As a result of an agreement between the Tretyakov and Moscow Patriarchate, the church is both an active Russian Orthodox house church and functioning museum. Previously, it there had been a contentious ownership dispute between the two.
In 1997, the Tretyakov completed a full restoration of the church. Security improvements to store and display art were added, and an underground passageway was additionally made to connect it to the State Tretyakov Gallery. In order to house the famous icon, a temperature controlled bulletproof glass case was commissioned. On 7 September 1996, Our Lady of Vladimir was first installed in the special case located within the church, and the next day Patriarch Alexy II consecrated the church. According to Archpriest Nikolai Sokolov, the rector for the church, the case would able to withstand the firing of a Kalashnikov rifle as well as many other potential hazards.
Due to its dual status as both church and museum, visitors are allowed to pray before the icon and divine Liturgies are regularly held on selected days. However, visitors can only enter the church through the Tretyakov Gallery and via the underground passageway.
Copies and influence
Even more than most, the original icon has been repeatedly duplicated for centuries, and many copies also have considerable artistic and religious significance of their own. According to Suzanne Massie, it became a standard for many Russian contemporary depictions of Mary.
- Our Lady of Vladimir Church – a church in St. Petersburg dedicated to the icon
- List of oldest Russian icons
- Also known as Vladimir Mother of God or Our Lady of Vladimir (Russian: Влади́мирская ико́на Бо́жией Ма́тери, Ukrainian: Вишгородська ікона Божої Матері, and the Theotokos of Vladimir (Greek: Θεοτόκος του Βλαντίμιρ)
- Greek for Virgin Mary, literally meaning "Birth-Giver of God"
- "Sretenie" being the Church Slavonic term for "meeting".
- The dates provided are in both old and new style. The canonical dates for the feast days are in old style because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar. See Gregorian calendar § Difference between Gregorian and Julian calendar dates.
- Weitzmann (1982), p. 17.
- Tretyakov Guide (2000), p. 280.
- Runciman (1975), p. 154.
- Miller (1968), p. 658.
- Funk & Wagnalls (2018), database.
- Rice (1946), p. 89.
- Miller (1968), pp. 660–661.
- Hamilton (1983), pp. 107–108.
- Hoisington (2019), database.
- Phillips (2011), database.
- Miller (1968), pp. 658–659.
- Lebedeva (2006), online.
- Miller (1968), p. 663.
- Alekseyenko (2008), online.
- Beliaev (1997), p. 38.
- Evans (2004), p. 165.
- Miller (1968), pp. 659–660.
- Miller (1968), pp. 669–670.
- Averintsev (1994), p. 613.
- Russian Life (1999), p. 8.
- The Economist (1993), pp. 109–110.
- Bakatkina (2017), pp. 8–25.
- TVkultura (2014), online.
- Elkins (1993), database.
- Averintsev (1994), pp. 612–615.
- Nouwen (1985), pp. 387–389.
- Forest (2008), pp. 78–80.
- Nouwen (1985), p. 387.
- Jackson (1995), p. 344.
- Miller (1968), pp. 668–670.
- Bakatkina (2017), p. 45.
- Miller (1968), p. 657.
- OCA (2016), online.
- Tretyakov Guide (2000), pp. 278–280.
- Pravda (2019), online.
- The Economist (1993), database.
- Insight Guides (2016), pp. 99–100.
- Strelchik (2012), online.
- Evans (2004), pp. 164–165.
- Massie (1980), p. 45.
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- Kirdina, N., ed. (1 January 2000). State Tretyakov Gallery (Guidebook) (in French). Translated by Cook, K. M. (2nd rev ed.). Moscow: Avant-Garde. ISBN 978-5863941066. OCLC 54071928. OL 9058828M.
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- Massie, Suzanne (1980). Land of the Firebird: the Beauty of Old Russia. New York City: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671230514.
- Miller, David B. (October 1968). "Legends of the Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir: A Study of the Development of Muscovite National Consciousness". Speculum. Medieval Academy of America. 43 (4): 657–670. doi:10.2307/2855325. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2855325.
- Nouwen, Henri J. M. (11 May 1985). "The Icon of the Virgin of Vladimir: An Invitation to Belong to God". America. America Media. 152 (18): 387–390. ISSN 0002-7049. EBSCOhost 35621166.
- "О чем молятся Владимирской иконе Божией Матери" [About prayer for the Vladimir icon of the Mother of God]. www.ap22.ru (in Russian). Pravda. 3 June 2019. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
- "Our Lady at Rest". Russian Life. Montpelier, Vermont: Russian Information Services, Inc. 42 (5): 8. August–September 1999. ISSN 1066-999X. GALE A58065134.
- Phillips, Peter (25 June 2011). "Band of gold: the historic towns north-east of Moscow give a beautiful glimpse into the dawn of Russian civilisation". Spectator. London: The Spectator Ltd. 316 (9539): 59+. ISSN 0038-6952. GALE A259961864.
- Rice, D. Talbot (April 1946). "The Greek Exhibition at Burlington House". The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. 88 (517): 86–90. ISSN 0951-0788. JSTOR 869212.
- Runciman, Steven (1975). Byzantine Style and Civilization. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0140137545.
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