Icon: Our Lady Hodegetria

Icon: Our Lady Hodegetria
(click image to zoom-in)
Painting, Tempera on panel and gilding, 34.5x29 cm
Origin: Russia, Late 16th century

The Virgin Hodegetria was the Byzantine name for a ceremonial image of the Virgin and the Christ Child. Soldiers made their vows of loyalty before this icon before setting off to battle. According to legend, the very earliest icon of this type was painted by St Luke himself. It was supposed to have been kept in Constantinople and been the most precious holy treasure in the Byzantine Empire.

The depiction of the Virgin Hodegetria appeared in old Russian art in the 12th century but became particularly popular amongst icon painters in the 15th and 16th centuries. After the fall of Byzantium, Muscovite Russia saw herself as the heir to Byzantine culture and holy significance and the Virgin came to be described as the patroness and protectress of the Russian lands. There are various depictions of the Hodegetria but the most ceremonial and severe of these is usually known as the Virgin of Smolensk. This type repeats a Byzantine icon which was formerly kept in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Smolensk.

This example of the Virgin Hodegetria was painted at the end of the 16th century. The Virgin's fine features, the small head of the Child, the elongated proportions and fine working up of the faces indicate that the author was a highly skilled Moscow artist. In terms of iconography the Hodegetria differs from icons known as the Virgin Umilenie in that the Christ Child is shown facing out at the viewer rather than at his mother.

Personage: The Mother of God and Child
Source of entry: 1959
School: Moscow
Theme: The Bible and Christianity

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