Russian icon | Virgin ‘In Thee Rejoiceth’

Icon: Virgin ‘In Thee Rejoiceth’ B-6

Northern Russia, Vologda-region, second half 16th century
Carved walrus bone, 9.6 x 7.2 cm

Collection of the last King of Italy, Umberto II of Savoy (1904–1983) and his wife Princess Marie–José of Belgium (1906 – 2001), thence by descent
Morsink Icon Gallery, Amsterdam
ALR Ref. No.: S00153427


Virgin ‘In Thee Rejoiceth’,
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA

Virgin ‘In Thee Rejoiceth’,
Russian Museum, St Petersburg

This rare icon, carved in low relief in walrus bone, illustrates the first words of the hymn “In Thee Rejoice” dedicated to the Mother of God and sung during the liturgy of St Basil the Great. The Mother of God is depicted enthroned in the centre, holding the Chris Child on her lap with both hands, encircled by a large aureole which is surrounded by angels. The author of the hymn, St John of Damascus,  a Byzantine saint of the 8th century who fought against iconoclasm, is shown unfurling a scroll at the foot of the throne. Behind him St John the Forerunner raises his right hand in prayer. The scene is set against the background of the garden of paradise, represented with trees and a large multi-domed church. Below are several groups of saints, raising their hands in prayer and  all glorifying the Holy Virgin. 

The iconography of “In Thee Rejoiceth” emerged towards the end of the 15th century and became widespread during the 16th century. The present miniature carving is very similar to, and might come the same workshop as, a slightly larger plaque with the same subject, now in the collection of the Russian Museum, St Petersburg (formerly in the Bazilevski-collection and until 1930 in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg / see: Roderick Grierson (ed.), Gates of Mystery: the Art of Holy Russia, Cambridge 1992, pp. 272, 273).