Russian icon | Pokrov of the Mother of God

Icon: Pokrov of the Mother of God V-7

Origin :
Russia, Novgorod
Period :
second half 16th century
Size :
30.5 x 24.8 cm
Provenance :
1930’s: Torgsin (Russian company Torgovlia s inostrantsam – Trade with foreigners), Moscow; Mosgostorg Company, No. 2072 (as Novgorod, 16th century) | Private collection, USA

The background of the composition is a Russian orthodox church with three domes. In the upper part the Mother of God is depicted standing on a cloud in the central apse, her hands raised in prayer. Above her Christ appears, making a sign of blessing with both hands, while two angels are holding the Virgin’s protecting veil (Pokrov). To the left, St John the Forerunner and the three church hierarchs turn to the Virgin in prayer. To the right, St Peter, St Paul and St John the Evangelist do the same. Under the Mother of God in the lower register is St Romanos Melodos, standing on an ambo. The byzantine emperor and his wife are standing to the left, and St Andreas Salos ‘the Holy Fool’ and his disciple Epiphanios, the witnesses of the miracle, are standing to the right, accompanied by the patriarch Tarasios.  

The Pokrov icon shows two different events, celebrated on the same day (1st October): the revelation of St Andreas Salos and the miracle of the singer St Romanos Melodos. It is one of the most significant church feasts and was associated with the idea of a united Russia. The composition of the icon is based on the Novgorod variant (there also is a Suzdal version), with the symmetrical architectural background of a domed church and the protective veil supported by angels above the head of the Mother of God.

An interesting detail on our icon is the inclusion of patriarch Tarasios of Constantinople, who is associated with the fight against heresy. As patriarch from 784 to 806, he was the initiator of the 7th Ecumenical Council, which restored the veneration of icons and condemned the iconoclasts. The issue of heresy was among the most important in 16th century Russian (church) politics and the depiction of patriarch Tarasios can be seen as an appeal to the authority of Byzantium, whose spiritual traditions were considered to have been inherited by Russia.  

The miniature like painting and bright colours of the icon as well as the elongated figures in dynamic poses, are typical for small scale Novgorod icon painting of the second half of the 16th century.

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