Icon,Vladimir Madonna, Byzantine, Art, Russia, WINIFRED STEPHENS,
The Vladimir Madonna.


by Leonard Wharton

The Theotokos of Vladimir – Vladimirskaya.

The icon of the Blessed Mother of Vladimir (Russian Влади́мирская ико́на Бо́жией Бо́жией Ма́тери Vladimirskaya ikona Boschijei Materi), Vladimirskaya for short, is an icon of the late 11th or early 12th century, a national shrine of Russia and thus one of the most important icons of the entire Russian Orthodoxy.

Iconographically, this representation of the Blessed Mother with the Christ Child belongs to the so-called Eleusa type.

A legend says that this icon is one of three portraits that the evangelist Luke is said to have made of the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child. In the 5th century it is said to have been brought from Jerusalem to Constantinople by order of Emperor Theodosius II. Investigations of the image could not confirm this legend. Rather, the icon is said to have been made in Constantinople in the early 12th century and represents an outstanding example of late Comennian painting.

The icon’s fame is based on legends surrounding the icon’s supposed wonders, which are closely linked to actual historical events in Russian history. Everything is said to have started with the horses that were supposed to bring the icon to Rostov refusing to continue in Vladimir. The icon will be responsible for the foundation of the new capital and a new empire (Grand Duchy of Vladimir). It is said that the icon saved Moscow from Timur’s attack in 1395.

And another two times the icon is said to have saved Russia from extinction: 1451 and 1480. 1480 is particularly important, because while standing at Ugra, the Grand Duchy of Moscow began to strengthen its power under Ivan III – naturally with the help of Vladimirskaya – before Ivan IV the Terrible could finally push back the Golden Horde.


THIS description is strictly limited to a transcription and interpretation of the inscriptions on the various parts of the two sacred pictures, with which Mr. Steele has already dealt in the preceding article. As to the Vladimir Madonna, one may quote the following historical data from the Antiquities of the Russian Empire, published by a special committee in 1849 and after.

The Vladimir Madonna is said to be the original portrait of the Blessed Virgin by the evangelist Saint Luke, and so the parent of the Guilds of St. Luke in Italy and of the Italian school of painting of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

It came from Constantinople to Kiev, the metropolis of the Russian Church. In 1154 it was brought thence to Vladimir on the Klyazma by Prince Andrew, surnamed Bogolyubsky. Tradition says he added much gold and silver and precious stones to its decoration. It got the name of Vladimirskaya from its long stay here, for it was only on August 26, 1395, that Basil, son of Demetrius, brought it to Moscow. It was taken out with the army against Achmet in 1480 (June), and the two days are celebrated with solemn processions of a commemorative character. In 1812 it was taken to Vladimir again for safe keeping, returning to Moscow after the retreat of the Grand Army. The Metropolitan Afanasy “renewed” the picture, i.e. decoration, presumably, in 1566, and there is further evidence of renewal in 1627.

Above the crown of the main figure are two pictures partly covered by jewelry. The one on the left-hand side of the picture (to the reader’s left) has an inscription reading Ristvo Khvo., i.e, Rojdestvo Khristovo, the Nativity.

The uninscribed picture to the right is an Adoration, I think. Each side the head of the Madonna are short inscriptions, reading left and right respectively, M.R. Th.u., i.e. Mary, Mother of God. Underneath the M.R. are the initials I.S. Kh.S., i.e, Jesus Christ. As usual these are in Greek, not Slavonic.

The decoration round the Child’s head has what appear to be the letters O.O.N., the second being the Greek Omega (1). One would have expected A.O.N.- Alpha and Omega.

The edge of the frame has a series of little panels with pictures, whose inscriptions I give below, with a rough indication of the subject of the picture, if necessary. I begin with the top lefthand side and proceed downwards and up to the top right-hand side.
1. Blagovêschenie, i.e. The Annunciation.
2. Uchenenie sty Gdn., i.e, uchinenie svyaty Gospodne. This is not clearly written, and appears to mean: The Lord’s teaching of the Saints.
3. V-znesenie Gne., i.e. Gospodne, The Lord’s Ascension.
4. Raspyatie Gne., i.e. The Crucifixion.
5. Shestvie Stgo Dkh., i.e. Svyatago Dukha, Coming of the Holy Ghost, Pentecost.
6. Preobrajenie Gne., i.e. The Transfiguration. The form of the first three letters is almost unrecognizable.
7. This very badly damaged inscription appears to correspond with the word for meeting, and it seems to be the meeting with the Apostles after the first Easter Day, according to the picture.
8. Vkho Ieralm., i.e, Vkhod Ierusalimi (a, -sky), Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday).
9. Lazorevo Kiki. This is the Raising of Lazarus, though the second word is not really readable properly.
10. Vgoshklenie Gne. This is apparently a miswriting of Bogoyavlenie, the Declaration at the Baptism in Jordan: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Icon, Patriarch, Alexis, Art, Russia, Winifred Stephens,
The Patriarch Alexis.


The St. Alexis from the Tretyakov Collection, Moscow.
The saint faces left, standing on the right side of the picture, holding a book in his left hand. The inscriptions are:
Left, over the small figures at the top left-hand side: Aggli Gdni Is Khs Aggli Gdni, all with contraction signs, i.e, The Angels of the Lord, twice, and, between, the sacred monograms for Jesus Christ.

To right above the main figure ornamentally interlaced and of various sizes: Stuy Alexy Mitropolit Mosk. Chudotvorets: i.e. Saint Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow, Miracle-worker.
Note the Greek spelling of the word for angels.

Russian, Icon, christi, cross,British Museum
Icon in the British Museum, the Department of British and Mediaeval Antiquities.


This icon is exhibited, under normal conditions, among the Early Christian and Byzantine Antiquities in the Department of British and Medieval Antiquities at the British Museum.
It is a specimen of the same type of cross described by Mr. M. Dalton in the Guide to the Early Christian and Byzantine Antiquities in the Department of British and Mediaeval Antiquities (1903). After making my own effort to grasp the manifold details of this most remarkable cross, I checked the details common to Mr. Dalton’s specimen, which, however, is superior in clearness of casting and therefore of lettering.

Whereas the cross above mentioned is merely a cross on a Golgotha, this other now described has a flight of cherubs curved round the top, and above the figure of the Almighty common to both crosses, a plaque of subject similar to those in the Vladimir Madonna, and six others at intervals round the extremities of the cross. For simplicity’s sake I adopt the same procedure and describe the outer panels in the same order as there, viz. from the top down the side to the reader’s left and upon his right. The reproduction will give a fairly adequate idea of the pictorial element with its single colored (blue) enamel.

Number one, at the top, is Vkrnie Khrvo, i.e. Voskresenie Khristovo, the Resurrection of Christ, Easter Day.

Number two, Vkho. Viem., i.e. Vkhod v Ierusalim, the Entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday.

Number three, Ochische Gdne., i.e. Ochischenie Gospodne, an unofficial description of the Feast of the Purification (February 2), known in the Church calendar as Srêtenie Gospoda Nashega Iisusa Khrista, or Srêtenie Gospodne. The ch is made almost like a k.

Number four is a representation of two saints with their names, preceded by Svyataya, Saint, in each case. The second of the two is the familiar Mr. Th. U., i.e. the Blessed Virgin, the other is less obvious. It seems to be P [e] lagiya, i.e, Pelagia, the Martyr.

Number five is a similar case of two saints, with the masculine for saint, svyaty, above each name. They are Ioan and Login, i.e. St. John the Divine and Longinus, the Centurion of the Crucifixion. Their position at the foot of the Cross opposite to the Blessed Virgin is appropriate, but I do not see why St. Pelagia is here, unless it be because her day is May 4, and one Holy Cross Day is May 7.

Number six is rather blurred, but I think I can read (po )slêdnaya ve (chera), i.e. Last Supper. This is certainly what is represented.

Number seven, and last of this outer series, shows: Svit. Gdne., i.e. Svidêtelstvovanie Gospodne, the Lord’s Testimony, i.e, the declaration at the Baptism in Jordan: Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

In the cross proper I will start from the same point and work round in the same direction generally, referring the reader for fuIIer explanations to NIr. Dalton’s description, to which I have already referred.

Under number one, then, is a figure representing the Almighty Father, with the words Gd Sbaoth, i.e. Gospod Sabaoth, Lord of Hosts. Below this is the Dove of the Holy Ghost, and over this Dkh St‘., i.e. Dukh Svyaty, Holy Ghost, with cherubs on each side. Below this is the “title” of the cross.

Below the main crossbeam of the cross and upon the upright beam is the Greek watchword, NIKA, conquer, divided by the body of the Lord.
The foot of the cross is set, below the diagonal crossbeam, in the hill Golgotha, which shows the skull of Adam, the initials for which appear above it, viz. G.A. (Glava Adama), while the initials for Golgotha, G.G., are set each side of the skull. Above G.A. is R.B., under M.L., as in the other example, and with the same meaning. The grouping differs.
The “title” bears the letters INTSL., i.e. Jesus of Nazareth, Tsar of Israel. Slightly above and to right and left of this are the letters Tsr’ Slvy, with the usual contraction marks, meaning Tsar Slavy, King of Glory. Above these words are two others, which I could not read in this case; the other cross has the words Angely Gospodni, Angels of the Lord, in this place.

As to the crossbeam of the cross, here, as in the other cross, are two long inscriptions above and below the arms, and the sacred monograms at the ends of what is really rather a framework round the cross proper. Thus at the ends we have Is. Khs., i.e. Jesus Christ, and the following are the inscriptions. Above, in rather badly cut lines, Raspyatie Gdne ije i Spsa nashego zryaschi perechistaya. There is some uncertainty as to the reading after the first word, and in any case, in thi’s instance as in the much clearer impression of the other cross, the words of the ode, from the Octoechus, being no longer addressed to Our Lord, have an expansion from the mere adjective tvoe, thy, to a fuller form. Expanding the contractions, the words run: Raspyatie Gospodne ije i Spasa (or perhaps spasitele) nashego zryaschi perechistaya, that is, Seeing (looking upon) the crucifixion of Our Lord and also Our Savior, cleansing, etc. The phrase ije i is equivalent to the Latin qui et.

The lower line runs: Krest(u) tvoeyu poklanyayu, vnkh spnyu vopiyu i tvoe slavim, i.e. Krestu tvoeyu poklanyayu, vêrnuikh spaseniyu, vopiyu i (mya) tvoe slavim, which is altered from the words of the Mineya for August 1. It means: I worship Thy Cross, the salvation of believers, I call upon Thy name, I glorify it.

On the back is very scratchily inscribed the following variant of what appears on the back of the other cross, also from the Mineya (Mensæa).
Krta Khranitel vsei vselênnei (k)rt krasota tsrkevnaya krt [ts] J arekh derjava, krt verny (kh )utverjdne krt angglom [sl]ava krt besom yazba, i.e. Cross, preserver of all the world; cross, the beauty of the church; cross, the power of Tsars; cross, the confirmation of the faithful; cross, to angels glory; cross, to devils a plague.

The other cross was assigned by Mr. Dalton to the eighteenth century, and I should incline to put this one early in the nineteenth.

LEONARD C. WHARTON, of the British Museum Library, July 12, 1916.

(1) It appears now rather to be ó ѽv, The Existing, an inscription found in other icons.


THE icon touches the very heart of Russian life. It occupies the place of honor in every living room-the upper angle of the walls; it hangs in every shop or tavern, at the corners of the streets, over gateways or in little roadside chapels, and everywhere receives its meed of reverence. To the Russian peasant the icon is the chief source of his religious instruction, and he follows every detail ‘with real learning and enthusiasm, rejecting like a child any innovation on its old-established form.

The icon is a panel picture of any dimensions from a few square inches to life size, painted in oil or tempera (oil painting’ does not become usual till the eighteenth century), generally on a gold ground, now covered in great measure by a gilt metal sheet leaving apertures for the face and hands, and containing any number of figures from one to thousands. The range of subjects includes all the saints of the Old and New Testament, the Apocrypha, and Greek and Russian hagiography; but once a choice of subject is made, the artist is strictly limited in his treatment by the traditional requirements of its presentation. Sometimes these give a wide scope for details-a lion with an old saint will indicate St. Jerome, for example, but on the other hand some saints can only be distinguished by the height of the opening in their robes. Most icons are now painted in the governments of Vladimir or Kursk.

Russia received the cult of the icon with its Christianity from Byzantium at the end of the tenth century, and the icon has ever remained Byzantine in all the essentials of its art, though profoundly modified by the Russian temperament. The icon stands almost alone in the history of painting: subject is its first essential and its main interest, and the joy of the craftsman in his work is refined from the sensuous to the religious in art. The greatest icon-painters have indeed always been monks, and their painting has been a religious exercise, entered on in a spirit of prayer and fasting; and though now icons are made as a trade, popular opinion demands of the iconopisets a more rigid standard of life than that to which his fellows are bound.

Abundant as are the materials for it, the serious study of the icon is in its infancy, and its influence upon Russian art is almost negligible. Most of the really ancient and celebrated icons can hardly be seen owing to the way in which they are adorned with haloes and collars of gold and jewels (barmy), to which in the middle of the eighteenth century was added a plate of metal (the riza) following the contours of the figure and the costume, and provided with openings through which the face and hands were allowed to show. Study under these circumstances was almost impossible, and an appearance of remote antiquity might be assumed by comparatively modern work. But during the last few years a great revival of interest in the icon has taken place, and many old paintings have been brought to light. The toleration granted to the Old Believers has been one of the principal elements in this revival, for among them many ancient icons had been covered up with a modern subject in order to prevent them from destruction as irregular by the Orthodox, and these surface paintings have now in many cases been removed.

Their new cathedral in Moscow has a great many of these, but they are outshone by the wonderful collection, ranging in date from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries, and covering the whole field of Russian iconography, which has been assembled in the Alexander III. Museum at Petrograd, a collection that every student of the history of European painting must in future include in his pilgrimages, which may well supply the basis for the development of a new movement in art. It will revolutionize accepted ideas on the history of early painting, and what has further to be said about icons must be taken under this reserve.

Icon-painting seems to derive from the portraiture of Egypt, known to us by the portraits of the Fayum. The oldest icons in Russia are two now in the Ecclesiastical Academy of Kiev, which were brought by Bishop Porphyry Uspensky from Sinai; they date from the sixth century, and are painted in encaustic on cloth. The ravages of the iconoclasts in the eighth and ninth centuries have left us few traces of the Byzantine painting of this period, but the renaissance of the ninth and tenth centuries is much better represented. The conversion of Vladimir (989) opened up Russia to the religious art of Byzantium through the medium of the Chersonesus, and artists were brought from thence to decorate the first Christian cathedral at Kiev by that monarch. The name given to early Russian art – Korsunsky – is commonly explained as derived from them.

In due time a school of icon-painting arose at Kiev, of which very little is accurately known. The copy of the Vladimir Virgin in the Cathedral of Rostov is said to have been painted by Alimpi, one of this school; another name preserved is that of Gregory. The cult of the icon must have been widely established by the end of the eleventh century, for the Metropolitan John II. (1080-89) ordered that all ancient icons should be restored. With the decay of Kiev, Vladimir and Suzdal came into importance, and it is not unlikely that some distinctive characteristics of these schools may yet be brought to light.

Novgorod, the northern rival of Kiev, expanded from a little free city to a large empire reaching from the Baltic to the Volga and northward to the Arctic Ocean. As it grew in wealth and influence an independent art grew up with it, characterized by severity of line and simplicity of style. Its icons are painted in tempera, the faces and hands white, now turned yellow by age, the dress in two colors, the ground a grayish white. The names of several artists of this school during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are known, though much of their surviving work is anonymous. The school decays with the end of the seventeenth century.

The Tatar invasion destroyed much of the growing civilization of Russia-the architecture of Vladimir, and the painting of Suzdal, Vladimir, and Kiev-and hindered the development of Novgorod; but as the successive waves of invasion fell back, and Moscow emerged as the principal centre of Russian life, a new school of icon-painting came to be recognized. It is marked by a certain gracious gravity, in which perhaps the individual is sunk in the typical, while the whole is beautiful and harmonious. Later on the work of the school becomes more studied, though luminous and distinct. Influenced perhaps by Italian painters, the icons were crowded by small figures, or broken up into many compartments, each telling some adventure of the hero-saint. Closely allied with the Moscow school is that of the Strogonov family, which from the sixteenth century devoted itself to church building and decoration. The Strogonov school, if school it is, is much more formal: the features are long and thin, the skin is dark green, the coloring clear. The most famous icon-painter of the Moscow school was Andrei Rublev, who died about 1430, the Fra Angelico of Russian art, and, like him, beatified. A Virgin by him is in the Troitsa Lavra, and another, of which a part is certainly from his hand, is in the Petrograd collection. The great Moscow painter of the seventeenth century is Simon Ushakov, who died in 1686.

As has been already remarked, the icon shows a steady progress towards complexity: the early ones are simple, nearly always single figures, devoid of complicated backgrounds. As time passes and the legend grows the action becomes more complicated, the background fills, and minor incidents take a place in the scheme. The series of icons of St. George or of St. Nicolas, for example, in the Petrograd collection are admirable examples of this tendency.

The favorite icons in Russia are those of the Virgin, of our Lord, or of Elias, Abraham and the three Angels, St. Nicolas, St. George, patron of the army and of Moscow, St. Drnitry, Saints Boris and Gleb, or of the sainted patriarchs of the Russian Church, though every trade and occupation has its patron saint St. Panteleimon, for example, who is the patron of doctors because he healed all comers at any time without fee or reward. A certain number of celebrated icons are miracle-working, such as the Vladimir Virgin in the Uspensky Cathedral at Moscow, and copies of these are held in especial devotion.

There are many other chudotvorny or wonder – working pictures, perhaps the most famous being the Iberian Virgin housed in a chapel at the gate of the inner city of Moscow, copies of which are known by the bleeding scar on the right cheek, caused by a Tatar. This picture is taken, from time to time, drawn in a carriage with six horses, to the sick-bed of wealthy Moscovites, and its chapel is always filled with a reverent crowd.

The icons of the Virgin are classified in several ways. Schlumberger gives a list of sixteen names of the Byzantine poses-some of them still in use, as the Hodegetria, in which the Virgin, holding her right hand to her breast, supports the Child sitting upright on her left arm. The Infant has its right hand outstretched in benediction, while its left holds a book or scroll. The more common way of naming the icons is from their place of origin. The Vladimir Virgin holds her Child on the right hand, cheek to cheek, her left hand touches the arm of the Child, whose right arm is stretched out. The Smolensk Virgin, traditionally painted, like the Vladimir Virgin, by Saint Luke, is first mentioned in 1046, and it, with the Murom Virgin of the beginning of the twelfth century, are of the Hodegetria type. The Kazan Virgin, found in Kazan in 1579, moved to Moscow in 1612, and to the Kazan Cathedral at Petro grad in 1710, is a variant of this type. The head of the Virgin is inclined to the right, the Child is upright on her left arm, His right hand and arm half raised in benediction. Other variants are the Strastnaya or Virgin of the Passion, where two Angels are seen bearing the instruments of the Passion, the Mlekopitatelnitsa where the Mother feeds her Child, and the Umileniya or affectionate. Some famous icons of this type are the Igor Virgin of the twelfth century and the Kostroma Virgin, first mentioned in 1239. The Novgorod Virgin (1069) and the Kursk (1295) are of the Blachernilissa type.

Even in war these icons play their part. The Smolensk Virgin was taken to the headquarters of the Russian Army before the battle of Borodino, and only this year the Vladimir Virgin was brought to the Imperial field headquarters before the great movement began. The last time it left Moscow was in 1812, to return to Vladimir during the French invasion.

The icon of the Archbishop Alexis, which is reproduced from one in the Tretyakov Museum at Moscow, was painted in the seventeenth century by an artist of northern education. Alexis was Metropolitan of Kiev and died in 1378: he is one of the patron saints of Lithuania.



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