The Mother of God | Virgin Mary - Antique Russian icons


In Russia, the Eleusa, the Mother of God of Tenderness  or Mother of God of Mercy, also one of the oldest types of icons, found widespread use. It is less common in the Byzantine region, although it was created there. It is a representation of the motherly Mary, who bows toward the child, who gently hugs his cheek against hers. Sometimes the child's left hand is also visible, with his arm around the mother's neck. The face of the Mother of God is filled with sorrow, for she knows the future fate of her child.

The most famous Russian variations of this type are the Vladimirskaya, Korsunskaya and the Tolga Mother of Mercy.


One of the basic types is the Blachernitissa, named after the Blachernae Church in Constantinople. The Mother of God raises her hands to heaven - it is the original prayer posture of Christians - or she stands upright in the so-called double orant/orante gesture - both hands raised in front of her chest, showing the inner surfaces of the hand to the viewer. Our Lady of Blachernae was greatly venerated in Constantinople. According to legend, Andrew, a "fool for Christ", saw in a vision how the Mother of God spread her veil (called Maphorion in Greek) to protect the people. The best-known Russian variant of the icon of the Mother of God is the "Znamenie" (the "Mother of God of the Sign").


Today there are around 300 variants of the icons of the Mother of God. The most important are the Kazanskaya, the Strastnaya and the Otrada.


The Kazanskaya is probably the most common of all the icons of the Mother of God in Russia. The archetype is said to have been found in a well by a little girl from Kazan in 1579 after the Blessed Mother appeared to her in a dream and showed her the place where she should dig. The icons of the Kazanskaya type often show only the head of Mother of God, which bends slightly towards the child; the child appears in half-length with a blessing hand.


Like the Smolenskaya and Tichwinskaya, who are also named after their place of origin, the Kasanskaya varies the widespread type of the Hodigitria, "the guide". The legend reports that the evangelist Luke painted the first Hodigitria icon. It is said to have come to Constantinople in the 5th century and destroyed by the Turks in 1453. The Mother of God Hodigitria shows herself in a sovereign manner and points to her son in front of the people, whom she embraces with one arm.