Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Virgin of the Unfading Rose - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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WW018. Virgin of the Unfading Rose

Bulgarian (centre panel from a triptych)
19th century
31 x 18.5 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

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The Virgin is shown in half-length holding the Christ-child, who stands on a celestial cloud dressed in the vestments of a High Priest and holding an orb in his right hand. The Virgin is also wearing a crown. The Archangel's Gabriel and Michael hover in clouds around her crown.

Triptychs painted on panels of Beech or Alder were common in many Slavic countries across the Balkans and especially in Bulgaria, where this example was created. The research of Dr Yuri Pyatnitsky at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg reveals that icons of this type were created between the 17th and 19th centuries in Bulgaria. These works are painted in a style that Pyatnitsky calls 'folk primitivism', and have a warm, natural feel with rich, earth colours, bold forms and simple design.[1] Because of the manner in which the garments have been painted in the current example, we can date this triptych to the 19th century.

The typology here is known as 'The Virgin of the Unfading Rose', an iconography that is of Greek origin but which became popular in Bulgaria in the 18th century.[2] Mary is clothed in the ornamented dress of a noble woman and wears a crown. In most variants she holds a rose in her right hand, but here she gestures towards Christ, who stands next to her clothed in the garments of a High Priest or emperor. He is holding a scroll in his left hand and an orb in his right, which symbolises his spiritual power over the world. According to Pyatnitsky this iconography was 'inspired by the words of the Akathistos Hymn written by St Joseph the Hymnographer (816-886)', which includes relevant verses, such as: 'Rejoice, only one who gave birth to the rose that does not wither...'[3]

A similar icon with the same subject can be seen at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (see fig. a).

Fig. a. Virgin of the Unfading Rose, Bulgarian, 19th century. State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

1. Y. Pyatnitsky in Athos: Monastic Life on the Holy Mountain, (Helsinki, Helsinki City Art Museum, 2005), p. 238
2. Ibid. p. 258
3. Ibid. p. 258

Detail Images