Temple Gallery

Established 1959

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

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VV042. Virgin of the Sign

19th century
30.5 x 25 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

£1,250Click here to convert price to USD or EUR

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The image of the Virgin with hands raised in prayer is one of the oldest in Christian art; examples are found on sarcophagi dating from the 3rd century. The Latin term is ‘orans’ (literally meaning ‘praying’) and was common to both Pagans and Christian in Roman times. St Basil the Great, writing in the 4th century, gave the Greek term ‘Platytera’ (‘Wider than Heaven’) to an image of the Virgin in the orans posture with a medallion of Christ at her breast. This term was used throughout Byzantium and Greeks still use it today.

Since the 14th century Russian churches place the image at the centre of the upper row on the icon screen (iconostasis) where the virgin is flanked by Old Testament prophets. This refers to the prophecies, particularly that of Isaiah: “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and this shall be a sign unto you.” Consequently the icon is known in Russia as “Znamenie” (‘of the Sign’). Lossky expands upon this by writing that the ‘Sign is the image of the Divine Incarnation, of the revelation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the manifestation of the Son of God through His human nature received from the Mother of God.’

The icon was especially venerated in the ancient Grand Principality of Novgorod in Northern Russia, where an icon of the Sign, painted in the 14th century, was venerated for its many miracles, including the defeat of enemy armies. That image was kept in the Novgorod Museum until its recent transfer to the Sophia Cathedral.

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