Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Three Handed Virgin - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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VV041. 'Three-Handed' Mother of God with Brass Okhlad

19th century
22 x 17.8 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

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The iconography of the Three Handed Virgin first appeared in 8th century Syria at a time when icons were officially banned (iconoclasm). The great Syrian monk and defender of icons, Saint John of Damascus was imprisoned by the caliph of Damascus and had his right hand severed. After praying to the Virgin his hand was miraculously restored whereupon he composed the hymn In Thee Rejoiceth, still sung to this day, and attached a silver hand to an icon of the Mother of God. According to tradition, this icon eventually made its way to the Chilandari on Mount Athos where it became a popular subject for icon-painters (though the icon is more likely a 14th century copy, see fig. a). It later appeared in Russia in the late 17th century, after Patriarch Nikon visited the Chilandari Monastery and brought a copy of the Three Handed Virgin iconography back with him. The type then spread across Russia.[1] In Russian it is translated as Bogorodica Trojeruńćica. As with the version from the Chilandari Monastery, the current version is also covered in a highly decorative silver riza.

Fig. a. Three Handed Virgin, circa 14th century, Chilandari Monastery, Mount Athos

1. Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, (Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004), p. 219

Detail Images