Temple Gallery

Established 1959

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

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VV039. Virgin of Vladimir

18th century
31 x 24.2 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

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The composition follows that of the great icon painted in Constantinople in the late eleventh century (fig. a) (for more information, see below). The Virgin's glance varies; sometimes it is down, towards her son, sometimes outwards towards the onlooker, as we find in the current example. The composition, in the embrace of the two figures, characterises tenderness (Russian: 'Oumileinye'). A number of copies of the Vladimirskaya were made in Russia in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Apart from the direction of the look, there is little or no variation in either the colour scheme or the composition. The emotional tone, however, can vary considerably and is achieved through the subtlest alterations. In some examples, through the slightly paler and warmer tonality of the ochre or the almond shaped eyes of the Virgin, the aspect of tenderness is enhanced; whereas in other examples we feel more the Virgin's grave and pensive mood - as in this version.

According to ancient tradition, the original version was painted by St Luke who made a portrait of the Virgin during her lifetime. On seeing it, so the story goes, she said 'In this image is my grace and power' and then quoted Luke's gospel 'All generations shall call me blessed'.

The iconography derives from the Byzantine type known as the eleusa, meaning 'showing mercy'. According to the 12th century Russian Primary Chronicle Povest vremennych let (Tale of Bygone Years), the icon was brought to Kiev from Constantinople in 1131 for Prince Mstislav. Shortly after it was brought to Vladimir in 1151 and then in 1395 to Moscow where it has been the chief palladium of the Russian state ever since, protecting the Russian people, delivering them from enemies and performing many miracles. It was in the Ouspensky Cathedral initially, but is now in the Tretyakov Gallery (fig. a).

Fig. a. Virgin of Vladimir, Byzantine, 11th c. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Detail Images