Temple Gallery

Established 1959

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

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WW039. Dormition of the Virgin

16th to 17th century
32 x 27.5 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

Provenance:  Private Collection, Denmark

£4,500Click here to convert price to USD or EUR

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In the centre of the icon the Virgin is shown lying on a bier. She is surrounded by the twelve apostles and other saints who mourn her departing. St Paul can be seen on the right-hand side with his hands covered by his pink garment, while St Peter is opposite swinging a censer. Directly above her Christ is shown within a mandorla - symbol of the celestial dimensions. In his arms he holds the soul of the Virgin, which is symbolised by a small baby in swaddling clothes (eidolon). Angels and other saints surround Christ and gaze upon the scene. While a seraphim hovers directly above him (cf. Isaiah 6:2). In Christ's halo is a cruciform as well as the initials 'Ὁ ὢ Ν', which translates from the Greek as 'He who is' and derives from God's response to Moses at Mount Sinai (Exod. 3:14).[1] At the bottom of the scene the non-believer Jephonias, who tried to upend the sacred bier, has his hands cut off by the Archangel Michael. The building on the left represents the Virgin's house, where the scene takes place, while the building on the right the Jerusalem Temple - the destination of the procession.[2]

The narrative of the Dormition isn't mentioned in the Bible but scholars believe it can be traced to the late 4th century.[3]

The current version is a strong example of late 16th or early 17th century icon-painting. It has some stylistic similarities with a version from Moscow dated to the 16th century (fig. a).

Fig. a. Dormition of the Virgin, Moscow, 16th century, private collection, Belgium

1. For an interesting article about the history and meaning of this inscription by Fr. Steven Bigham, 'On The Origin of Ὁ ὬΝ in The Halo of Christ', see:
2. Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004), p. 153-154; see also, Lossky, Ouspensky, The Meaning of Icons, (New York, SVSP, 1989), p. 213; Gregory Palamas, 'A Homily on the Dormition of Our Supremely Pure Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary', published online at:
3. See Stephen J. Shoemaker, 'Epiphanius of Salamis, the Kollyridians, and the Early Dormition Narratives: The Cult of the Virgin in the Fourth Century', in Journal of Early Christian Studies Volume 16, Number 3, Fall 2008, pp. 371-401

Detail Images