The composition follows that of the great icon painted in Constantinople in the late eleventh century and brought to Russia shortly after since when it has been the chief protector of the Russian people, delivering them from enemies and performing many miracles. (Fig. 1). It characterises the tenderness and loving-kindness (Russian: ‘Oumileinye’) seen in the close embrace of the two figures as opposed to the more formal Hodegetria type where the child is held away from his mother who presents him to the world. The painter of our icon is in the best tradition of the many versions painted throughout the centuries and well expresses the Virgin’s foreknowledge that her son will die for all mankind.
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’.