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Early 19th C. Russian Icon - Mother of God Theotokos

Eastern Europe, Russia, ca. early 19th century CE. Painted in egg tempera and gold leaf on linen on wood, a striking icon depicting the Mother of God (Theotokos) as the Virgin Hodegetria. According to legend, this icon restored the eyesight of two blind men – hence, the name Hodegetria meaning, “She who gives sight” or “shows the way”. The Virgin holds the Child in her left hand and points toward him with her right, directing the attention of worshippers. The triple, star-shaped cross adorning Mary's shoulders and head is an ancient symbol of virginity (the three stars referring to before, during, and after delivery). The baby Jesus, dressed in a regal himation, gives the benediction while facing his mother (an gesture of honor), and holds the scroll of the Law in the other. To the left is an archangel; to the right probably a patron saint of the people who commissioned the painting. Size: 9.25" W x 10.5" H (23.5 cm x 26.7 cm)

The rolled scroll was an ancient Roman device used when the emperor would designate his ambassadors and governors by giving them a donatus, a scroll indicating that they spoke with his authority. Provincial governors and governmental officials often commissioned statues of themselves with the donatus in hand. This element of Roman iconography found its way into Christian use to express other ideas, as it was essentially neutral in religious values. In this icon, the scroll in Jesus' grasp indicates that Christ has the authority from God the Father to speak on his behalf.

The Hodegetria is an icon that arrived in Constantinople from Jerusalem where the sister-in-law of Emperor Theodosius II found it in the 5th century CE. Hidden from the iconoclasts in a wall at the Hodegon Monastery, it was later carried to the city walls when Constantinople was under siege and became a palladium protecting the capital.

Saint Luke is also known as Luke the Painter, because as the author of the “Gospel of Jesus’s Childhood” he is believed to have been the first artist to portray the Theotokos - Mary with the Christ Child image. This understanding is based upon ancient icons from Thebes and Antioch attributed to the evangelist, later transferred to Russia and Constantinople. As the first to paint the Theotokos (Mother of God), Luke’s icons include the Hodegetria of the Constantinople Church of the Blachernae, which legend tells us restored the eyesight of two blind men – hence, the name Hodegetria meaning, “She who gives sight” or “shows the way” – as well as the Virgin of Smolensk, a prototype for numerous Marian icons that came to Russia in the 12th century.

Condition: Expected surface wear with pigment and gilt losses as shown, but overall the imagery is still vivid. A few small nicks to peripheries, here and there across the composition. Painting shows nice areas of craquelure. Verso shows craquelure and losses as well. With some restoration, this icon would be a star in your collection; priced under value to make that possible.

Provenance: ex-Francis & Lilly Robicsek Collection, Charlotte, North Carolina USA

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