Temple Gallery

Established 1959

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

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SS001. Virgin and Child 'Our Lady of Igor'

Moscow School
early 15th century
26.2 x 19.2 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial
Inscription: MP ΘΥ, ‘Mother of God’

Provenance:  English private collection, acquired in Athens, 1960

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The iconography of 'Our Lady of Igor' is historically linked to the 12th century and to Prince Igor Olegovich of Chernigov and Novgorod-Seversky. As Alexi Lidov points out, Prince Igor's ascent to the Kievan throne in 1146 'triggered off popular unrest, and the citizens called Izyaslav Mstislavich to reign[1]'. Igor then took monastic vows and went to the St Theodore monastery in Kiev. He was eventually martyred. But before his death he 'prayed before his cell-icon which later came to be known as Our Lady of Igor and earned the reputation of miracle-working.'[2]

The image is a reduced version of the Vladimir iconography, where the Virgin holds the child in an intimate embrace with cheeks touching (see Fig's a & b). The reduced size indicates that it is intended for private prayer and contemplation in a monastic cell.

Fig. a. Virgin of Tenderness (Vladimir), late 14th, early 15th c. Cathedral of the Annunciation, Moscow.

Our example shows the influence of Rublyov's Virgin of Vladimir (Fig. b), especially in the detail of Mary who does not look at the viewer, nor directly at Christ, but is 'profoundly absorbed in inner prayer'.[3] If we compare Rublyov's icon, and our example, with Fig. a, we can see the difference between a more external look and an inward gaze. This deep sense of inwardness connects our icon to 15th century Moscow, a period of icon-painting that Engelina Smirnova calls 'of deep inward calm,' reflecting the 'outstanding features of Russian Spirituality'.[4]

Fig. b. Rublyov, Virgin of Vladimir, early 15th c. Suzdal

The technique in our icon differs from Rublyov's method of delicate shading and is closer to the Byzantine style of the 14th century, with its concentrated lighting, emphatic use of assist (light reflexes in parallel strokes of gold or white), and layers of light ochre over a darker olive tone. In this sense, the icon can be compared to other works painted in Moscow in the early 15th century. For example, a Vladimir type in the Tretyakov Gallery (Fig. c), an icon of the Virgin of Tenderness (Fig. d), and another Vladimir Virgin in a private collection (Fig. e).

Fig. c. Moscow, early 15th c. Tretyakov Gallery Fig. d. Moscow, 15th c. Russian Museum, St . Petersburg

Fig. e. Virgin of Vladimir, Moscow. Temple Gallery (2013, unpublished)

Writing about the example in the Russian Museum (Fig. d), Tatiana Vilinbakhova notes an influence of the Byzantine style: 'The use of pure white is restricted and is usually laid over the lighter parts of the form, such as around the eyes, in fan shaped brush strokes which evoke the methods of the Byzantine masters of the second half of the 14th century.'[5] As we can see in the details below, all of these icons use this technique. Nevertheless, these works have less plasticity in the formation of the faces than the purely Byzantine style, such as we see in Fig. f, creating a softer atmosphere. A specific detail prevalent in early 15th century Russian icons is the circular globule of white at the tip of the noses, as we see in Christ's nose in Fig's. c, e, and in our version (see details below).

Fig. c Tretyakov Gallery (detail) Temple Gallery SS001 detail

Fig. d. Russian Museum (detail) Fig. e. detail.

As mentioned above, the size of our icon indicates that it was created for private prayer. The use of light in these works can be seen as a visual description of the 'inner light' associated with hesychasm, a form of private prayer that had an immense impact on icons, especially in Byzantium in the fourteenth century (mainly due to the writings of Gregory Palamas, 1296-1357) and then in Russia in the 15th century, particularly in Moscow, as Smirnova argues, 'Moscow icons of the late 14th and 15th centuries show undeniable parallels with the ideals of the hesychasts.'[6] Vilinbakhova adds in her description that light used in this fashion is 'to communicate the inner luminosity of transfigured flesh.'[7] If we compare our version with a 16th century version (fig. g), we can see how the latter work lacks the depth, transparency and luminosity of our example. The light is duller, while the eyes are rendered in a more prosaic manner.

Temple Gallery SS001 detail Detail of fig. g

Thus the basic principle of hesychasm is to turn the mind inward to experience the uncreated light of God - a light associated with the radiance of Christ's transfiguration on Mount Tabor. The light thus has the power to transfigure the earthly realm of matter.[8] Our icon is great example of how these ideas were visually manifested in 15th century Russian icon-painting.

Fig. f. Virgin (detail), Byzantine, 14th c. Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos.

Fig. g. Our Lady of Igor, Moscow School, 16th c. Tretyakov Gallery

1. Alexi Lidov, The Miraculous Image: Icons of Our Lady in the Tretyakov Gallery, (Moscow, 2001), p. 46
2. Ibid.
3. The Icon Collection in the Tretyakov Gallery, (Moscow, ScanRus, 2006), p.198
4. Moscow Icon Painting from the 14th to the 16th century' in The Art of Holy Russia, (London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1998), p. 45
5. In Roderick Grierson [ed.], Gates of Mystery: The Art of Holy Russia, (Texas, IntraCultura, 1994), p. 233
6. Smirnova, 'Moscow Icon Painting from the 14th to the 16th century' in The Art of Holy Russia, (London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1998), p.46
7. Grierson [ed.], Gates of Mystery, p. 233
8. For more information, see Richard Temple, Icons and the Mystical Origins of Christianity, and, Andreas Andreopoulos' chapter 'Influences of Hesychasm' in Metamorphosis: The Transfiguration in Byzantine Theology and Iconography, (New York, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2005), p.209-235

Detail Images