Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Virgin and Child - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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YY003. Virgin Hodegetria, centre panel of a triptych

17th/18th century
28.5 x 17.7 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

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The Virgin, shown in half-length and dressed in a brown maphorion, holds the Christ-child in her left arm. With her right hand she directs the viewer towards the figure of Christ (the meaning of the Greek title, Hodegetria, ‘She who shows the way’). Her gaze is out towards the viewer of the icon. As Christ sits in the Virgin’s embrace, he blesses with his right hand and holds a scroll with his left. He wears a blue chiton with a golden himation and gazes contemplatively into the middle distance.

This is the centre of what was once a triptych (see below for examples of how it would have looked in its complete state), showing the Virgin holding the Christ-child. Triptychs painted on panels of Beech or Alder were common in many Slavic countries across the Balkans and especially in Bulgaria, where this panel was created.[1] Based on the research of Dr Yuri Pyatnitsky, who has studied similar triptychs at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (see fig. a and b), we can broadly date this icon to the 17th-18th century.[2]

Fig. a. Triptych with the Mother of God Hodegetria and Saints, Bulgarian, 17th-18th century. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

Fig. b. Triptych with the Virgin of the Sign and Saints, Bulgarian, 17th-18th century. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

These icons are painted in the style that Pyatnitsky calls 'folk primitivism' and have a warm, natural feel that is typical of Bulgarian icon-painting in this period with rich earth colours, bold forms and simple design.

1. Y.Pyatnitsky in Athos: Monastic Life on the Holy Mountain, (Helsinki, Helsinki City Art Museum, 2005), p. 238
2. Ibid.