Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Triptych with Virgin And Child - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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YY004. Triptych with Virgin and Child (The Virgin of the Unfading Rose), Archangel Michael, Saint Basil the Great, Saint George and Saint Demetrios

Circa 1800
30 x 35 cm (extended)Click here to convert metric size to imperial

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In the centre panel the Virgin is shown half-length with a full-length depiction of the Christ child. Mary is clothed in the ornamented dress of a noble woman and wears a crown. As in the Hodegetria typology, she gestures towards Christ, who stands on a celestial cloud wearing the garments of a High Priest or emperor and holding an orb in his right hand which symbolises his spiritual power over the world and a sealed scroll in his left. The wing to our left shows at top a half-length depiction of the Archangel Michael dressed as a warrior saint and holding a sword in his right hand and a signet with Jesus’ initials in his left hand. Below him St George is riding his white horse and killing the dragon. To the top right we see a half-length depiction of St Basil dressed as a bishop. He blesses the viewer with his right hand and holds a closed Gospel with his left. Directly beneath him we see St Demetrios on a red horse slaying the King of the Infidels.

Triptychs painted on panels of Beech or Alder were common in many Slavic countries across the Balkans and especially in Bulgaria, where this example was created. The research of Dr Yuri Pyatnitsky at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg reveals that icons of this type were created between the 17th and 19th centuries in Bulgaria. These works are painted in a style that Pyatnitsky calls 'folk primitivism', and have a warm, natural feel with rich, earth colours, bold forms and simple design.[1] Because of the manner in which the garments have been painted in the current example, we can date this triptych to around the 18th-19th century.

The central panel of this triptych is known as 'The Virgin of the Unfading Rose', an iconography that is of Greek origin, but which became popular in Bulgaria in the 18th century.[2] Mary is clothed in the ornamented dress of a noble woman and wears a crown. In most variants she holds a rose in her right hand, but here she gestures towards Christ. According to Pyatnitsky this iconography was 'inspired by the words of the Akathistos Hymn written by St Joseph the Hymnographer (816-886)', which includes relevant verses, such as: 'Rejoice, only one who gave birth to the rose that does not wither...'[3]

A similar icon with the same subject can be seen at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (see fig. a), while another comparable icon (fig. b) was in a previous Temple Gallery exhibition.

Fig. a. Virgin of the Unfading Rose, Bulgarian, 19th century. State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

Fig. b. Virgin of the Unfading Rose, Bulgarian, 18th century, Temple Gallery, 2009, ZO31

1. Y.Pyatnitsky in Athos: Monastic Life on the Holy Mountain, (Helsinki, Helsinki City Art Museum, 2005), p. 238
2. Ibid. p. 258
3. Ibid. p. 258