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HOME : Russian Icons : Russian Icons : The Mother of God of the Sign
The Mother of God of the Sign - PF.5594
Origin: Russia
Circa: 18 th Century AD to 19 th Century AD
Dimensions: 12" (30.5cm) high x 10.25" (26.0cm) wide
Collection: Russian Icons
Medium: Tempera on Wood

Location: Great Britain
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Russians inherited the tradition of icon painting from Byzantium, where it began as an offshoot of the mosaic and fresco tradition. During the 8th and 9th centuries, the iconoclastic controversy in the Orthodox Church called into question whether religious images were a legitimate practice or sacrilegious idolatry. Although the use of images was in the end permitted, a thorough distinction between profane art intended to depict reality and sacred art designed for spiritual contemplation was established. That difference is one of the reasons that the artistic style of icons can seem so invariant. Certain kinds of balance and harmony became established as reflections of divinity, and as such they invited careful reproduction and subtle refinement rather than striking novelty. Although this philosophy resulted in a comparatively slow evolution of style, icon painting evolved considerably over the centuries. Unlike the pictorial traditions of the west that aspire towards increased realism and naturalism, the essence of Russian icon painting is not about the representation of physical space or appearance.

Icons are images intended to aid in contemplative prayer, and in that sense, are more concerned with conveying meditative harmony than with laying out a realistic scene. They were not painted to please the eye of the mind, but to inspire reflection and self-examination. The Byzantine influence that dominates Russian icon painting is clearly evident. The bold outlines, harsh linearity, and gold background are all characteristic of Byzantine art.

The subject matter, called “Our Lady of the Sign,” depicts Mary as the future Mother of God. She stands, crowned by a luminous halo, holding both hands in the air. An apparition of the Christ child, forming a sign of benediction, covers her torso. Symbolically, this suggests the Lord is contained within her womb. Aesthetically, the circular frame that surrounds the Christ child echoes the curve of her halo and thus unites the two holy figures. This stunning icon brings the devout that much closer to God through the figure of Mary. - (PF.5594)


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