Mother of God of Jaroslav

 

February 2016

 

 

Anonymous, Mother of God of Jaroslavl, second half of the 15th century, tempered on panel, Moscow, Trat’jakov Gallery

This icon belongs to the collection of Our Lady of Tenderness, evidenced by the faces of the mother and child and the mutual concern between the two.

There are two peculiarities, typical of the icons produced in the outskirts of the Byzantine Empire (Italy, the Balkans, Russia) that accentuates the human characters rather than the solemnity of the icons made in Constantinople, which is evidenced by the hands of the protagonists: the right hand of the child caresses the face of Mary, whilst the left hand of the mother clings to him almost as if she wants to protect him. These two hands that seem to ‘say’ tenderness, complement the other two which relay more or less “support and refuge”: the left hand of Jesus that grips the edge of Mary’s mantle as if to stop from falling and the right hand of Mary that supports and gives security to the child.

The trust and familiarity between the two is emphasised and thus the icon is aptly known as the “Our Lady of Caresses”.

Mary has her hair in a blue pleated cap, typical of married Syrian women, which can be seen under the elegant maphorion, the cape that seems to cover Jesus, whose brightness is amplified by the contrasting dark fabric. And the white of the chitone, the boy’s tunic, together with the golden himation, the cloak fastened securely, connects the figure of Jesus to the gold background of the icon, an obvious symbol of the divinity.  

The positioning of the feet of Jesus is rather peculiar: the right foot resting on top of the left. This is a clear reference to his death: in fact, on the cross Jesus is portrayed with his right foot over the left. Furthermore, according to tradition derived from the Shroud, the right foot of the Saviour stood out because the right leg was slightly longer than the left.

Once again, therefore, we see a series of elements that give testimony to the wealth of symbolism found in the icons and, in observing them, lead us to Mary and, through her, to Jesus.

 

The Archangel was sent from Heaven to cry 'Rejoice!' to the Theotokos. And beholding You, O Lord, taking bodily form, he stood in awe, and with his bodiless voice he cried aloud to her such things as these:

Rejoice, you through whom joy shall shine forth. Rejoice, you whom the curse will vanish.
Rejoice, the Restoration of fallen Adam. Rejoice, the Redemption of the tears of Eve.
Rejoice, O Height beyond human logic. Rejoice, O depth invisible even to the eyes of Angels.
Rejoice, for you are the King's throne. Rejoice, you bear Him, Who bears the universe.
Rejoice, O Star revealing the Sun. Rejoice, O Womb of divine Incarnation.
Rejoice, you through whom creation is renewed. Rejoice, you through whom the Creator is born a Babe.

 

(Akathist Hymn)