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Sacred Image of the Holy Virgin Theotokos in Belarusian Icon-Painting of the 17th–19th Centuries.

On 4 May 2012 Polotsk Art Gallery held a solemn opening ceremony of the exhibition “Sacred Image of the Holy Virgin Theotokos in Belarusian Icon-Painting of the 17th–19th Centuries”.

The exhibition presents 32 works from the collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus referring to Belarusian iconography of the Virgin are exhibited. The majority of the icons belong to the Orthodox tradition; only three of them – icons of the Virgin of Krakow, of Boroon and of the Snow – have been painted in compliance with Italian iconography traditions, and not that of Byzantine. Besides Belarusian icons, the exhibit also includes icons of Russian icon-painting school of the 19th century.

The sacred image of Mother of God, deeply mourning for future sufferings of the Son, is one of the most emotional topics of the Orthodox iconography.

The main type of the Virgin’s image that has become canonical was formed in the 9th century in Byzantium during the after-iconoclasm period. Icons brought to the land of Kievan Rus’ became both worship objects and standards for new iconographic variants. As legends say, Luke the Evangelist painted first icons of the Virgin. This is Hodegetria (from Greek – The Way Guide), Tenderness and perhaps image of St Maria without the Baby. Historical evidence for this event is traced back to the 6th century. Byzantine historian Theodore the Stoudite described the event when empress Eudocia, wife of emperor Theodosius the Junior, sent the icon of the Virgin painted by Luke the Evangelist to her husband’s sister Pulheria, that was later canonized, from Jerusalem to Constantinople in 450 AD.

The most wide-spread image of the Virgin received name Hodegetria from the name of a Constantinople church – Theos Odigos (The Church of Leaders) where military leaders prayed before a battle. The Virgin is depicted with the Baby in her left arm. The Baby gives his blessing with his right hand and holds a scroll in his left hand.

Later iconographic variants received their names in compliance with their appearance or wonder-working places: of Khazan, of Krakow, of Minsk, of Zhirovichi, of Boroon etc. Half-length image of Maria with the Baby in her right arm is called Panagia Dexa (from Greek – Panhagia). Icons of Pochayevo, of Jerusalem, of the Rocks, and icons on the exhibition Three-Handed Virgin and Our Lady of St. Theodore belong to this type.

Iconographic type Eleusa (from Greek – Pardoning) was formed in Byzantine in the 11th century. It depicts the Virgin with the Baby pressed against her cheek. The exhibition example is the Virgin of Zhirovichi, 1751. In addition, images of the Virgin in complex compositions are exhibited: The Virgin Life-Giving Spring, the Virgin Joy of all who Sorrow and the Virgin of Bogoliubovo where iconographic prototype exist in a veiled form. Many Belarusian icons illustrate the main events of the Virgin’s life: Kissing of Ioakim and Anne. The Annunciation to Anne; the Nativity of the Virgin; the Candlemas, and the Annunciation etc., corresponding to the Twelve Great Feasts. Some topics repetition allows comparison of various art and composition methods used by icon-painters, their use of Byzantine or West European traditions, a degree of compliance to the canon.

Belarusian masters often used engravings as iconographic models what can be seen in festival tier works of 1642–1649: The Nativity of Christ, The Worship of the Wise Men, The Holy Family etc. Gilding and silvering played a significant role in Belarusian painting of middle of and the second half of the 18th century. A gilded ornamented background (moulded, fretted) was often used in icons; picturesque clothes were covered with gilded, silvered chased setting. Setting was made both from metal and wood with its further treatment. They were decorated with vegetation ornaments depicting flowers and leaves.

The ornament character changed in compliance with stylistic peculiarities of the work. It gives us an opportunity to date them in many cases. A metal chased baroque setting of icon The Virgin Hodegetria of the 17th century is on the exhibition.

Thanks to systematic work of the Museum restorers, the number of works that broaden our view on Belarussian icon-painting is on a constant increase. New subjects, topics, iconographic variants appear.

Twelve icons revived by restorers are exhibited for the first time. As a result of the restorers’ complicated work, many restored icons received other names, and the Museum iconographic collection has been enriched with sacred images of the Virgin of Krakow, of the Virgin of Boroon, of the Virgin Shcaplernaya, the Seven Arrows Icon that had been absent from the collection and also festival tier icons - The Candlemas, The Descent of the Holy Spirit, The Nativity of the Virgin, The Assumption of the Virgin.

The icons of the Virgin on the exhibition are evidence of her image’s particular importance for Belarussian art culture and the whole Christian world.

The exhibition will run till 16 July.