According to legend, the first icon of the Merciful Mother of God of Kykkos was painted by the Evangelist Luke for Egyptian Christians during the Theotokos’ lifetime. For a long time the holy image remained in Egypt and was later transferred to Constantinople and housed in an imperial palace. After the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comenus I (1081 – 1118) was miraculously healed, the Mother of God appeared to him in a dream and told him to send the miraculous icon to Cyprus. The emperor ordered to have an exact copy of the icon made and sent the original to Cyprus, in full compliance with the Theotokos’ command. The Cyprian monk Esaias founded a monastery in the name of the Mother of God Eleousa on Mount Kykkos, from which the icon takes its name. The icon remains in the monastery up to this day. According to tradition, the Byzantine emperor ordered that the icon be hidden under a protective covering so that no one would see the faces of the Mother of God and the Infant Christ. For centuries, the icon has been hidden by the coverlet which even top hierarchs don’t dare to lift.

The Kykkos icon features a half-length image of the Mother of God, a special iconographic variant of the Tenderness – the Playful Child. The Infant Christ is sitting on the Theotokos’ arms, with his legs turned to one side and the body and the head to the other. The Infant is swinging his naked legs, sitting on his Mother’s arms. Christ is dressed in a short belted chiton, with sleeves of a white and semi-transparent shirt showing through. Because the icon is hidden under a coverlet, it is impossible to establish the original’s details. This fact explains why the copies of the wonderworking icon are so varied in details: a folded/unfolded scroll, the presence/lack of inscriptions thereon, raised/lowered arm of the Child and the position of his legs. There exist two famous iconographic variants of the Kykkos icon, one with an unfolded scroll and another with a folded one. The scroll is inscribed with a quotation from Isaiah’s prophesy in the Greek or Old Slavonic language “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me.” (Isaiah 61: 1, Luke 4: 18). Hans Belting interprets the Playful Child motif on the Kykkos icon as being associated with the presentation of the Infant Christ in the temple and the image of the Prophet Simeon. He regards the Playful Infant and His willingness to come off onto Simeon’s arms, who is carrying Him as a sacrifice, as a symbol of the Infant Christ’s commitment to walking his self-sacrificial path.

One of the earliest copies of the icon is The Mother of God of Kykkos dating back to the first third of the 12th century, came from the St. Catherine Monastery on Mount Sinai. An iconostasis at the cathedral church of the Kykkos Monastery, to the right of the miraculous image, has an 18th century copy of the holy image. In the 15th – 17th centuries, the Kykkos iconography was spread in many versions around the entire Greek Orient. In Russia, particularly in its southern areas, it appeared in the late 16th – early 17th centuries, obviously under the influence of widespread stories on the Cypriot sanctities. One such copy was painted by Simon Ushakov (1668) for the main iconostasis at the Church of Gregory Neocaesaria on Bolshaya Polyanka in Moscow (now kept at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow). Another famous copy of the Kykkos icon by Simon Ushakov (1675) was located in the Florishchevskaya Pustyn, the Vlarimir Diocese (now the Vladimiro-Suzdal Museum). The icon depicts the Infant Christ seated on the left arm of the Mother of God, mirrorwise to the icon from the Church of Gregory Neocaesaria.

The icon is venerated on November 25 (Novermber 12, O.S.) and January 8 (December 26, O.S.).

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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