The Azovskaya icon of the Mother of God was painted in commemoration of the 1735 – 1739 Russo-Turkish war. It depicts the Holy Virgin full length with the Infant Christ sitting on her knees, with his hands raised in a blessing gesture. The Mother of God is featured against a double-headed eagle holding a scepter and orb as the symbols of statehood. The upper part of the icon shows the Lord of Sabaoth and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and is surrounded by the angelic host. To her right and left, in a prayerful pose, stand Sts. Anthony, Theodosius and Alicius of Pechersky (of the caves), Moses Ugrin, Prochorus and Mark Pechersky. Below them is the figure of St. George spearing the Dragon symbolizing the Ottoman Porta; to the right are dismounted and mounted warriors; the lower margin is inscribed with verses. The lower margin depicts liberated towns and Russian fortresses Azov and Kyzykermen on the Azov sea (Kyzykermen was a Turkish fortress on the right bank of the Dnieper, taken by Sheremetyev’s troops in 1695); the very bottom margin bears an inscription that reads “priest Kliment Makaryev painted this icon.” The icon’s iconography is derived from a sketch for an engraving which was kept in the Alexander III Historical Museum until 1914 (now missing) executed “through efforts” of Danila and Jacob Perekrestov and engraved on a copper plate by L. Tarasevich on commission from the deacon F.Shaklovity.

There are waist-length and full-length iconographic variants of the Azovskaya icon. V.Borev, the pre-1917 researcher of the Azovskaya icon, wrote that “the icon was painted some time after the capture of Azov by Shein, with Peter I’s involvement, that is, after 1696. While exploring the icon, I have found on it up to three inscriptions; from under them one can see that the original image of the Theotokos was “waist-length” rather than “full-length” which has led me to believe that the Azovskaya icon of the Mother of God was prayed to every time the Azov was in the limelight… It was only in the second half of the 18th century… that the icon has retained the features as we know them today, that is the icon is dated the 18th century, the times of Empress Catherine II (1763–1796).

According to one version, the Azovskaya icon was created in commemoration of the appearance of the Mother of God during the siege of the Azov fortress and Her patronage of the Azov army. Accounts of the Divine interference are contained in A.S.Orlov’s Fairy-tale of the Azov, now kept in the Azov Archeological and Paleontological Museum. According to the Fairy-tale, a large cloud came from the north, “and the Virgin walked out of the cloud, escorted by many handsome selected youths” that set the Turks flying.

According to the 1829 account, “in 1711, Peter I, while coming back after his victorious campaign in Azov, served a liturgy in the Church of the Intercession. This time, Peter stayed in a house of the local priest, who commemorated this event by painting a “caleographic” icon of the Sign of the Boundless World, i.e. the Azov icon.

The Azovskaya icon of the Mother of God is now located at the State Historical Museum in Moscow. It is still unknown whether it is a copy or the original.

The Azovskaya icon of the Mother of God is commemorated on September 10 (August 28, 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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