The icon of Our Lady of Vladimir – The Moscow State Tree was painted by a Moscow nobleman and royal icon-painter Simon (Pimen) Fedorovich Ushakov ( (1626-1686). The icon, one of his famous, was created in 1668 for the Holy Trinity Church at Nikitniki. The authorship is confirmed by an inscription on the icon: «А писал сии образъ его государевъ зографъ Пимин зовомый Симон Ушаковъ» (“The icon was painted by royal icon-painter Pimen, named Simon Ushakov”). Icon dimensions are 105 x 62 cm. The icon is currently located at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

The icon features a history of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church as well as the veneration of the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir during the reign of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. The iconography is based on the concept of Divine patronage of the Russian royal house and the State of Muscovy. The icon is known under various names such as Our Lady of Vladimir – the Patroness of the State of Moscovy, The Planting of the Russian State Tree, The Laudation of the Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir. The icon features the Moscow Kingdom Tree growing out of the Assumption Cathedral at the Moscow Kremlin. At the center, among flowers is a medallion depicting the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir. Prince Ivan Kalita plants a tree at the foot of the Assumption Cathedral while Metropolitan Peter is watering the tree roots from a jar; these historical figures are traditionally associated with the rise of Moscow. Metropolitan Peter is famous for his contribution to the building of the Assumption Cathedral at the Moscow Kremlin where his relics are now buried. On either side of them is the royal family – Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, his wife Maria Ilyinichna, sons Alexei and Feodor. In the upper field, in heavens, is the Savior handing the hovering angels a crown and robe for Alexei Mikhailovich – the heavenly king is crowning the earthly king. The depictions of the saints in the medallions are placed bottom-up, with some deviations from the historical sequence of events. From the tree grow the shoots in the form of vines with leaves, roses and fruits.

The fruits symbolize Russian saints who are depicted in medallions with scroll in hands. The total number of the medallions is 20, by 10 at each side. To the right of the Mother of God icon stand holy hierarchs (metropolitans Jonas, Alexis, Cyprian, Philipp, Photius, patriarchs Job and Philareth) and Russian tsars Fedor Ioannovich, Mikhail Fedorovich, Tsarevich Dimitri, to the left are saint Andronikas of Moscow, Sergius and Nikon of Radonezh, Simon the Silent, Paphnutius of Borovsk, and Moscow fools for God St. Basil the Blessed, Maxim the Blessed and John the Big Cap.

Many researchers note that the icon composition is derived from Serbian icons of the Genealogy of Nemanjic, which, in its turn, is derived from the Genealogy of Jesus. But unlike the above two trees representing genealogy, Simon Ushakov’s icon symbolizes spiritual exploits of the characters depicted. All of them are saints of the Russian land, with the State of Muscovy, or more precisely, the Kremlin being its spiritual and political center.

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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