The canonical Gospels say little about the Holy Virgin’s life, Luke is the only Gospel to describe the scene of the Annunciation. Therefore, the Life of the Mother of God is based on apocryphal sources. In the Protoevangelion of Jacob, the story is narrated by Jacob, the elder son of Joseph and the Virgin Mary. He describes the conception, birth and childhood of the Virgin Mary, and the Annunciation and the Nativity of Christ. These events are contained in the Tale of the Assumption of the Theotokos ascribed to John the Theologian. Translated from the Greek, the Life of the Theotokos, ascribed to Epiphanius, a monk of the St. Callistratus Monastery in Jerusalem, became widespread in Rus in the 14th century. The hagiographic scenes of the Mother of God image first appeared in temple wall paintings and book miniatures.

The icon of the Mother of God with border scenes became widespread in Russian art from the 15th - 16th centuries, such as a 15th century Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God with the hagiographic scenes from the collection of the Novgorod State United Museum. The hagiographic cycle included the scenes preceding the Theotokos’ birth: Joachim’s and Anne’s offerings refused by the priest and the conception (the Meeting at the Golden Gate). One some icons the Virgin Mary’s birth is accompanied by the scene of the feast on the occasion of the Virgin Mary’s birth and her blessing by the priests; the Virgin Mary being fed by the angel and the caressing of Mary. The scene also included the Gospel events associated with the Virgin Mary. Her life cycle ends with an account of the Assumption of the Theotokos, whose versions may include the scenes of the Prayer of the Mother of God on the Mount of Olives and the Announcement of Death to the Virgin.

The most venerated miraculous icons (Our Lady of Vladimir/Tikhvin/Smolensk and others) or deiparous festivals (the Nativity of the Mother of God, the Assumption) were placed on the central panels of the icons.

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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