When the enemies attacked Constantinople, the citizens would hold a cross procession on the city walls carrying the Christian sanctities and reading out the Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God. The Akathist hymn, created in the early 6th century by St. Romanus the Melodist, was complemented by a new introduction in honor of the miraculous salvation of Constantinople from the conquest of the Persians and Avars, which, as the Byzantines believed, occurred through the intervention of the Theotokos. The hymn was consequently complemented by the recollections of the miraculous salvation of Constantinople from the Arabs under Emperor Constantine Pogonatus and from the 717 AD siege under Emperor Leon Isaurus, when the “honest cross” and wonderworking icon of the Mother of God Hodegetria were carried atop the city walls. The Feast of the Laudation to the Mother of God was set in memory of multiple victories won through the miraculous intervention of the Theotokos. The feast iconography is based on the words: “Свыше пророцы тя предвозвестиша, Отроковице: стамну, жезл, скрижаль, кивот, свещник, трапезу, гору несекомую, златую кадильницу и скинию, дверь непроходимую, палату, и лествицу, и престол Царев.”

The major theme of the composition is the laudation of the Mother of God who gave birth to the God of the Word, predicted by the Old Testament Prophets. In the center of the composition is the Mother of God sitting on a throne. Above her is Christ Emmanuel giving a blessing; his figure is surrounded by vine branches (this motif is derived from symbolic images of the Genealogy of Jesus). Some icons lack the vine motif – the Mother of God is sitting on a throne surrounded by prophets. On either side of the Mother of God are the prophets Gedeon, Daniel, Zechariah, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Habbakuk and the forefather Jacob. Some icons, on the bottom field, feature the kneeling Magi Balaam, who also prophesied the embodiment of the Son of God. The prophets hold scrolls prophesying the coming of the Savior. Some of the prophets are shown holding symbolic attributes – the prototypes of the Mother of God: Gideon is depicted holding sheep fleece, Moses holds the Unburnt Bush, Daniel is depicted with a mountain, David with a tabernacle and Solomon with a church.

The iconography of the Laudation of the Mother of God had developed in Russian art by the mid-15th century. The earliest known image of the Laudation of the Mother of God in Russian tradition is an icon of the Laudation of the Mother of God with the Akathist from the Assumption Cathedral at the Moscow Kremlin, painted by a Greek master in the last third of the 14th century.

The feast of the Laudation of the Holy Mother of God is celebrated by the Orthodox Church on the fifth Saturday of Lent. The feast is also known as Akathist Saturday as it is chanted at Matins.

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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