Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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5 / Cosmology and Belief

Icon of the Virgin of Vladimir
Icon of the Virgin of Vladimir
Artist / Origin Moscow School
Date Late 17th century
Material Gold leaf and tempera on panel
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 12 in. (30.5 cm.), W: 10 5/8 in. (27 cm).
Location Private Collection
Credit Courtesy of Mark Gallery, UK/ Bridgeman Art Library

expert perspective

Jane Ashton SharpAssociate Professor of Art History, Rutgers University
Larry SilverProfessor of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania

Icon of the Virgin of Vladimir

» Moscow School

expert perspective

Larry Silver Larry Silver Professor of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania

The icon is a fabulous example of the way visual imagery can be an instrumental part of faith, especially if you go into an Orthodox church and see people literally kissing a picture that was made by a human, but which is really meant to be a kind of medium through which that human communicates with the figure represented.

Or, in the same church, if you see certain, especially venerated, icons almost literally covered, except for the edges of their features, by silver or gold that frames them, you see the emotional and literally physical relationship that people have with such works. So icons are a particular poignant aspect. Indeed, one of the conventions of icons is that a painter never signs his name. It’s only in the very last centuries of the Byzantine Empire people like El Greco started finally to put their names on their works of art that we call icons.

Repetition is so important in icon painting precisely because once a particular image either had a kind of famous association with the actual form of the Virgin or of the Christ, the holy face of Christ from the miraculous appearance on a cloth or some other source like the shroud of Turin. The repetition of that likeness became essential, It wasn’t the brushwork or the color harmonies or any of the other manufacturing surface details of creativity, of an individual that was at stake. It was the likeness. And so once a likeness becomes a famous image venerated at a famous place, whether St. Peter’s or Constantinople, that image and its replication became the real medium to the figures who are depicted. So creativity wasn’t involved at all, at least not initially.” 


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