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The Tikhvin Mother of God, with the Legend of the Icon in 16 border scenes

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The Tikhvin Mother of God, with the Legend of the Icon in 16 border scenes

Antique Russian icon. Third quarter of the 19th century. Icon-painting centers of the Vladimir region.

Size: 35.5 х 31 х 2 cm

Wood (three panels), two incut support boards (now lost), absence of the incut centerpiece, underlying layer of canvas is not visible, gesso, tempera.

The author’s paintwork is in a generally good state, with restoration tonings and insertions on the borders, chafing, fallouts of paint and restoration tonings in the centerpiece.

Diagram of the border scenes:

46 border scenes

  1. The Revelation of the Icon to fishermen on Lake Nevo;
  2. The Appearance of the Icon on the river Oyat and Smolkova Mountain (?);
  3. The Appearance of the Icon on the Pasha River and on Kukov Mount (?);
  4. The Revelation of the Icon on the River Tikhvin. The Icon delivers itself into the hands of the faithful;
  5. The building of the wooden Dormition Church;
  6. The Appearance of the Icon on the other bank of the Tikhvin River. The Miraculous transfer of the wooden church to its new place;
  7. The Revelation of the Mother of God and of Saint Nicholas to Yurysh the Acolyte;
  8. The installment of the iron cross over the church and the fall of a worker from a rooftop;
  9. The miraculous salvation of the Icon during a fire;
  10. The miraculous salvation of the icon during the collapse of the church portico;
  11. Metropolitan Pimen delivers the keys to the church;
  12. The court of the Great Prince prays before the icon;
  13. The Revelation of the Icon in a Fiery Column to Saint Martyrius;
  14. Saint Martyrius raises Prince Ivan from the dead by placing the Tikhvin Icon over his head;
  15. The Icon defends its monastery from the enemy;
  16. Miraculous healings from the Icon in the monastery.

Border scene depictions of the Legend of the Tikhvin Icon make their appearance in Russian icon art in the 16th century.  These religious icon paintings were based on the Tale of the Miracles of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God, which circulated in several variations. According to church tradition, the saint icon made seven appearances and revelations: once on the Ladoga Lake, then over the river Oyat, then on Kukov Mountain, on Kozhel, and finally – on the shores of the river Tikhvinka. It was here that the saint icon finally delivered itself into the hands of the faithful. The spot where the miracle appeared was marked by the construction of a wooden church. When the three domes of the wooden church were complete, the Icon, along with its shrine, miraculously moved to the other bank of the river. A convent was later built around the church, with the saint icon being glorified with a number of miracles and healings.  The wooden complex of the Tikhvin monastery suffered three fires, but each time this saint icon remained unharmed. In the given piece of antique Russian icons, all three fires are depicted by a single border scene (№9). The next religious icon border scene depicts another well-known miracle – the salvation of workers during the collapse of the portico of the stone Dormition Cathedral.

From the 17th century onwards, the cult of the Tikhvin Mother of God rises in popularity, which leads to the expansion of The Tale. The final literary variation was completed in 1658 with the help of the Tikhvin religious icon painter Herodion Sergeev, who was called to Moscow to complete the new Tale of the Miracles of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God. The given antique Russian icon belongs to this final literary and iconographic variation. This is clearly attested to by a number of religious icon paintings not seen before the middle of the 17th century, such as the Revelation of the Icon to fishermen on Lake Nevo (border scene 1) and the Miracle of the Iron Cross (border scene 8) that was replaced by a wooden one after the Mother of God asked about that in her Revelation to Yurysh the Acolyte. Border scene 15 depicts the tragic moments of Russian history when the Tikhvin monastery was besieged by the Swedish (1613). However, the miraculous appearance of a large Muscovite army led to their lifting of the siege and retreat.

A remarkable trait of this particular piece of antique Russian icons is the almost complete absence of border scenes depicting miraculous healings from the saint icon. Only the last religious icon scene bears such a depiction, with the multitude of crippled and ill people approaching the icon.

Border scenes 13 and 14 are of greatest interest, as they illustrate the Vita of Saint Martyrius.  Saint Martyrius of Zelenetsk (early 16th century – 1603) was known as the founder of the Holy Trinity Zelenetsk monastery. In the early stages of his ascetic life, the saint served as a cellarer in the Velikolutsky St. Sergius monastery. One day, he experienced a Marian Revelation, which reminded him of the revered Tikhvin icon. It was in the Tikhvin monastery that Saint Martyrius received a revelation from one of his disciples about the exact place in the wild bogs between Old Ladoga and Tikhvin, where God wanted him to establish a new convent. While staying in the monastery and preparing for his journey, the saint commissioned two religious icon paintings – of the Holy Trinity and of the Tikhvin Mother of God – both of them he kept with him until his repose. It was with his copy of the Tikhvin religious icon that Saint Martyrius raised Prince Ivan, the son of the Khan of Kasima, from the dead. This is considered one of the greatest miracles of the Tikhvin icon. The story of Saint Martyrius was included into The Tale in the middle of the 17th century, but it is rarely found in Russian icon paintings, which gives exclusive value to the given piece of holy icons of the Mother of God.

Small hand-painted icons depicting the Tikhvin Mother of God with the legend in border scenes were popular among the Old Believers, being often commissioned for chapels and homes. The traditional execution of this antique Russian icon attests to the fact that it was painted in one of the main icon-painting centers of the Vladimir region in the third quarter of the 19th century.

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