Russian icon of the Annunciation, 16th century

Russian Icon of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today, on April 7, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the Annunciation, one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year. This important for every Christian event is related to the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would soon give birth to the Son of God. This renowned scene described in Luke 1:26 – 38 has always been a key topic in Christian art, so it is no wonder that it is depicted in many Eastern Orthodox icons. In this blog post, let’s take a closer look at the Russian icon of the Annunciation.

Russian icon of the Annunciation

There are several iconographic types of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary; however, all of them have common features. If you look at the Russian icon at the top of this post, you will see the most popular depiction of the Annunciation, showing the Virgin Mary who has been chosen to become the Mother of God to the right and the Archangel Gabriel bringing the good news to the left.

Most Eastern Orthodox icons, including this Russian icon, depict the Archangel Gabriel as if he is running to the Virgin Mary, trying to bring good news as soon as possible. His right hand is extended toward Mary, delivering the blessing sent down by God for her. Plus, the Archangel Gabriel is usually depicted with a staff in his left hand, which is a clear symbol of a messenger.

As it has been already said, the Virgin Mary is depicted to the right. In this Russian icon, she is sitting on an elevated seat, but there are also Eastern Orthodox icons of the Annunciation depicting her full-length, standing opposite the Archangel Gabriel. In both variations, the Virgin Mary is holding the scarlet yarn in her one hand, which represents material she was assigned to prepare for making the veil for the Temple of Jerusalem, while her other hand is raised to accept the Archangel’s message. One more important detail that can be found in the Russian icon of the Annunciation is hidden in Mary’s garments. They are depicted with three gold stars that symbolize the Holy Trinity and also her virginity before, during, and after the birth of Jesus.

Finally, this Russian icon, as well as many other Eastern Orthodox icons of the Annunciation, shows three rays emerging from the divine realm represented by a semi-circle at the top of the composition. As you might have already guessed, these rays are a symbol of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Virgin Mary.