The Theotokos Icon Styles
The Orthodox iconography of the Virgin Mary is one of the most beloved in the Russian Church. There are more than 200 of her icons that have been acclaimed wonderworking and celebrated liturgically. The very first Theotokos icons are attributed to Luke the Evangelist. The revered image of Mary traditionally portrays her appareled in dark red omophorion decorated with three gold eight-pointed stars. However, the main characteristic feature of nearly all icons is Mary’s relation to Christ. The viewer’s attention is always drawn to Him, who is usually depicted as an infant sitting on Mary’s lap. Now let’s take a closer look at each of the Theotokos icon styles.
The most popular Theotokos icon styles
1. Oranta (Praying)
Among all the icon styles, Oranta (pictured) is the most majestic and monumental. Mary is depicted with her hands raised and spread out in prayer. This old gesture, which is called “Orans,” makes the image of the Virgin enchanting and magnificent. Christ is shown in the medallion on her breast.
2. Hodigitria (The Guide)
The center of the composition is no longer Mary, but Jesus. The icon shows the Virgin holding Christ and pointing toward Him. The crucial idea of the image is the Visitation of God and the worship of the Holy Child.
This icon style is dedicated to the Feast of the Annunciation, one of the most revered events in the Orthodox world. The Virgin is depicted without the Child, next to the Archangel Gabriel.
4. Eleusa (Tender Mercy)
Eleusa is one of the most popular icon styles in Russian iconography. The image of Mary and Baby Jesus, who touches His face to hers, displays the fullness of love and tenderness. There is no distance between the Virgin, who reflects the whole humanity, and God, whose love to people is limitless.
5. Panakranta (All-Merciful)
In this type, Mary is depicted enthroned, with Christ on her lap. The throne is a symbol of the majestic power of the Virgin. This icon also conveys the message that Mary contained the Uncontainable God in her womb.
In the Deesis icons, Mary is deeply mourning, gesturing toward the crucified Christ. She is usually depicted to the right of Christ, while John the Baptist is standing to the left.
7. Nursing Madonna
The image of the Nursing Virgin (the Milk-Giver) is probably one of the oldest images of the Blessed Virgin in Christian art. Mary is shown feeding the Baby with her right breast. Sometimes, the Mother of God is depicted with a crown, with the angels, saints, the sun, and the moon in the background.
These were the most popular Theotokos icon styles in the Orthodox world. Stay with us to learn more about other incredible icons!