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HOME : Russian Icons : Russian Icons : The Unexpected Joy Mother of God
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The Unexpected Joy Mother of God - PF.5694
Origin: Russia
Circa: 18 th Century AD to 19 th Century AD
Dimensions: 12.5" (31.8cm) high
Collection: Russian Icons
Medium: Oil on Wood Panel

Location: United States
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Inseparable from the liturgical tradition, religious art is seen by Orthodox Christians as a form of pictorial confession of faith and a channel of religious experience. Because the icons provide direct personal contact with the holy persons represented on them, these images were objects of veneration, in either a public or private setting, and were even believed to have the ability to heal.

A dark green curtain has been pulled back, revealing a young girl worshipping an image of the Virgin and child. The Virgin holds her son in her left arm and presses her right hand gently against her chest. The infant Christ smiles as he holds out both his hands. Both holy figures gaze directly at the young girl. Underneath, there is a large portion of this composition dedicated to Cyrillic text. The prototype of this work was based on an icon known as the “Unexpected Joy” Mother of God. Nearly identical to this type, the one major difference is that the kneeling figure here is a young woman instead of a man. The tale goes that a certain unscrupulous man would rise each day and pray before an icon of the Mother and Child before going out into the world and committing more sins. One morning, he awoke to notice that the icon began to move. Wounds miraculously appeared on the hands and feet of the Christ Child (hence he holds his palms outwards) and they began to bleed. When the man asked what caused this to happen, the Virgin replied that is was his repeated sinning and the sins of his fellow men and women that were causing her son to be crucified again. Not surprisingly, this event caused the man to repent and live out his remaining days with devout piety. This transformation filled his heart with an unexpected joy from which the title derives. Traditionally, the Cyrillic text conveys the beginning lines of the narrative, setting up the background story to complete the painted image. Why here has a young girl been substituted in place of the man? Perhaps this icon was commissioned by a family who had a troubled daughter. By specifically requesting that the artist paint a young lady instead of the usual man, they might have sought to help relate this tale to their daughter’s perspective, thereby giving her both a role model as well as a veiled warning about leading a sinful life. However, this theory is pure conjecture and the truth may never be known. Yet what we do know is that this icon is an intriguing deviation of a popular type that reveals the role of icons in the daily lives of the Russians and the power they have to bring the worshipper, no matter how faithful they are, closer to god.
- (PF.5694)


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