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Eastern Europe, Greece, ca. early 19th c. CE. Painted in egg tempera and gold leaf on wood, a striking icon depicting the Mother of God (Theotokos) as the Virgin Hodegetria. According to legend, this icon restored the eyesight of two blind men – hence, the name Hodegetria meaning, “She who gives sight” or “shows the way”. The Virgin holds the Child in her left hand and points toward him with her right, directing the attention of worshippers. The triple, star-shaped cross adorning Mary's shoulders and head is an ancient symbol of virginity (the three stars referring to before, during, and after delivery). The baby Jesus, dressed in a regal himation, gestures to his mother with one hand (somewhat unusual as this depiction typically includes Christ giving benediction; however, the open palm is most likely an act of honoring Mary as he glances up to her), and holds the scroll of the Law in the other. Set in a gold velveteen covered mount. Size: 7.75" L x 6.875" W (19.7 cm x 17.5 cm); 12.375" L x 11.625" W (31.4 cm x 29.5 cm) including mount
The rolled scroll was an ancient Roman device used when the emperor would designate his ambassadors and governors by giving them a donatus, a scroll indicating that they spoke with his authority. Provincial governors and governmental officials often commissioned statues of themselves with the donatus in hand. This element of Roman iconography found its way into Christian use to express other ideas, as it was essentially neutral in religious values. In this icon, the scroll in Jesus' grasp indicates that Christ has the authority from God the Father to speak on his behalf.
The Hodegetria is an icon that arrived in Constantinople from Jerusalem where the sister-in-law of Emperor Theodosius II found it in the 5th century CE. Hidden from the iconoclasts in a wall at the Hodegon Monastery, it was later carried to the city walls when Constantinople was under siege and became a palladium protecting the capital.
Saint Luke is also known as Luke the Painter, because as the author of the “Gospel of Jesus’s Childhood” he is believed to have been the first artist to portray the Theotokos - Mary with the Christ Child image. This understanding is based upon ancient icons from Thebes and Antioch attributed to the evangelist, later transferred to Russia and Constantinople. As the first to paint the Theotokos (Mother of God), Luke’s icons include the Hodegetria of the Constantinople Church of the Blachernae, which legend tells us restored the eyesight of two blind men – hence, the name Hodegetria meaning, “She who gives sight” or “shows the way” – as well as the Virgin of Smolensk, a prototype for numerous Marian icons that came to Russia in the 12th century.
Provenance: Ex-private Ventura County, CA collection; purchased in Agoura, CA
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