Today’s icon is another of those Marian images often found in Russian icons of the 19th century.  It is called Взыскание Погибших — Vzuiskanie Pogibshikh — literally “Recovery of the Lost,” or as it is more loosely found in English, “Seeker of the Lost.”  Examples may also be found with the longer title Взыскаие Погибших Душах / Vzuiskanie Pogibshikh Dushakh — “Recovery of Lost Souls.”

Its origin story says that in the middle of the 18th century, there was a pious peasant in Kaluga Province, named Feodot Alekseevich Obukhov,  He donated utensils and icons to his poor parish church, which was in the village of Bor.  One day he was out in the rural areas between villages in his sleigh when he was caught in a freezing blizzard.  He found himself on the edge of an impassable ravine, with his horses exhausted.  He prayed to Mary, telling her that if she would rescue him, he would have a copy of her icon made and placed in the village church.  Then he did what people in such circumstances are always told not to do — he lay down in his sleigh and fell asleep.

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

In a neighboring village, another peasant was by his window when he heard a voice saying “Take.”  He went outside and found Obukhov there, asleep and half-frozen in his sleigh.  He brought him inside and warmed him up.  So Obukhov was saved, and to keep his vow, he had a copy made of the icon that was in the Volkhov church in Orlov Province, said to have been painted in 1707.

There is more than one “Seeker of the Lost” icon type, variable in form, and they are usually divided according to the place where each was celebrated:  there is the Belevskaya, the Borskaya, the Volzhskaya, and the Zvonarskaya, and there is of course some confusion among them.  Nonetheless, the image most commonly found under that title in icons of the 19th century is much like the example in the photo on this page.

On looking at it, with the rounded window in the left background and a tree in the distance, one cannot help feeling it was based on some Western European prototype — a “Madonna in a palace.”

The border saints are at left the Guardian Angel and Ekaterina (Catherine); and at right Login Sotnik — that is, the Centurion Longinus, and a female saint whose inscription is too faint to read in the photo.


This is the Marian icon known as the Arakiotissa.  It is a fresco painted in the 1100s  in the Church of the Panagia tou Arakos at Lagoudera, on the island of Cyprus.   Whenever you see that –issa ending on the title of a Marian icon, you know the title is Greek.

We need not deal with the long inscription at the lower sides of the image, but I do want to point out the first words at the upper left and right sides that identify the image.  If we emend them a bit, they read:

“The Arakiotissa.”

The second part of the title at top right is:


So the whole title is:  “The Arakiotissa and Full of Grace,” or better in English, “The Arakiotissa Full of Grace.”  Kekharitomene means someone who has found favor (with God, in this case).”

You can see that the  final -a is written much smaller and placed above the last C (“s”)  in the inscription:

The Arakiotissa is a “Passion” Marian icon, meaning that the image is associated with the suffering and death by crucifixion of Jesus.  We see that in the objects carried by the two angels, generally identified as Michael at left and Gabriel at right.

Here is Michael.  He bears the spear and sponge on a reed from the Crucifixion:

And here is Gabriel, who bears the cross of the Crucifixion:

In the Italo-Cretan period, when icon painters on the island of Crete provided images both for Eastern Orthodox and Italian Roman Catholic buyers, a related Marian “Passion” image became popular, still with the two angels, but with the figures of Mary and the child Jesus in different positions than in the Arakiotissa.  Here is an example of that type by the famous Cretan iconographer Andreas Ritzos (1421-1492):

(Ikonenmuseum Recklinghausen)
(Ikonenmuseum Recklinghausen)

Note that the angels are not depicted below their torsos, as though coming out of nowhere.

The identifying elements of this type are the two angels with the implements of the Passion, the child Jesus turning his head sharply over his left shoulder to look at the Archangel Gabriel, and the sandal that has come loose from his right foot and hangs slightly below it:

Many writers like to say that the sandal has become loose because of the child’s abrupt jerk of fear on seeing the cross, but it is perhaps just a pleasant painter’s conceit.

Some painters also included the crown of thorns with the cross.

One image of this type became famous in Rome after it was brought there at the end of the 1400s.  Tradition says it was taken from Crete by an Italian merchant who stole it on the island, but then gave it to the San Matteo church in Rome.  It became known as the “Madonna di San Matteo.”  It disappeared from view when the French invaded Rome in 1812, and was gone for over forty years, but then was found in an Augustinian oratory in the 1860s.  The rediscovered image  caught the attention of Pope Pius IX, who had known it in San Matteo as a boy.  He accorded it great importance, which led to its eventually becoming a well-known Catholic printed paper reproduction found on the walls of many Catholic homes.  It was by then known as Nostra Signora del Perpetuo Soccorso in Italian, or in English “Our Lady of Perpetual Succor.”  It is more commonly known in the United States as “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” The image has undergone restoration twice, first in 1866 and again in 1940, which perhaps accounts for its rather bland present appearance.

In Greek Orthodoxy, the type is generally called either Παναγία του Πάθους — Panagia tou Pathous, meaning “All-Holy One of the Passion,” or Παναγία η Αμόλυντος — Panagia he Amolyntos — “All-Holy Pure One.”

Here is a 16th century Cretan example:

At upper left is the title given it:


It means “The All-Blessed.”  In modern Greek it is pronounced “pammakARistos.”  Notice the joining in the inscription of the letters A and N,  of A and K, of A and P, and of C and T.

We see on the icon the usual MP ΘΥ abbreviation for Meter Theou — “Mother of God,” and ΙC ΧC for Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ.”  But in addition, there is a longer inscription at right:







ΤΑ ΒΛΕΠΩΝ                                       –EM SEEING

In normal English,

“He who previously declared “hail!” to the All-Pure One now shows the symbols of the Passion, and Christ, clothed in mortal flesh, timorously fears on seeing them.”

In other words, the angel Gabriel, who previously at the Annunciation had greeted Mary with the word khaire — “Hail” (Latin Ave), now displays the implements of the Passion to the child Christ, and he, being now incarnate in a human body subject to death, is meekly afraid on seeing them.

There is also an added inscription at the base of the icon:



“Prayer/Supplication of the servants of God Ioakhim monk and Thedoulos monk.”

Occasionally Greek icons of the type are found showing Mary and Jesus in the usual positions, but without the angels and Passion implements.

It is not surprising that so popular an image also entered Russian Iconography.  There the Russian version of the type is called the Strastnaya, meaning the “Passion” Mother of God.  Its origin story relates that in the 17th century a women of the village of Palitsa named Ekaterina developed mental problems after her marriage.  She was in this condition for some seven years, and became suicidal.    She prayed to Mary, promising that if healed, she would enter a convent.  She was healed, but then forgot about her vow.

Her illness returned.  She took to her bed and again prayed to Mary.  The door opened, and in came Mary, dressed in a robe ornamented with golden crosses.  She asked Ekaterina why she had not fulfilled her vow, and told her to change her ways.  But again Ekaterina did not do as she was told.  Mary appeared to her two more times, and on the third appearance (that magic number found so often in such stories) Mary punished her by twisting her head and contorting her face and drooping her body  Then Mary told her to go to Nizhniy-Novgorod, to an icon painter named Grigory, who had painted an icon of Mary.  She was to tell Grigory of Mary’s appearances to her, and she was to provide seven silver coins to decorate the icon.  Ekaterina did all this and was healed, and Mary promised that others who venerated the image would also be healed.

Grigory’s icon is then said to have worked other miracles, and in 1641 Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich had it brought to Moscow.

By the 19th century, the Strastnaya type had become widespread in Russian iconography.  Though some Strastnaya examples include the detail of the loose sandal, more often the child Jesus is depicted without sandals, as in this image:

So the “Passion” type, by whatever name, is presently well-known in Both Eastern Orthodox iconography and in Roman Catholicism.


Today’s Russian icon is an easy one, and you should have no trouble reading the title inscription of the fellow depicted.  The only problem is a small one — the abbreviation Пр (Pr.) before the name.  It can abbreviate Prepodobnuiy (roughly “Venerable”) or it can abbreviate Pravednuiy (“Righteous”), but here it abbreviates Prorok (“Prophet”), because this is an icon of King David, and in Eastern Orthodoxy David is listed among the prophets.  So the inscription in full would read Svyatuiy Prorok David —  “[the] Holy Prophet David.”

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

The scroll texts on icons of the prophets can be a real bother, because one never knows what text a painter will choose.  And if a text is hastily written, or if the spelling is too far off, it can be quite a trial at times to decipher.  Fortunately the text on today’s icon presents no major difficulties because we have seen it before.  If you want to see where, go to this posting:

The text on the scroll of today’s icon is:

Изъ чрéва прéжде ден­ни́цы роди́хъ тя́.  Кля́т­ся Госпóдь и не раскáет­ся: [ты́ иерéй во вѣ́къ по чи́ну Мелхиседéкову.]  It is taken from Psalm 109:3-4 in the Slavic Bible, which is Psalm 110:3-4 in the KJV.  It reads slightly different than the KJV in the Slavic and Septuagint versions:

I have begotten you from the womb before the morning.  The Lord swore, and will not repent: [You are a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedek.“]

This is interpreted in Eastern Orthodoxy as referring to the birth in eternity of Jesus as the Logos — the Word — from God the Father, not to the earthly birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

The image of the Prophet David is found in a number of other icon types, among them the traditional Resurrection icon and icons of Mary called “The Praise of the Most Holy Mother of God” — and of course in the Prophets’ tier of the iconostasis in Russian Churches.

This is a good time for me to again take a look at readership of this site.  Obviously there are a lot of readers of the site now, surprising as it may seem (as the old saying goes, recognizing your problem is the first step toward overcoming it).  So if you are one of those who read here regularly, please send me a note and tell me who you are and why you are here — even if you have written to me before.  I already know there is much variety in the readership, including art restorers, museum staffers, and even — much to my surprise — a number of icon painters and clergy, even though this is not a “religious” site and does not take a “religious” approach to icons, seeing them rather as cultural and historical art objects.

So take a moment and send me a few words and tell me who you are and why you like to read the information I provide on the rather esoteric subject of icons.  I am always curious why people are here.   I appreciate your presence, whoever you are and whatever your reason.  And of course I am always open to suggestions for subject matter.  Just click on the comment button at the bottom of this or any message, and your note will get to me privately (comments on this site are all seen only by me, unless otherwise requested).

And by the way, quite a number of people from various countries read here, so don’t hesitate to write if your use of English is unusual or very basic.  I will probably understand anyway.




I do not talk much about icon covers here.  In spite of their often considerable artistry, they nonetheless hide parts of or most of the painting, and I am much more interested in the painting than in the ornateness or costliness of the metal cover.

Nonetheless, one should know something about icon covers.  They can be helpful in dating an icon, but should not be used alone for that purpose.  An old cover can be put on a new icon.  A new cover can be put on an old icon.  And an old icon may have a cover added years or even decades later than its date of painting.  So a cover may provide a clue to date, but should not be used as the final word in most cases.

Like the changes of style in icon painting, covers too have changed in style.  Today I want to give a general idea of how they changed (and when), so that readers may have a rough idea of how to date an icon cover as considered separately from the painting it often partially hides.

We will begin in the 1600s — the 17th century — which was a time of great transition in Russia.  If you have been reading here long, you will already know that in the middle of the 1600s there was a great split within the Russian Orthodox Church, with the Old Believers separating from the State Church, and suffering much persecution as a result.  It was also the time when — in the mid to later part of the 1600s — Western European art began to influence the painting of icons in Russia, though its influence at first was primarily in the art of the State Church rather than that of the Old Believers, who kept to the old stylized manner of painting while the State Church gradually incorporated more and more realism.

So, we will begin with the kind of icon cover most prominent in the 17th century in Russia — the basma (басма).  The basma was the early form of icon ornamentation, known as early as the 14th century.  It consisted of embossed sheets or strips of metal tacked onto the surface of the icon, not as one piece, but as a series of pieces forming the cover.  A basma might form a kind of frame around the outer edges of the icon, as in this 17th-century example:

Or it may extend over much of the surface of the icon, being cut to outline the portion of the painting revealed, as in this icon from the 1670s:

When you see an old icon with lots of little holes in the painted surface — holes the size of small nails — chances are it once was covered with a basma.

We can think of the high period for use of the basma as extending from the 14th to the latter part of the 17th century.  Near the end of the 17th century, however, the basma was gradually replaced by the one-part metal cover, traditionally called a riza, meaning “robe.”  A term favored in the Soviet period for such a cover is oklad.

When we get to the time of the one-piece riza, its ornamentation is already influenced by the fashions of Western Europe.  So on a riza of this period — primarily the 18th century —  we can expect rich Baroque ornamentation.  Here is an example from 1778:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

Even though the Baroque style began to be replaced in the late 18th century by Neoclassical influence, the predilection for the Baroque in icon covers lasted even into the middle of the 19th century  However, near the end of the late 18th century, we begin to see the appearance of classical elements.  We can think of this as paralleling the movement in France from the Baroque-rococo manner in the reign of Louis XV to the antique Greco-roman influences that begin to appear in the Louis XVI period and gain increasing strength through the Directoire period and into the openly classical antique-revival Empire period.

Here is a cover from 1810.  Note the “sunburst” halos that will be prominent in icon covers even a bit beyond the middle of the 1800s:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

And here is an even more classical-influenced cover from 1826, restrained in its ornament:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

The two styles, Baroque and Neoclassic, existed together for some time.  Here, for example, is an 1845 cover that is still heavily Baroque in ornamentation (and again, note the “sunburst” halo):

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

In about the 1860s, we begin to see another transition.  The large Baroque elements gradually give way to smaller, more concentrated ornamentation, as in this example from 1867:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

In the 1880s we often see the same kind of smaller, concentrated ornament, but also triangular corner pieces become more common, as in this example from 1882:

(Courtesy of

It is also in the 1880s that intertwining geometric patterns become increasingly common in the outer borders.  Here is an example from 1884:

(Courtesy of

So in the last 20 years or so of the 19th century, we see an increased preference for “early Russian” geometric designs and ornamentation on icon covers, again a kind of parallel to the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement in Europe and America and its look back to medieval times. In keeping with this, there is also a growing preference for colorful cloisonné ornamentation in icon covers.  Here is an example from 1892:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

Note again the triangular corner pieces.

Here is another example from the period between about the turn of the 20th century and the Revolution:

(Courtesy of

So the last period of Russian icon covers before the Revolution continues the “Arts & Crafts” influence and the preference for cloisonné. In case you don’t remember, cloisonné is the filling of little spaces formed by tiny wires or strips of metal with melted glass, while champlevé is the filling of depressions in the metal surface with melted glass.   Here is a rather extreme example that mixes “primitive” Arts & Crafts design with champlevé ornamentation:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

And finally, in the last years of the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, there was also a style for simple elegance in icon covers, as in this example:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

Keep in mind that there was no abrupt border marking one period off from another.  The transition was more gradual, with the earlier style continuing for some time while gradually being replaced with the newer style.

And, of course, not all covers were equal in quality.  The metals used could vary from gold to silver to gilt silver to silvered brass to unsilvered brass to tin.  And of course there were also covers made of embroidered cloth, of beadwork, and of woven metal threads.  Wealthier people could afford covers of silver, and in such cases one looks for hallmarks on the silver.  If a cover looks like silver but has no hallmarks, chances are it is just silvered brass.

Metal icon covers were generally attached with nails of copper or silver alloy, but in thee 19th century iron nails came into use.  The nails used are not always an indicator of date, because a pre-19th century metal cover might have been removed and re-attached later with iron nails.


In the previous posting, I discussed icon types that are “fixed groups” of saints — the same saints shown together from icon to icon, though their arrangement may vary.

Today we will look at another such “fixed group” icon — the “Five Holy Martyrs of Sebaste.”  In Greek iconography they are Οι άγιοι πέντε μάρτυρες από τη Σεβάστεια,  Hoi Hagioi Pente Martyres apo te Sebasteia — The Holy Five Martyrs from [the] Sebaste.”

Sebaste is a town in Armenia, which you may recall from a previous posting about the icon type the “Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.”

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

The example shown is a pleasant Russian icon from the last period before the Revolution.  The saints depicted are, from left: Евстратий, (Evstratiy) Авксентий (Avksentiy) Евгений (Evgeniy), Мардарий (Mardariy) and Орест (Orest).  In Greek they are Εὐστράτιος (Eustratios), Αὐξέντιος (Auxentios), Εὐγένιος (Eugenios), Μαρδάριος (Mardarios) and ᾿Ορέστης (Orestes).

This is a good place to point out that in Church Slavic, saints’ names ending in -ий, when used of saints found in the old Greek saint lists, commonly replace the original Greek name ending -ιος.  And when the Greek original has the letter combination  Αὐ- or Εὐ- at the beginning, it becomes in Slavic Ав- or Ев-.  That is helpful when trying to find equivalent names in one language or the other.

These five saints of Sebaste were said to have been martyred by the governor Lysias for confessing Christianity near the beginning of the 4th century c.e.  The later account of their individual sufferings from the Synaxarion of Nikodemos the Hagiorite died 1809) goes into graphic detail about the tortures they underwent, but that is a characteristic of much hagiography, and we need not dwell on it here (Nikodemos, by the way, was also the editor of the best-known work of Eastern Orthodox spirituality, the Philokalia).

What I really want to talk about today is the style of this particular example.   If we look at it carefully, we can easily date it, because the style is so distinctive of a particular time and movement in Russian icon painting.

We should look at:

The careful delineation of the figures and their garments;
The elaborate detailing on garments;
The background “light” that varies in shade and/or color from bottom to top.
The stylization of facial features, etc.
The careful and abundant use of gold highlighting on garments.

All these are characteristic of the school of painting in the latter part of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries exemplified by the work of such painters as Mikhail Ivanovich Dikarev ( Михаил Иванович Дикарев ), who worked first in the icon-painting village of Мстёра — Mstyora — then later moved to Moscow at the end of the 1870s and worked in the Chirikov Brothers’ workshop.

The Chirikov brothers were also from Mstyora (also transliterated Mstera), one of the three famous icon-painting villages in the Vladimir region along with Palekh and Kholui.  It was a strong area for the Old Belief, and about half its residents in the 18th century were Old Believers.  We can easily see the resemblance in style between the icon above and this example by Dikarev depicting the Metropolitan Mikhail of Kiev/Kiyev:

(State Hermitage Museum)
(State Hermitage Museum)

We can see a similar love of intricate garment detail in this 1890 icon by Osip Semyonovich Chirikov, depicting the Metropolitans Pyotr, Aleksiy, Iona and Filipp of Moscow, with the Great Prince Vladimir — who converted Kievan Rus to Eastern Orthodoxy Christianity by edict in 988 c.e. — shown in the center:

(State Historical Museum, Moscow)
(State Historical Museum, Moscow)

Pyotr, Aleksiy, Iona and Filipp are another frequent “fixed group” type, as in the following example, though of course such saints may also be found individually in icons.

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

The Chirikovs were an interesting family.  Osip Chirikov (Осип Семёнович Чириков), who died in 1903, had two sons — Grigoriy and Mikhail — who also went into the icon business.
As an odd little sidelight, the workshop of Grigoriy Osipovich Chirikov (1882-1936) in Moscow — where the famous “Vladimir” image of Mary was restored in 1918 — also became a center for the painting of fakes of old Russian icons.  Some call him the chief forger of pre-Revolutionary icons, which in itself says much about the quality of his work. He gained a reputation as the most eminent icon expert and restorer of his day, and a source for collectors of pre-Nikonian icons and for the Imperial museum collection under Tsar Alexander II.  His presumed expertise even got him the job of chief icon restorer under the early Soviet regime.  So skill in the restoration of old icons led naturally, in his case,  to “restoration” of early icons on which only a few bits of paint of the original still adhered to the panel once later overpaintings were removed, and even to the forging of entire old icons whose iconography was acceptable to rich Old Believers and the avid collectors who were willing to pay much for “authentic” old icons in the years prior to the Revolution.  Obviously their concept of “restoration” was not that generally held today.

It was only decades later, when careful chemical analysis of icon materials became possible, that such forgeries were made obvious.  However skilled in painting the forgers of the late 19th-early 20th century were, however familiar with earlier iconographic styles, they nonetheless failed to reproduce exactly the materials used by the painters of the old originals, and there had been notable change in the nature of pigments used in Russian icon painting over the centuries, particularly from the 18th century onward.  There is also a difference in materials used for the ground of many early icons — the gypsum alabaster levkas (or “gesso” to use the Italian term) of the early icons being later commonly replaced by a gesso made of chalk.

Grigory Chirikov, in spite of his importance even into the Soviet era, came to a sad end.  He was accused of counter-revolutionary activities and later sent to a labor camp; it is generally believed that he was executed by the Soviets.  His story reminds me of the Western art “expert” Bernard Berenson, who became known and made a great deal of money from his presumed expertise in the art of the Italian Renaissance — again before the application of technology became generally applied to the analysis of early paintings.