You may recall that some time ago, we took a look at an icon with an odd name and a quite peculiar history — the icon type known as Прибавление ума — Pribavlenie Uma, “Increase of Reason” often translated simply as “Addition of Mind.”
The Church Slavic title written at the top of this icon reads, “Image of the Most Holy Mother of God, Ever-Virgin Mary Increase of Reason.”
The peculiar thing about this particular icon type is that, like certain others, it was actually borrowed into Russian Orthodoxy from a western European Roman Catholic image, in fact a very well-known statue in Italy known as “Our Lady of Loreto.” The icon even shows the pillars and archway of the niche in which the Catholic statue was kept.
There is yet another icon type that is based — sometimes closely, sometimes more distantly — on the Loreto image. If we look at the following icon, its resemblance to the “Increase of Reason” type is very obvious, though we can see the painter has not quite understood the model. Nonetheless, it still has the general form of the previous icon, including even the pillars and arch and angels:
What it does not have, however, is the same title. Instead, this one is called
КЛЮЧЬ РАЗУМА ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
KLIUCH’ RAZUMA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“KEY OF INTELLIGENCE MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD.”
However, this near look-alike icon is just one of the intermediate variations on the way to another icon “descended from” the Loreto image, but depicted even more differently.
Here is a rendering of the “Key of Intelligence” in which the painter has also misunderstood the model. What was originally an ornate garment around Mother and Child has now taken on the appearance of a barrel-like platform in which they sit:
Even greater change is found in some examples such as the following, in which the surrounding garment of Mother and Child resolves itself into the handle of a key below the image, which has transformed from Mother and Child to Mary being crowned in Heaven. The inscription at the top reads:
ОБРЕЗАНИЕ ГОСПОДА НАШЕГО ИСУСА ХРИСТА
OBREZANIE GOSPODA NASHEGO ISUSA KHRISTA
“Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ”
And below that:
КОРОНОВАНИЕ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
KORONOVANIE PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“Coronation of the Most Holy Mother of God.”
The actual main title of the icon is at the base:
КЛЮЧЬ ОТКРЫТИЯ РАЗУМУ
KLIUCH OTKRUITIYA RAZYMU
“[The] KEY OPENING INTELLIGENCE.”
The angels have been removed, various saints have been added, and the image of Mary is quite different than in the original model, though we still see the pillars and arch.
Eventually, painters got so far from the original model that they created a virtual “spinoff” type that gradually solidified into a new icon type now gaining more popularity in Russian Orthodoxy. It is called Ключ Разумения — Kliuch Razymeniya — “Key of Intelligence.” Here is an example:
The top inscription reads:
ОБРАЗ КЛЮЧЬ РАЗУМЕНИЯ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
OBRAZ KLIUCH’ RAZUMENIYA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“IMAGE OF THE KEY OF INTELLIGENCE MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”
The pillars and arch are there, the angels are there, but Mary stands without the child as she is being crowned by God the Father and God the Son in Heaven. Below her the key extends down vertically. At the top is a small image of the Birth of Jesus, and two saints are added — Artemiy at left, and Trifon at right. In modern versions of the type, the added saints vary from example to example.
We can get a hint of how this secondary icon type originated when combined with the “Growth of Reason” type if we look at the title page of a book by Ioannikiy Galyatovsky, printed in Kyiv/Kiev in 1659, and titled The Key of Intelligence (we might also translate as The Key of Knowledge). In it we see pillars and an arch, the key, as well as a Coronation of Mary image and two accompanying saints at top. It was perhaps the pillars and arch and presence of Mary that caused icon painters to imagine a link between this more “key” oriented image and the original “Increase of Reason” type based on the Loreto image.
Now we get to the reason for the current popularity of this “spinoff” icon type. The particular icon that seems to have begun its popularity is found in the Cemetery Church at Balakhna in Nizhniy Novgorod. Students beginning their studies pray before it, as do students who want to improve their ability to learn. I would not advise students praying before this icon in advance of a test to expect a good grade if they have not thoroughly studied. As the old saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.”