BORROWINGS AND REVISIONS: THE “STAR MOST BRIGHT” ICON

We have seen in previous postings that it is not at all uncommon for Eastern Orthodoxy to have adopted iconography from Western European Roman Catholicism.  The average Orthodox person is usually quite unaware of these borrowings, and some of these icons also have reputations as “miraculous” images within E. Orthodoxy.

Today we will look at one such borrowing.  It is the rather detailed Marian icon type known as the Zvyesda Presvyetlaya (Звезда Пресветлая) — the “Star Most Bright.”

Now we have seen in previous postings how the details of icons are often “revised” over time to fit theological preconceptions.  That has happened also in the case of this icon.  Note that in the late 17th century example below (from the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Balakhna, Nizhniy Novgorod), Mary wears a white headcovering below her crown:

It is likely, however, that as in the Murom example below, from roughly the same period, the original form depicted Mary with long, loose hair below her crown, and no other headcovering.

Now we know already from previous postings why this change would have been made.  In traditional Eastern Orthodox thought, long hair was a sign of a “loose” woman.  So at some point, an icon painter decided to revise the type to fit this preconception.

What is considered to be the earliest Russian example of the “Most Bright Star” type was kept in the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God in Murom, and dated to near the year 1700.  It bears an inscription on the banner below the image of Mary, reading:

Сии пречу[д]ныи образ звезда пресветлая прес[вя]тая влад[ычи]цы Б[огоро]д[и]цы н[е]б[е]снии ц[а]рицы

Siy prechudnuiy obraz Zvezda Presvetlaya Presvyataya Vladuichitsui Bogoroditsui Nebesniy Tsaritsui

This is the Most Miraculous Image of the ‘Star Most Bright’ Most Holy Mistress Mother of God, Empress of Heaven.

The words Nebesnuiy Tsaritsui would sound more familiar to Catholics if we put them in the western form — “Queen of Heaven.”

The title of the image comes actually from a book — a collection of  Roman Catholic stories of the “miracles” of Mary — titled simply Звезда Пресветлая/Zvyesda Presvyetlaya — “The Star Most Bright,” which began to appear in handwritten copies in Russia in the second half of the 1600s.

Now it is not difficult to determine that the “Star Most Bright” iconography must have been based ultimately on Roman Catholic icons of “Our Lady of the Rosary,” depicting Mary and the Christ Child surrounded by 15 scenes of contemplation for the Rosary   — the “Fifteen Mysteries”:

Благовещение / Annunciation

Встреча Марии и Елисаветы – Meeting [Visitation] of Mary and Elizabeth

Рождество Христово / Birth of Christ

Сретение / Meeting [in the Temple –the Presentation of Christ]

Преполовение / Mid-Pentecost [Christ among the Doctors]

Моление о чаше / The Prayer of the Cup [Jesus in Gethsemane]

Бичевание Христа / The Scourging of Christ [The Flagellation]

Коронование терновым венцом / Crowning with the Crown of Thorns

Несение креста / Bearing the Cross

Распятие / Crucifixion

Воскресение / Resurrection

Вознесение / Ascension [sometimes replaced by the Transfiguration of Jesus]

Сошествие Св. Духа / Descent of the Holy Spirit [Pentecost]

Вознесение Богоматери / Ascension of the Mother of God [Assumption]

Коронование Богоматери / Coronation of the Mother of God

 

On the Balakhna example, however, we find 17 scenes:

Рождество Богоматери / Birth of the Mother of God

Благовещение у колодца / Annunciation at the Well

Рождество Христово / Birth of Christ

Сретение / Meeting [in the Temple]

Преполовение / Mid-Pentecost

Омовение ног / Washing of the Feet [of the Disciples]

Моление о чаше / Prayer of the Cup

Взятие под стражу Христа / The Arrest of Christ [ The Taking into Custody]

Распятие / Crucifixion

Положение во гроб / Placing in the Tomb

Восстание из гроба / The Rising from the Tomb

Явление Марии Магдалине / Appearance to Mary Magdalene

Сошествие во ад / Descent to Hades

Вознесение Христово / Ascension of Christ

Сошествие Св. Духа / Descent of the Holy Spirit

Коронование Богоматери / Coronation of the Mother of God

Страшный Суд / Terrible Judgment

We find similar Western European Catholic examples in paintings of various periods, such as this one:

And this one:

Of course the old Russian version of the image has been “Orthodoxified” by removing or altering the rosary held by Mother and Child or both, and by replacing any attendant Catholic saints with Eastern Orthodox saints.

Those in the Murom example consist of the princes of Murom Konstantin, Mikhail and Feodor at left, and at right Prince Pyotr, Princess Fevronia, and Righteous Iulianiya Lazarevskaya.

In the Balakhna example, we find instead these saints:  at left, Iakov (James), Brother of the Lord; Muchenik (Martyr) Kondrat (Codratus/Quadratus), and the Apostle Ioann Bogoslov (John the Theologian).  At right are the Apostle Simeon (Bishop of Jerusalem, sometimes also called a brother of Jesus), and Righteous Ioakhim (Joachim) and Anna (parents of Mary).

The Balakhna example has an inscription below Mary that is too small be legible in the photo.  It reads:

О Дево, Госпоже, Мати Господа моего, Творца всех, Ты – Корень девству и Неувядаемый цвет чистоты, Небесным чином радование и человеческому роду Благословенная Помощнице, Моли Сына Своего о спасении всех христиан

O Virgin, Lady, Mother of my Lord, Maker of All, you are the Root of Virginity and the Unfading Flower of Purity, the Joy of the Heavenly Choirs and the Blessed Helper of the Race of Man, Pray to your Son for the Salvation of all Christians.”

 

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