We have a lot of fun on this site (well, at least I do; the rest of you may just be suffering in silence), but do not underestimate what you will find here. If you are seriously interested in icons, first, you have my deepest sympathy, and second, you will find huge amounts of information here. I think I can honestly say that on this blog you will find more practical information about understanding and identifying icons than you will find in any existing book.
Because of that, if you are a serious student of icons, I suggest reading the archives of this site from the very beginning. If you learn all that is there, you will soon know more about icons than many museum curators, more than most Eastern Orthodox priests, and certainly far, far more than the average person. But keep in mind that those who find icons interesting are a special class of people. No offense, but you are all a bit peculiar. So if you think sharing your new-found icon knowledge with just anyone is a good idea — well, it is not likely to get you a date on Friday night. In fact it may do just the opposite. It may cause people to make all kinds of excuses for why they do not have time to listen to you talk about icons, and how they forgot an appointment and have to be somewhere else in a hurry.
If you have been a serious student here — if you have read the archives — first, don’t you have a life? And second — you will remember an icon type called the “Three Joys.” It was originally brought to Russia from Italy in the 18th century, and was likely based on Italian paintings such as Raphael’s Madonna with Child and John the Baptist.
Ordinarily, icons of the “Three Joys” type depict Mary with the child Jesus, the young John the Forerunner (the Baptist) on the right, and often but not always, Joseph, husband of Mary, is on the left.
But (and this is another one of the “big buts” of icon studies. Watch out for big buts) — keep in mind that icons of the same or similar titles often show variations. They may not look at all like the most common examples.
Today’s icon shows no trace of an Italianate style. It has been made thoroughly Russian, and is painted in the old stylized manner. And surprisingly, though it looks very little like conventional examples of the “Three Joys” icon, nonetheless, that is what it is; just a variant of the “Three Joys” type:
Here is the title inscription. Note how the writer has scratched lines into the icon surface to guide his writing:
ТРЕХЪ РАДОСТНЫЯ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
TREKH” RADOSTNUIYA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“[Of the] THREE JOYS MOST- HOLY MOTHER-OF-GOD
“THE THREE JOYS MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”
The child Jesus with his identifying IC XC inscription, and “Holy John the Forerunner” are both shown in an unusual manner, depicted as very small children held behind Mary’s hands.
Below them, as we find in some Marian icon types but generally not in “Three Joys” icons, is a ladder — a symbol of Mary as the bridge from earth to heaven, the “ladder on which God descended” to become incarnate as Jesus in Mary, according to Eastern Orthodox theology.
The two border images in this icon — which as you will remember, are not part of the central icon type — are:
At left: Michael Arkhistrategos — the Archangel Michael as Chief Commander of the heavenly armies.
The Angel Khranitel’ — the “Guardian Angel,” that generic figure found not only as a main figure in some icons, but also as an added figure in countless icons of many types: