As you know, the most famous icon in Russian history and legend is the Vladimirskaya, which is believed to have come to Russia via Kyiv from Byzantium. The date of painting is generally considered to be about 1131-1136.

And also as you know, very little of the early painting remains. Almost nothing is left of the original but the face of Mary and the face of Jesus seen in the detail below. So old and supposedly “miracle-working” icons, in spite of their legendary status, do not hold up very well over centuries of veneration and overpainting.


Similarly, you may recall another legendary supposed “wonderworking” icon:  The Znamenie Novgorodskaya — or to put it in plain English, the “Sign” icon type of Novgorod.  It was discussed in the earlier posting on palladium icons:


The Znamenie icon is generally dated to the first half of the 1100s, and was painted in the northern trading city of Novgorod. It is in even worse condition than the Vladimirskaya. Of the icon you see below, only fragments of the headcovering of Mary (the maphorion) and bits of her other clothing, as well as parts of the circle in which the image of the child Jesus is set, remain of the original. The rest is later overpainting:

The Znamenie was originally a processional icon atop a long handle, and it is painted with another image on the reverse side.  The main figures are male and female saints, and because they have no titles, no one is quite sure who they are, though speculation is that they might be Joachim and Anna (the parents of Mary), or they might be St. Peter and St. Natalya. 


In any case, it was the side with the “Sign” image of Mary that became famous.

Now it is not hard to see that the “Sign” icon is a shorter version of the standing type of Mary known as the “Great Panagia,” also known in Greek iconography as “Wider than the Heavens.  Here is a 13th century example:


Note that in the “Great Panagia,” the hands of the child Jesus are stretched out to the sides in blessing, unlike the position in the “Sign.” 

We find the same thing in this Yaroslavl icon from the 13th century of the type known as Воплощение/Voploshchenie — “The Incarnation.”  Notice that there is no circle around the child Jesus.


In the Znamenie type however, Jesus has his right hand raised in blessing, and he holds a rolled scroll (signifying teaching) in his left.

But now to the real subject of today’s posting.  In the image of the original Znamenie icon above, you will note four saints at the sides.  It is believed they were later added to the image in the 1500s, and there are no name inscriptions remaining with them. There are many copies made of that “Sign” icon, and most of them just ignore the saints on the sides, omitting them and showing only the central image — like the example below:

(Courtesy of

  There are, however, some icons that do include the four saints, though the painters making the copies were often not entirely sure who they were, so sometimes they are named differently.

We see them in this example of the Znamenie Novgorodskaya painted in 1727:

They are:

Top left:  Great Martyr George:


Top right:  Great Martyr Iakov/Jacob/James of Persia:

Lower left:  Makariy/Macarius of Alexandria


And at lower right: Onufriy/Onuphrios the Great:


Now as mentioned, there are no remaining name inscriptions on the four border saints in the original Znamenie Novgorodskaya, so the titles given them in various copies are later guesses.  And painters sometimes guessed differently, or even deliberately changed one saint to another.  For example, instead of Makariy of Egypt, we may find Peter of Athos/Peter the Athonite.

Here is a later example giving the same identification of Georgiy, Iakov/Jacob/James, Makariy and Onuphriy:


Here, however, is an icon in which  Georgiy and Iakov have been replaced by the unmercenary saints Kosma/Cosmas and Damian, and Makariy is replaced by Petr/Peter of Athos:


(Belgian Private Collection)

Here is Kozma/Cosmas. As you can see, his garments are much like those of Georgiy:

And here is Damian:


At lower left is Onufriy/Onuphrios the Great:


And at lower right is Petr/Peter of Athos:


In spite of these border variations, such icons are still classified from the main central image as Znamenie Novgorodskaya icons.

As is sometimes the case with icons that became famous for their reputed abilities to work miracles, the Znamenie type has several “spinoffs” — icons of the type that have become noted on their own.  In fact there are at least 13 of these, so one must be aware of that when identifying individual icons.

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