A BORROWED CORONATION

Though painted in a very traditional manner, this icon shows again that there never was an Eastern Christian art without outside influences.  Even the earliest Christian depictions were heavily reliant on images prevalent in the Greco-Roman art of the time.

Over the years the art of the Russian Church was influenced by images from the Catholic and later even Protestant West of Europe.  This influence only increased with the great change in Russian Orthodox State Church painting that came after the break with the Old Believers in the middle of the 17th century.  By the end of that century, State Church art went one way, while the Old Believers maintained the traditional stylized manner of painting.

This Western influence brought new depictions into Russian Orthodox iconography.  One of these was the “Coronation of the Mother of God” — the Коронование Богородицы — Koronovanie Bogoroditsui, which came into Russian iconography via the Catholic-influenced art (including book engravings) of Ukraine.

 

Here is the inscription at the top:

It reads:

СЫНЪ МАТЕР ВЕНЧАЕТЪ —  ДУХ СВЯТЫЙ НЕВЕСТОУ ОСЕНАЕТЪ — ОТЕЦЪ ДЩЕРЬ БЛАГОСЛОВЛАЕТЪ

“THE SON CROWNS THE MOTHER” — “THE HOLY SPIRIT SANCTIFIES THE BRIDE” — “THE FATHER BLESSES THE DAUGHTER”

The “Coronation of the Virgin” image had been found in the art of the Catholic West since the 13th Century.  It was often combined with the “Assumption.”  In Russian Orthodox art, images of the death of Mary are depicted as the “Dormition” (Uspenie) — and for centuries, there was no “Koronovanie”  type in Orthodox art — no “Coronation.”  But in the 18th and 19th centuries, such icons became increasingly common, and were sometimes depicted — as in the West — in a “Dormition” icon with the “Coronation”  added in clouds above it.  Here is an example — the central image of an icon painted in 1694 by Kirill Ulanov (Кирилл Уланов) for the Pokrov Church in Moscow:

Gradually, however, icons of the “Coronation” without the “Dormition” scene became more common, like the first example on this page.

When the “Coronation” type first began to appear in Russian iconography, some were unhappy because it seemed to import a distinctively Roman Catholic teaching into Eastern Orthodoxy.  But as you may recall, there is a type of Deisis icon commonly called “The Queen Stands at Your Right,” in which Mary is shown crowned and in royal robes.  It applies the Old Testament phrase from the 44th Psalm to Mary as “Queen”:

“…the queen stood by on your right hand, clothed in garments wrought with gold, and arrayed in various colors...”

Of course that text originally had nothing to do with Mary at all, but it did provide a handy excuse for the adoption of the “Coronation” image into the icon repertoire by Russian Orthodox painters.

 

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ILLUSTRATIVE ICONS: MY SOUL MAGNIFIES THE LORD

Near the end of the 15th century, a new trend began in icon subjects.  These new types were not simply depictions of saints, but often rather complex theological compositions of one kind or another, giving visible form to Church dogma or to biblical or liturgical excerpts.  This kind of icon is generally called a “mystic-didactic” icon, meaning it is intended to teach one or another aspect of the “mysteries” of Church dogma by visual representation.  A common Russian term for such icons today is богословско-дидактические иконы — bogoslovsko-didakticheskie ikonui — “theological-didactic icons.”

Such icons are often truly a mystery to those who see them for the first time, because it would be quite difficult to understand what they are about, were it not for identifying title inscriptions.

Today we will look at such a complex icon type from the 17th century.  Here, in very condensed vyaz’ form, is its title:

 

It reads:

ВЕЛИЧИТЬ ДУША МОЯ ГОСПОДА  И ВОЗРАДОВАСЯ ДУХЪ МОИ О БОЗЕ СПАСЕ МОЕМЪ
VELICHIT’ DUSHA MOYA GOSPODA I VOZRADOVASYA DUKH MOI O BOZE SPASE MOEM”

Literally,
Magnifies soul my  [the] Lord and rejoiced spirit my in God Savior my

In normal English,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.”

Now if you are familiar with the Bible (which is extremely helpful in the study of icons), you will recognize that as the speech of Mary commonly called the “Magnificat,” found in the first chapter of the Gospel attributed to Luke.

So that is the title of this type:  “MY SOUL MAGNIFIES THE LORD.

Here is the icon:

As you can see, there are lots of creatures in it, and several different scenes, intended to illustrate various parts of the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he has regarded the humility of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted those of low degree.

He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

At upper right, we see the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary to tell her she will bear a son.  This illustrates “For he has regarded the humility of his handmaiden.”

Below that is a large crowd of various kinds of people looking up tward the central image of Mary and her son,  illustrating “ from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed”:

 

Here is “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”  We see devils, the large one being the Antichrist.  Some versions show proud monks in Hell for this scene.

Here we see “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones”:

On the left side we see monks flying up to Heaven illustrating “And exalted the humble.”

Below that is “He has filled the hungry with good things…”

And below that we see some gloomy wealthy people, alone with their money, illustrating “And the rich he has sent away empty”:

At the very top of the icon we see Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) with ranks of angels, two of whom hold the Scroll of Heaven, with the Sun and Moon on it.

Icons of “My Soul Magnifies the Lord” are not common, but nonetheless one should expect some variation in how the scenes are shown from example to example.