There are some Marian icons that one recognizes easily and immediately (if one is generally familiar with Marian icons), and one of these is the “Andronikov” icon — Андрониковская — Andronikovskaya, also called the  Греческая- Андроникова — Grecheskaya-Andronikova — the “‘Greek’-Andronikov” image.

Here is a typical example, which though lithographed, is nonetheless an old presentation icon from about 1900, set into a silver and also velvet frame.

(Courtesy of

Russian examples of this icon commonly date from the latter 19th-early 20th century.  It is recognized easily by the distinctive crown worn by Mary, and by the slight inclination of her head to the right.

At the bottom of the image was a knife case containing a bone-handled steel knife, said to have been used by a Turk in attacking the image, causing a cut on the neck which bled; the wound is visible in copies of the image.  This notion of an icon bleeding when cut is one of the standard old motifs we encounter in these often fanciful origin stories, which again reflects how icons were traditionally regarded in pre-modern thinking — as persons that could move about on their own volition and even bleed.

It is said that the original icon (yes, it is another of those wishfully but falsely attributed to the hand of St. Luke) was a family icon of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (1297-1341).  He is said to have given it to a monastery on the peninsula of Monemvasia, which was in the southern Greek region then called Morea, but more classically known as the Peleponnese.

In 1821 when the Ottoman Turks attacked Greece, the head of the monastery fled with the icon to the city of Patras.  He bequeathed the icon to a relative who happened to be the Russian Consul General, N. I Vlassopoulos.  The Consul General’s son, A. N. Vlassopoulos, sent the icon in 1839 to Odessa and on to the Emperor of Russia, Nikolai Pavlovich (Nicholas I, ruled 1825-1855). For almost thirty years it was in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, then several years in the Trinity Cathedral, and in 1877 it was taken to the Kazan Convent near the town of Vuishny Volochok, in Tver Province.  There it was placed in a special kiot (icon case) in the monastery church.  A special gathering of pilgrims used to be held before it three times a year.

In 1984 the Andronikov icon was stolen, and its whereabouts remain unknown.

The Greek inscription on the image begins Η ΚΥΡΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙΚΟΥ ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡΟΣ  — He Kyria tou andronikou autokratoros …  “The Lady of Andronikos, Autocrat…,” referring to Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos, the donor to the Monemvasia monastery (the icon is sometimes also known as the “Monemvasia” icon). Αυτοκρατορος — Autokratoros — “autocrat” was the title used by Byzantine emperors, somewhat the equivalent of the Latin Imperator — “Emperor.”



There are many icons of Mary in Russian Orthodoxy that are considered chudotvornaya, “wonder-working,” “miracle-working.”  A peculiarity of some of these icons is that they are believed to “specialize” in treating certain ailments.  There is one, for example, to help women in childbirth.  There is another believed to be effective in problems of the mind, whether mental infirmity or helping students perform well in their studies.

An example of the latter is the icon type known as Прибавление ума — Pribavlenie Uma, “Increase of Reason” often translated simply as “Addition of Mind.”

"Increase of Reason" icon
“Increase of Reason” icon

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.”  We have already seen that the Buddha found a place in the Calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church under the name St. Ioasaph; in this case an Italian Roman Catholic statue has found a place in the list of Russian Orthodox “wonder-working” icons under the name “Increase of Reason.”

As anyone who has read the group of pious stories known as the Golden Legend knows, the history of saints and images is filled with all kinds of fanciful and imagined and heavily-embroidered stories, and this particular icon goes back to such an imagined story in its Roman Catholic version, which turns out to be quite like the stories one finds in Eastern Orthodoxy about the origins of Marian icons.

When it comes to images and paintings of Mary, there is always the frequently encountered tale that this or that image or painting was created by the evangelist Luke.  That is in fact the story that became attached to a blackened image of Mary and the Christ Child that was kept in the shrine of Loreto in Italy.  Of course such stories have not a wisp of scientific or historical support, but they served to enhance the importance of such images for pilgrims, and were avidly repeated.

The original Loreto statue was thus one of quite a number of art works attributed by fancy to St. Luke.  And even more enhancing was the story that the chapel in which the Loreto image was kept was the original house of Mary, the same one in which she had met the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, the same one in which Jesus grew up; and that it had been carried through the air to Italy (with a long pause in Croatia) all the way from Palestine in the 13th century, to avoid its falling into the hands of Saracens (these were the times of the Crusades).  The house was said to have been seen by shepherds, carried in the sky by the hands of angels.  That is very reminiscent of tales told of icons, such as the appearance of the Tikhvin icon, seen by fishermen as it moved miraculously through the air over a lake in northern Russia toward its destination.

To make a long story short, the “Increase of Reason” icon is a painted version of the old, blackened statue of Mary and her child that was kept in the supposed house of Mary in Loreto, Italy.  The icon reproduces not only the appearance and garments of the image, but even the shape of the niche with side columns in which the image was kept.  That is easy to see when one looks at photos of the Loreto shrine and its image.

The present-day Loreto image in Italy, by the way, is a copy of an earlier image destroyed by fire in 1921.

Here is another icon of the “Increase of Reason” type:

The inscription reads:

“[The] Increase of Reason, Key of Understanding Most-holy Mother-of-God”

At the base of Mary’s garment is a “cherubim” (remember that Slavic uses the plural for the singular in this case).  The family name saints at left and right are Svyatuiy Iakov Apostol (Holy Jacob/James the Apostle) and Svyataya Irina Muchenitsa (Holy Irina/Irene the Martyress).



If one begins researching the icons of Mary called chudotvornaya— “wonderworking” — in the Russian Orthodox Church (and there are some in Greek Orthodoxy too, but not nearly as many), one will quickly notice that a number of them are said (with a straight face) to have been painted by St. Luke.  Yes, Saint Luke, also known as the Evangelist Luke.  On conservative E. Orthodox religious sites one will see this repeated over and over again about such icons as the Vladimir Mother of God (Vladimirskaya), which was even said to have been painted by Luke on a board taken from a table used by Jesus and his family.


Well, it simply is not true.  Not one bit of it.  First of all, we do not know who really wrote the Gospel attributed to St. Luke.  That attribution was added later. Nowhere does any author self-identify in that Gospel.  None of the Apostolic Fathers, in quoting from a Gospel, attributes it to a named author, which would hardly have been the case if an author was known in those early days.   So we can assume the Gospel called “of Luke” was anonymous in the earliest manuscripts (that applies to the other three Gospels as well — and also to the Acts of the Apostles; apparently the attribution titles were added sometime near the end of the 2nd century).

What we do know is that the Gospel attributed to Luke contains not one word about the painting or veneration of icons.  Nor is there the slightest mention of it anywhere in the New Testament where a “Luke” is mentioned — or anywhere in the New Testament at all.

Not one of the icons attributed to Luke is in a style remotely connected to the 1st century A.D.  All are much, much later (and from various later times chronologically).  And there is not one bit of scientific analysis dating any one of the number of icons attributed to Luke to the 1st century.

Where, then, does the notion come from that several icons of Mary were painted by Luke?  First of all, it comes from the desire of the later church — after the making and painting of icons had become established practice (which was beyond the period of the earliest Christians) — to retroactively inject the later doctrine of icon making and veneration into earliest Christianity, where there is really no trace of it.

The notion that Luke painted an icon of Mary, scholars relate, first appeared during the Iconoclast controversy in the 8th century, created by those favoring icon veneration.  The earliest mention of icons painted by Luke is found in a work called On the Veneration of Holy Images by Andrew of Crete, who died in the first half of the 8th century — an iconophile writing at the beginning of the Iconoclastic controversy.  An oft-quoted and supposedly earlier mention in the history by 6th century writer Theodore Anagnostes of an icon painted by Luke and sent from Jerusalem to Pulcheria (Byzantine Empress: died 453) is found in 13th-century manuscripts of the history.   But it is absent in earlier manuscripts from the early 11th century.  That is a very strong indication that this story of a Marian icon painted by Luke was added much later to the original text.  in  In a very well-researched book — Icons and Power: the Mother of God in Byzantium (Pennsylvania State University, 2006), Bessera  V. Pentcheva writes:  “The myth was invented in order to support the legitimacy of icon veneration during the Iconoclast controversy [8th and 9th centuries].  By claiming the existence of a portrait of the Theotokos painted during her lifetime by the evangelist Luke, the perpetrators of this fiction fabricated evidence for the apostolic origins and divine approval of Images.

Second, we may speculate that Luke was chosen as the prototypical first painter of Christian icons because, according to tradition, he was a physician — a doctor (“Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.” [Colossians 4:14])  And early physicians used certain powdered medications that were also used in early and later painting — among them notably cinnabar, which provided the bright red-orange color we see in Russian icons.

Luke the Evangelist painting Vladimirskaya ico...
Icon of Luke Painting Icon of Mary                                   (Image via Wikipedia)

An additional factor is that the gospel called “of Luke” devotes considerably more attention to Mary than the other three.

So no, there are no icons, wonderworking or not, painted by Saint Luke.  Nor, we can tell from the history of the development of Christian art, were there ever any such icons.  The earliest Christians simply did not paint and venerate icons as they are known later in the Eastern Orthodox Church, so attributing any icon to Luke is an obvious anachronism well known to be such by students of art history.

In spite of that, the Greek Orthodox have a legend that Luke painted three icons of Mary during her lifetime, and that she personally approved them; then after her death, he is said to have painted an additional seventy!

The supposed first three icons are said to be:

  1.  The Kykiotissa icon, which the Russians call Kikkskaya, now at the Kykkos Monastery on Cyprus.
  2. The Megalospilaiotissa or “Great Cave” icon (also called Speliotissa), now at the Megaspilaion Monastery in the Peloponnese, Greece.
  3. The Soumeliotissa icon, once kept at the Soumela Monastery in Turkey, now at the 20th-century “monastery” (actually the Dormition Church) in Greece (named after the Turkish site), at Kastania in Macedonia.

Here is a fresco from the Church of St. Athanasios at Vermio, Greece.  It depicts Luke painting a Marian icon.  The winged ox at right is his symbol, and above its halo is the name Λουκας — Loukas — “Luke.”

As a sidelight on the famous “Vladimir” icon pictured on this page, it is interesting to know that out of the whole painting, only the face of the child (not the rest of his head) and the face of Mary remain from the original painting, along with a couple of other small and insignificant patches.  The rest — which is the greater part of the icon we see today — is all later, all reworking.


When I say the original painting, I am not talking about the 1st or 2nd or 3rd or 4th or even the 5th century C.E.  I am talking about the 12th century, when the original icon was painted by an anonymous iconographer in Byzantium.  This is the most famous supposedly “Lukan” icon, and yet in fact it was not painted until the 1100s, and most of what we see today was actually painted at various later times.

But how does it happen that we think of it as a Russian icon?  And why is it named for Vladimir, a place in what used to be Kievan Russia?  That is because the icon was taken from Constantinople to Kievan Russia in the first half of the 12th century.  And in Russia it has remained, to be copied countless times over the years as the Vladimirskaya Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui — the “Vladimir Most Holy Mother of God.”  And of course its popularity was only increased by all the tales of various miracles that became associated with the icon — the earlier equivalent of our modern-day supermarket tabloid stories with headlines such as “Face of Jesus appears on Tortilla.”