(Who brings victory)

sixteenth ­ seventeenth century
tempera on panel
Vatican Pinacoteca, Inv. 40540

General Description

The art of the icon is–among other things–the art of artistic copying and faithful rendering of set patterns. It is the art of passing on famous representations of Christ, the Virgin, and saints. Our icon is such a copy of a famous icon. Painted with tempera on pine, this 16th ­ 17th century effigy of Mother and Child “translates” the famous Venetian Madonna “Nicopéia” (the One who brings victory).

The original, a Byzantine icon dated tenth-twelfth century, was taken by the Venetians from Constantinople in 1204, and placed in the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice. The icon, because of its purported miraculous qualities, became rapidly famous, and was reproduced frequently by Byzantine icon painters who came to live in Venice after the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Hellenic Institute of Venice and the Classense Library of Ravenna have copies of the Nicopéia similar to ours.

Nicopéia (San Marco)

The similarity between the original Nicopéia and the present is mainly one of type and style. The type is that of the so called Brephocratousa, the mother holding the child. Although a half-figure, this icon is reminiscent of the enthroned Madonna and Child, Kyriotissa, at least as far as their solemn and majestic expression is concerned. Still another similarity can be established with the type of the Platytera, literally meaning “the one–finite and limited–who contains the limitless and “noncontainable one.” Titles associated with this Nicopéia are Seat of Wisdom (she holds in her arms and shows forth the child “filled with wisdom”), Ark of the New Covenant, and Tabernacle of God (Jesus Christ). Reflecting the two golden and gem-studded crowns of the original Nicopéia, this image is characterized by splendid halos decorated with painted gems and elaborate punches. The eyes of both figures are averted from the spectator, creating thus mobility and giving the icon a certain liveliness as we find it, i.e., in the sixth century Sinai representation of the Mother of God (Monastery of Saint Catherine

Interesting Iconographical Motifs

1) The Nicopéia (the One who brings victory) was the patroness and protectress of the Byzantine Empire until 1204 (fourth crusade), and its armies. Her effigy was reproduced on coins and seals following the pre-Christian tradition of adorning objects with the image of Nike, the goddess of victory.

2) The inscriptions left and right of his head: it says I(esou)s, and Ch(risto)s.

3) The inscriptions left and right of Mary’s head say:  M(ete)r (=mother) and Th(eo)u (=God),

4) The three stars (one on Mary’s veil, one on each shoulder) are symbols of Mary’s total dedication to the work of the Trinity, and thus also of her virginity.

5) The position of Mary’s hands suggests a medallion (clipeus) containing the image of Jesus. This would be typical of the Platytera (she contains the noncontainable), the one whose “womb is more spacious than the heavens” (fragment papyrus, 6th century).

For more information:

 “The Mother of God:  Art Celebrates Mary,” pp. 86-87.

See our website, The Mary Page: Icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Introduction, Theology of Icons, History, Technique, Symbolism, Marian Icons, Veneration of Images, Bibliography), www.udayton.edu/mary/resources/icon.html

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