Q: What does the Nikopoia icon type represent?

A: Nikopoia, and its similar spellings, means "bringer of the victory." It is a Byzantine type that appeared as an independent type of icon in the first half of the fifth century and counts as one of the most loved types. The word Nicopeia indicates the place, Constantinople. There are actually many different types. The early Byzantine and widely spread style usually shows Mary seated on a throne in a frontal position with her feet on an imperial footrest. She is richly dressed in purple and the costume of the empresses. Seated on her lap is the Child, whom she supports with her left hand on the his left leg and her right hand on his right shoulder. This solemn and majestic pose is often accompanied by two angels holding the orb and the scepter at either side and as part of the frame.
Virgin Nikopoiso
Enameled terracotta, 30 x 30 cm
Constantinople, 10 or 11 c., Louvre

The name "bringer of the victory" seems to have been attached to this form of icon after Heraklios selected this image of Mary and the Child and named them his protectors when he sailed from Carthage to Constantinople in 610 AD against. Heraklios left the image in Constantinople after the victory. In 626, the siege of the Avaren and Slaves is said to have been averted after prayer before this image. The image is also thought by many to have been the icon given by Empress Eudokia to her sister-in-law Empress Pulcheria in the fifth century.

Whatever its actual origin, it became part of the Venetian loot when Constantinople was sacked in 1204 during the fourth Crusade. The original disappeared after that. The Nicopoia in San Marco is most likely a copy made after the difficulties with iconoclasm.
Mother of God of Arabia:
"O All-Praised Mother"

End of the eighteenth - beginning of the nineteenth century
Church of the Prophet Elija in Cerkizov

The image type originated in connection with the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) and the proclamation of Mary as Mother of God. According to N. Schmuck, in Marienlexikon, the representation of the Virgin in major churches now appeared on the throne in place of images of Christ, including domination of the central position in the apsis. In Constantinople, the Blachernen Church is the first to have placed the image in the main apse.

Mother of God of Constantinople
In the Byzantine East, from the sixth century this type of image was dominant, often Mary was surrounded by members of the imperial family and persons of episcopal leadership. She was centered in the mandorla, flanked with palm branches, sign of victory and rule. After the battles over iconoclasm, in place of the cross in the apse, in the second half of the ninth century this picture was erected in the Koimesis Church of Nikaia and especially in the main church of the nation, the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople. This indicates how relevant this icon type was in the Byzantine world. The gold traces of the crosses can still be seen. It is thought that by erecting the icon the church was restored to the original image that had been present before iconoclasm.

The icon type appears in many varied interpretations from that point on. Many of the later types show Our Lady and the Child cheek to cheek in the Eleousa form (Our Lady of Tenderness). Mary in her loving relationship to Christ wins hearts and the battle whatever the battle may be is won. Most of the representations have smaller images acting as a frame around the main image. If there are twelve of them, they represent the twelve major feasts in the Byzantine liturgical cycle. The smaller images can be Mary in various relationships, either with Christ, with persons of Sacred Scripture, and/or with political and ecclesial leaders.

Mother of God of Belozersk: "The Touch"
thirteenth - century Bielozersk near Vologda

There is a second strand of origin in the meaning of the image: in the adoration of the magi. By isolating the central image – the Mother and Child – the Scripture passage is recalled, "And when they had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented to him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2,11). The central theme of the Nikopoios, then: They found him with Mary, his mother and they worshiped him.The victories of life – political, governmental, ecclesial, personal – can be obtained if the fundamental relationship to Christ, as Mary makes him central, is respected.

La Madonna Nicopeia
Tenth - century Byzantine
St. Mark's Basilica in Venice.
This clipping (date unknown) shows the image before and after a theft of the diamonds and rubies decorating the image. The image is not thought to be the original taken from Constantinople, but a copy painted over several times.

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