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The icon is of the “Our Lady of Care” type and is known as Pokrow, which is characteristic for Ruthenia. The proper source of the icon's theme was the vision of Andrzej the Mad (cs. Jurodiwyj), which he experienced at the Blatzne temple in Constantinople.


The icon is of the “Our Lady of Care” type and is known as Pokrow, which is characteristic for Ruthenia. The proper source of the icon's theme was the vision of Andrzej the Mad (cs. Jurodiwyj), which he experienced at the Blatzne temple in Constantinople.
The festivity of Our Lady of Care was on 1 October, and, at the same time, it was the feast of Bishop Ananias and Roman Melodos (Slodkopiewca), who were both present on the icon, next to Andrzej the Mad, with his disciple, Epifanios. Roman — in the centre at the bottom — illustrates a verse of the kontakion, tone 3, sung in the church for the festivity of Our Lady of Care: “The lady stands before us in the church [and with the masses of saints she invisibly prays for us to God]”. A troparion, tone 4, is also sung that day: “Let us solemnly celebrate today, pious people, dazzled by you, Mother of God, coming, and looking at your clear image. Let us cry out with love. Shield us with your venerable cloak and deliver us from all evil, and ask the Son for the salvation of our souls.”
The older icons often depicted an imperial couple, usually Leon the Wise and Zoe, and later, Constantine and his mother Helena. The bishop presented alongside the imperial couple could be Sylvester, associated with finding the relic of the Holy Cross and the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  The royal couple is prominent among the people in the foreground on the Ruthenian icon. In front of them, there is a bishop, who is believed to be the first Greek Catholic bishop of Lviv (from 1700), Józef Szumlański. The physiognomic features of the royal couple indicate that they should be recognized as King Jan III Sobieski (1629–1696, king from 1674) and his wife Maria Kazimiera (1641–1716) and the aforementioned Józef Szumlański, who was to accompany the king, still as a chaplain, in a battle near Vienna. The presence of the king can be explained by the fact that — thanks to his triumphs — he had become extremely popular in Red Ruthenia and Podolia.

Elaborated by Mirosław Piotr Kruk (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved


The East and the West under the protection of the Mother of God

The evolution of iconography, from the instilling of an idea, its crystallisation in worship, to its materialisation in art is a long and complicated process. The example of the Protection of the Mother of God shows how creativity could develop a theme based on one idea; the idea in which the East and the West found a common source, and through the interpretation of which their paths diverged with time.


The evolution of iconography, from the instilling of an idea, its crystallisation in worship, to its materialisation in art is a long and complicated process. The example of the Protection of the Mother of God shows how creativity could develop a theme based on one idea; the idea in which the East and the West found a common source, and through the interpretation of which their paths diverged with time.
One of the oldest images of human consciousness associated with the idea of protection is the depiction of a bird shielding its young with its wings. An allusion to it repeatedly appeared in texts; it was also often used as a metaphor (e.g. a later metaphor of “the wings of God” – a parent protecting its children). The archetypical gesture of the sheltering of the needy with a coat is associated with the power and protection of either a ruler or God (a superior force). Regarding the former, the coat is understood as a symbol of power which protected all those who found themselves under it. In the latter, it was a hallmark of being selected and anointed (St. Elijah), as well as of divine protection. In the Middle Ages, the covering with a coat was associated with the protection of patrons, and, in the case of women standing high in the hierarchy – of intercession. This deeply rooted idea became timeless as it referred to a clear symbol known since antiquity, which, by taking on a new pictorial form, appealed to the imagination of the faithful. It was adopted by the Christian religion through the image of the Mother of God, at the same time associated with maternal love. The worship developed spontaneously, and the iconography developed in a popular form long before teachings of theologians who used the phrase Mater Misericordiae as Our Lady of Mercy as late as the 14th century.
The idea of the Protection of the Mother of God, which appeared in western iconography as Mater Misericordiae, and in eastern as Pokrov, probably has a common source in the legend of a convert who was miraculously saved from death in a fiery furnace by the Mother of God, who covered him with her coat.
In the western interpretation, the iconography of Mater Misericordiae developed in two forms – as a monastic type and as the tradition of Mater Omnium, or the protector of all people. The motif of the protective coat also appeared in the iconography of other saints: St.  Martin of Tours who sheltered a beggar; in depictions of St. Ursula covering her companions, or St. Sophia protecting her daughter. Over time, the motif of the coat appeared in depictions of other saints.
The monastic type crystallised as part of rivalry among the Orders of Cistercians, Dominicans, and Norbertines, as well as the Carmelites, the Carthusians, and the Jesuits for the special patronage of the Mother of God of their community. It had a visionary character and every time was based on a legend of a revelation of the Mother of God protecting members of the congregation with her coat to a monk. This iconographic topos appeared for the first time probably in the Order of Cistercians, from where it was adopted by other orders. In the post-council iconography, the theme of the protective coat of the Mother of God merged with the cult of the scapular and rosary, creating new, contextually extended images (e.g. the Mother of God spreading her protective coat and holding a rosary in her hand), which function in the iconography as independent motifs.
In the second case, the motif of Mater Misericordiae appeared as Mater Omnium, who concealed beneath her coat representatives of every state, laity and clergy and men and women. The idea of a cloak of protection over the whole world was widely understood; therefore, the coat was sometimes so wide that in order to cover everyone it had to be held by angels and saints. It could also be narrowed to focus on of a smaller group of people, for example, one family. This idea ideologically suited the Marian brotherhoods (scapular or rosary).

The cult of the Mother of God intensified through centuries of wars and disasters of all kinds. Mater Misericordiae was portrayed as a protector of towns and armies, called Palladium, who shielded them with her coat. At the same time, familiar fiction motifs, repeated in literature as a topos were adopted, namely the miraculous defence of a town by Mary, who covered it with her coat (Constantinople, Chartres, Mont-St-Michel, and Jasna Góra).
Over time, the figure of the Mother of God came to assist the figure of Christ, or the Child sitting on her lap, and the accompanying angels spread apart the flaps of her coat. An interesting example, which can be found in the Polish art of the Middle Ages, is a Madonna of the cabinet type. In a closed arrangement, a figure depicts the Madonna with Child (an iconographic type Sedes Sapientiae – the Seat of Wisdom). After opening the door, in the middle there is the Throne of Grace, and on the side – there are figures kneeling under the protective coat. The whole image has a meaning referring to the triple birth of Christ. The depiction of the Protection of the Mother of God was eventually incorporated into various iconographic cycles, or mixed with other themes, which complement the context with new additions. The idea was later adopted by secular art, which did not associate the image with Mary, and considered the coat as the symbol of protection only.
In the East, the cult of the Protection of the Mother of God took quite a different form. It was combined with an illustration of a particular event. Due to this, it had its own liturgy and iconography. It combined an idea with a relic, which was the robe of the Mother of God kept in the monastery in Blachernae (a district of Constantinople). Therefore, the feast of the Deposition of the Robe of the Mother of God which would fall on the 2nd of July was established in the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century. When in the 12th century part of the miraculous robe of the Theotokos was moved from Constantinople to Rus, the feast was officially recognised in the form of the Pokrov celebration in the entire Orthodox Church, to fall on the 1st of October (the 14th of October according to the Gregorian calendar). However, the Ruthenian cult had developed much earlier; as early as the 10th century, there was a strong influence of the vision of the Mother of God included in the Life of St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ.
The earliest Pokrov images had, in some sense, a symbolic character; they grouped together figures of the Mother of God, Christ and the angels supporting her headscarf. After some time, the iconography was enriched with more people, namely, the direct witnesses of miracles – St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ and Epiphanius. The composition was divided into two areas: earthly and heavenly; then in the background an architectural staffage was added. Over time, more characters were added to both areas. Their numbers also increased for compositional reasons – to maintain symmetry.      
The procession in the lower area underwent the greatest of changes, as it was augmented with other miracle witnesses – saints, the Fathers of the Church and people hiding under the protective coat of the Mother. The iconographic scheme evolved further, being influenced by the events of that time, as well as by the local cult. During subsequent transformations, the figures of Ananias and Romanos the Melodist were added; the latter was placed in the centre of the composition, covering the tsar's gate. With time, the extension reached a stage of  the irrational grouping of all the saints associated with the 1st of October. The composition became more theatrical and the representatives – the figures of Emperor Leo the Wise and his wife Zoe, along with their court appeared (they were often regarded as St. Helena and Constantine the Great). The lower area was divided into the group of the emperor along with his retinue on one side, and the group of Ananias with the bishops, local saints or saints of the Greek calendar on the other. Between them, in the centre, there was Romanos the Melodist, and the composition was complemented further by a nameless crowd hidden under the coat of the Mother of God.
The cult developed so much that the Pokrov split into local types (e.g. Novgorod and Moscow types) with processions of relevant figures. The participants in the vision were modified continuously; even the figures of contemporary people were introduced: tsars and courtiers, founders, and representatives of the nobility during the period of democratisation. At the same time, the protective coat of the Mother of God underwent a metamorphosis from the robe of the Theotokos, an omophorion, and a scarf, to a Rushnyk, but it still retained the same meaning.
The iconography of the Mater Misericordiae was creatively developed in art, as opposed to the idea of which it was a representation, which for centuries remained clear and functioned unchanged in the minds of audience. The evolution of this iconographic motif ceased in the 19th century. Later, it was used only sporadically in sacred and secular art; the latter adopted a significance associated with an action or a motif, but not with a specific image, in accordance with the principle of iconographic inertia.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Mieczysław Gębarowicz, Mater Misericordiae – Pokrow – Pokrowa w sztuce i legendzie środkowo-wschodniej Europy, Wrocław 1986.
Ryszard Knapiński, Od Pokrowy do Płaszcza Opieki. Przeobrażenia motywu ikonograficznego Mater Misericordiae, „Studia Warmińskie”, XXXIX (2002), s. 131–160.
Beata Szafraniec, Matka Boska w płaszczu opiekuńczym, [w:] Krystyna S. Moisan, Beata Szafraniec, Maryja – Orędowniczka wiernych. Ikonografia nowożytnej sztuki kościelnej w Polsce, Warszawa 1987, s. 10–43.

See also:
“The Mother of God” (Pokrow), Nowy Sącz District Museum
Icon “The Mother of God” (“Pokrow”), The National Museum in Kraków


Icon “The Mother of God” (“Pokrow”)





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