Mother of God of Tolga (‘Tolgskaya’)

Region: Russian
Period: early 18th century
Size: 30 x 27 cm


An early 18th century icon of the Mother of God of Tolga (‘Tolgskaya’) with a female patron saint.

The Tolgskaya belongs to the iconographic type known as the Umilyenie in Russian, Eleousa in the Greek (‘she who shows mercy’). The Mother of God is depicted half-length carrying her child, Jesus Christ, on her left arm. The child embraces his mother with both arms and presses his cheek against hers. Her loving gaze shows both compassion and sorrow, as she foresees the Passion of her child.
The Mother of God Tolgskaja owes her name to the appearance of the icon to the hierarch Prochorus of Rostov on August 8, 1314. To this day, August 8th is also the day on which the Tolgskaya is celebrated in the Russian Orthodox Church.
In the border of the icon, next to the Mother of God, a female saint is depicted, most likely a patron saint of the family to whom the icon belonged.
The icon is painted in a style that originated in the circle around Simon Ushakov (1626-1686) at the Kremlin Armoury and flourished from the late 17th century to the early 18th century. Ushakov combined the Byzantine tradition and views on icon painting with the chiaroscuro and perspective of Western painting, to some extent following the footsteps of Greco-Italian icon painters in the centuries before him. For Russian viewers however, it was a completely new experience to recognise human traits and emotions in the images of saints so familiar to them.