Tetraptych with iconographies of the Mother of God

Region: Russian
Period: 19th century
Size: 5.5 x 21 cm


An enameled cast metal tetraptych devoted to the Mother of God, showing the Entry of the Virgin in the Temple, the Birth of the Mother of God, the Dormition and the Mother of God, Joy of all who suffer. The icon is decorated with a bass-taille technique, with four distinct colours in a free pattern.

Small cast metal tetraptychs are very rare, especially with iconographies of the Mother of God. This travelling icon is devoted to the Mother of God, showing three feast days related to the life of the Mother of God and the icon of the Mother of God Joy of all who suffering.
On the left we see the Entry of the Virgin in the Temple. When Mary is about three years old, she is taken to the Temple by her parents. Zachariah takes her by the hand, and she remains in the Temple for nine years. The source for this iconography is not from the four Gospels of the New Testament, but from the Protoevangelium of James. The narrator of this story of Mary is St James the Less, one of the sons of Joseph and the stepbrother of Christ. However, St James is not considered to be the author of the manuscript, since it is considered to have originated in middle of the 2nd century. The author is probably an unknown Christian from Egypt or Syria, hence the name Protoevangelium. Although the gospel was never part of the canon of the Christian churches, it was an important source for theological thinking about Mary. Many iconographies of events in the life of the Mother of God are based on these stories.
The second panel shows the Birth of the Mother of God. Anna, the mother of Mary lies in her bed, while Joachim, her father, is sitting next to her. At the lower left corner, their new-born daughter is washed for the first time.
The third panel is the icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God. The story of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, as the feast is called in the Western Christian tradition, is described in the 13th-century book Legenda Aurea. Mary’s remains lie on a hair surrounded by the apostles and some of the early bishops. The apostles Peter and Paul are respectively at the head and foot of the bier. Behind the bier stands Christ, surrounded by a mandorla held by a cherub. Christ carries the soul of Mary, depicted as a small infant, on his left arm. This emphasizes that while death causes grief to the mourners who remain behind, it is also the beginning of eternal life in heaven.
The Mother of God Joy of all who suffer, seen in the fourth panel, is one of the most beloved iconographies of Russian believers. The Mother of God is depicted in full-length, tilting her head towards people gathered by angels and asking her for assistance. Above the Mother of God Christ appears as High Priest above a cloud band. He has raised his right hand in blessing.