The Virgin of the Sign

This is the most recent icon which I have completed. It is done in egg tempera on a piece of mat board, with a few layers of gesso (a substance like plaster) applied to make a smoother surface.  It is 15X16 inches in size.  No gilding, it is more of a study than a finished icon.  As a prototype, I used photos sent to me by a fellow blogger whose work I greatly admire.  (check out his latest paintings). I went ahead and included a couple of Seraphim at the top, although this particular model did not have them.

The Virgin of the Sign image first appeared in the 4th century in Roman catacombs.  In Russia, many miracles have been attributed to this icon and it is greatly revered.  It seemed to me that nearly every Orthodox church I have been in has the Virgin of the Sign portrayed within.  The Scripture verse to which it refers is from Isaiah 7:14, quoted again in Matthew 2:23 :

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”  which means “God is with us.”

A couple of notes on symbolism:

Images of Mary with her hands upraised in prayer are known as “Mother of God Orans”.  Whether she is depicted with or without the Child, her image is understood to be more than just a gesture of prayer, but the personification of prayer itself. (paraphrased from Ouspensky’s book The Meaning of Icons)

Mary has three stars on her cloak.  She is always depicted with these stars, and they signify that she is a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ. The initials “MP OY” are a Greek abbreviation for Theotokos–the God-Bearer.

Each figure has a halo, and a halo represents the divine radiance of God emanating from the face.  Jesus is placed in front of “mandorla” which consists of concentric rings with rays of light beaming outward.  The centermost ring is very dark, symbolizing the mystery of God.  The round shape also indicates the womb, that Mary is pregnant with the Son of God.  There is a Byzantine hymn that relates to this icon: “Your womb is vaster than the heavens, since in it you carried Him whom the heavens cannot contain, O Mother of God.”

Fiery, winged Seraphim, who minister to God in the Scriptures, often appear in versions of this icon.  I added them in this time as well because those wings and feathers reminded me of the poem by Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers

that perches in the soul

and sings the tune without the words

and never stops at all . . . 

This icon is all about hope, and its fullfillment, for me.

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About reinkat

I am an iconographer, and have been studying Russian/Greek icons since 1995. I'm married with 3 children. I love hiking, camping, animals, my family and church--and icons.
This entry was posted in art, Catholic icons, Catholicism, Christian Prayer, Icon, Iconography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Virgin of the Sign

  1. SR says:

    This is soooooooooooooo beautiful it is absolutely “BREATHTAKING!” I could stare at it for hours. God has granted to you, such a wonderful gift of art and explaining the art you do. If you ever wonder what you are supposed to be doing, go to this “ICON!” Your answer should be right there. This was/is wonderful. How it touched my soul! God Bless, SR

  2. Cornel A. says:

    Very beautiful!
    You did a good job using those images!
    I am very glad!
    🙂

  3. Beautiful. Really draws you into the picture.

  4. Very well done! This and the previous icon you completed – an icon of the Virgin of Tenderness are both very beautiful and spiritually rich. I would be interested in you sharing Cornel’s techniques if he does email you about your questions. I was struck by his use of cardboard – actually it is a great way to do a study for a finished icon. Please email me if you don’t want to blog about it. I am curious about the number of layers he puts on for the facial features, etc. Thanks.

  5. lilyboat says:

    Beautiful Job! Hope and fulfillment in one image.. It’s perfection! 🙂

  6. Biltrix says:

    I love the icon, the colors, and the explanation. I especially like the way you illuminated the meaning with Dickinson’s poem. I’ll never look at our feathered friends or hear them the same way again.

  7. geloruma says:

    Lovely work Reinkat, I’d have had to add the seraphim too – they draw the eye to the central feature really well, giving a better balance than if the space was left bare.

  8. Very impressive and inspiring. And to think that certain people view icons as idols is just ridiculous to me, because humans are creatures with sensory perceptions. The image of a saint or holy prophet or Jesus Christ is meant for edification and spiritual delight. And some icons are said to have performed miracles due to their positive energy from the believers who pray in front of them. Thank you.

    • reinkat says:

      Thanks for your comment, Linde.
      Any prayers before icons are directed to the one who is represented, and not a worship of the paint&board itself. I think that is where some become confused when they see the lit candles and bowing before the image.
      thanks for your words of support.

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