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.