The question was asked, after my last post, why do I think this particular icon is the most famous and the most venerated, why does it stand out? It is not just a subjective call by myself. This is a true masterpiece, beloved historically and spiritually as well as artistically.
Many many icons are loved and venerated. Venerating icons is a major part of Eastern Christian worship, both in the Orthodox Church and the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.
The best-loved ones are translated over and over again, so that every church and every chapel will have the image to lead them to prayer. Some of the other much-loved icons, besides Our Lady of Vladimir, are of The Savior, others of the Mother of God, and saints, especially St.Nicholas and St.George. The image of the Vladimir Theotokos (Theotokos means The God-Bearer) is a very popular subject in both workshops and churches. (My own Catholic parish church has a version of the icon, painted by a nun in New York state.)
The image of the Mother of God of Vladimir has been painted millions of times over the past thousand years right up to the present time. Some of the translated images, painted by master iconographers, are beautiful in their own right–but none are as highly regarded as a masterpiece of art as the original Byzantine icon.
One way to determine fame is by numbers. There are about 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world. 80 to 100 million of them live in Russia. Another 11 million live in Greece (as much as 98% of the Greek population). The rest are scattered throughout the world: in the Middle East countries, in the United States, in Serbia, in Romania, etc. All of them venerate icons, and this one is especially precious, particularly to the Russian people. In the St. Nicholas chapel wing of the Tretyakov Museum in Moscow–which I believe was built just to house her– a constant stream of visitors comes to see and honor her. Each person has a brief minute or two to come forward individually and stand and bow before the icon, giving thanks, and venerating Our Lord and His Holy Mother.
The Mother of God of Vladimir is the National Treasure of Russia, and was even recognized as such during the atheist Soviet years, as both an art masterpiece and a precious historical artifact.
It is more than just the sheer numbers of admirers that make this icon famous. It is also a Miracle-Working Icon. People who come before the image to pray have been granted healing of all kinds. Towns who have venerated and prayed before her have been spared tragedy–in fact the entire nation of Russia has credited the icon with historical victories. I think it is also pretty miraculous that this icon, 1000 years old, has survived turmoil, war, harsh weather, has been carried directly into battle and attacked by enemy troops–and that the faces of Mary and Jesus remain intact and undamaged throughout.
The icon is widely recognized. Photographs of Our Lady of Vladimir can be found in nearly every icon book, and serves as the example of the highest artistic achievement in the Byzantine icon in secular art books as well. It is technically and compositionally, theologically and expressively, beautiful and perfect. Paper prints are sold at church gift shops for use in home altars and “red corners”.
It can even be seen on the “silver screen”. Mel Gibson has named his own production studio “Icon Productions” and has made the eyes and face of the Theotokos his logo.