This iconographic type represents a full-length image of the Theotokos with lifted hands and a medallion with the Child Christ upon the breast. The name “Great Panagia”, according to N.P.Kondakov, is derived from an inscription on a carved image of the Theotokos on a 17th century artos panagiarion from the Xiropotamou Monastery on Mount Athos. The origin of this iconography is rooted in ancient times. N.P.Kondakov points out that the earliest images of the Theotokos with raised hands first appeared in the 6th - 7th centuries. Its prototype is a 6th century fresco from the catacomb of the “May cemetery” in Rome, in which the Mother of God is portrayed with lifted hands and a half-length image of the Child Christ without a medallion, flanked by Christograms. The Great Panagia image is often placed in the conchae of the altar apsis, for example, in the Church of the Savior on Nereditsa (1199) or the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Novgord (16th century).

There are many different names for the iconography deriving from different inscriptions on ancient icons. The great diversity of names for venerated images led to developing different scientific traditions, in which preference is given to one or another version of the iconography regardless of its specific features. The liturgical contents of the image to the greatest extent reveals the meaning of the Embodiment dogma, therefore Russian 16th century chronicles use the term “Embodiment.” The the Great Panagia images are also known as the “Vlachernitissa” (a relief image from the Church of Santa Maria Mater Domini in Venice, circa 1200, an icon of The Mother of God with the Interceding Moses and the Patriarch Euphimy from the Monastery of St. Catherine on Sinai, the 13th century, a Mirozh icon of the Mother of God, the 16th century, an image of the Theotokos Episkepsis (Patroness) on a 12th century seal from the Archeological Museum in Istambul).

The earliest image of the Great Panagia in Russian icon-painting is an icon of The Yaroslavl Oranta (ca. 1224), from the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. In Russian tradition, the images the Great Panagia type are also called “Znamenie” (Sign) and are most frequently depicted half-length (the 12th century Novgorodian icon “Znamenie” at the St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod). The Mother of God with raised hands and the Emmanuel image on her breast symbolize a prayer for the whole world and serve as the evidence of Christ’s salvational embodiment. Depending on the iconographic context and accompanying inscriptions, the theme of embodiment can be treated dogmatically (e.g. The Theotokos Znamenie in the central panel of a prophet row of the iconostasis) or liturgically (the Yaroslavl Oranta). N.P.Kondakov use the term “Znamenie” while other 20th century scholars use “Vlachernitissa” and “Platitera” for the same icons.

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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