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Vladimir Icon Origins

Vladimir Icon Origins

Q: Did St. Luke paint Mary? In particular, is he the painter of the famous icon of Vladimir?

A: The Vladimirska is without doubt the most venerated Marian icon of the East. It has not only one but two feast days: May 21 and August 26. This icon was commissioned by a Russian patron in 1125 in Byzantium (according to Rice). Andrej Boguejubiskij brought it 1155 from Vysegorod to Susdal, and in 1163 it was taken to Vladimir from which city the icon received its famous name. The Vladimirska was transferred in 1395 to the Uspenskij Cathedral in Moscow to protect the city against Tamerlan.

Today it can be seen in the Tretjakow gallery. She is the protectress of Russia. This icon called Our Lady of Tenderness (Eleousa) is not attributed to St. Luke but it is right to say that the prototype of the Eleousa was attributed to St. Luke and, according to legend, was brought by Empress Eudokia from Palestine to Constantinople (in 440).

The oldest known Eleousa icon dates from 7-9 C and its origin lies in Syria (ivory statuette). However, an even older icon-type claims St. Luke the Evangelist as artist. That is the Hodegitria icon venerated in the Hodegos Church in Byzantium. The original - also a gift of Empress Eudokia - was big and heavy. Legend claims that it was painted on the table top in Mary's house by St. Luke under Mary's supervision. Thus it is considered the model and original (with the Eleousa) of all Marian images. The reference to St. Luke is not a historical fact. What it means is this:

1) St. Luke's description of Mary and Jesus in the Infancy narrative is that of a gifted painter, meaning detailed and beautiful.
2) Icons attributed to St. Luke claim authority. They serve as models for all subsequent ones.
3) The attribution to St. Luke is frequently used to indicate absence of known authorship.
4) St. Luke's icons are distinctively old and of miraculous character.

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