The Virgin is here presented in a shawl, trimmed with gold. The star on her forehead may be a reference to her Jewish name, Miriam, which translates literally as ‘star of the sea’. Christ is held tenderly but seems more like a small adult in classical drapery than a vulnerable baby. He nuzzles his mother’s face and looks up at her, while she gazes out towards the viewer, perhaps mirroring her role in prayers on behalf of others. Christ holds a scroll, a motif that appears in other icons of the Virgin of Tenderness, which may anticipate the episode when Christ read from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.
Although the word ‘icon’ is used in modern Greek to mean simply ‘image’, it refers more specifically in its art historical context to this particular type of devotional image, associated with the Eastern Church. In its portrayal of a relationship between the two holy figures, this work is one of the more naturalistic of icon types; but truth to nature was not the intention of the artist. Painters of icons worked, and in many places continue to work, within a religious tradition in which icons serve a purpose which is connected to both spirituality and the practice of public worship.
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