Exaltation of the Virgin
The Exaltation of the Virgin (The Praise of the Mother of God), with the Acathistos
This icon was the fourth image on the left of the sanctuary doors in the local tier of the iconostasis in the Cathedral of Dormition in the Monastery of St. Cyril of Byelozersk. When it came to the monastery is unknown; its presence there, however, was documented from 1601, and its style suggests a workshop in or around Moscow. That it was continually embellished with rich decorative additions indicates that it was one of the more venerated icons in the cathedral.
Displaying a lush and radiant composition, this striking icon represents a highly successful integration of a central theme, "The Praise of the Mother of God," and a border sequence illustrating the "Acathistos," a special hymn which is sung in her honor.
Evidence of considerable interest in the subject of "The Praise of the Mother of God" during the fourteenth century suggests that, in all likelihood, it was first represented at that time. The earliest extant icon of the subject is found in the Cathedral of the Dormition, Moscow, but the iconographic presentation of the central image of the icon at the State Russian Museum is thought to derive from a mural of the 1480s in the side-chapel of the same cathedral.
At the center of the composition, surrounded by an elliptical wreath of blue shoots, is an exceedingly delicate depiction of the seated Mother of God. She raises her right hand to her breast, palm outward, in a gesture of modesty and acceptance. The vegetative wreath undoubtedly involves a number of references: the tree of Jesse in the Book of Isaiah (11:1), the comparisons of Christ with the Tree of Life, and the Mother of God with a "blossoming paradise." "Christ Emmanuel," also surrounded by a wreath, appears above the Mother of God, a symbol of the eternally incarnate Christ.
The principal image of the Mother of God is surrounded on three sides by a human wreath as well: eleven Old Testament prophets inclining toward her and gesturing with their unraveled white scrolls. These scrolls, displaying their respective prophesies of the coming of Christ, punctuate the rich green field like a necklace of lights, visually underscoring the significance of their offerings.