Icons with border panels featuring the appearances and wonders worked by the Mother of God icons, one of which was the Tikhvin icon, first appeared in Russian art in the 14th century. The literary base of the border scenes was The Tale of the Miracles of the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God. There are different versions of the Tale.

The distinctive features of the 16th – 17th century icons are a circular composition of the border scenes. Icons with traditional row-wise distribution of the border scenes appeared in the late 17th century. Some of the first border panels show the appearances of the icon in different places. “Streaming light and walking in the air,” moving from one village to another and “carried by unseen angels”, the icon had appeared to local residents until it reached the banks of the Tikhvinka river. According to the Tale, the icon appeared to people seven times: first on Ladoga Lake, then on the Smolkovo churchyard on the river Oyati and Vymochenitsy, next on “Kozhel on the mount of Kukov”, on a mount above the Tikhvinka river, and finally, on the other bank of the river.

The following cycle of border panels tells about the miraculous appearance of the Mother of God and St. Nicholas to sexton George (Yurysh). They asked the sexton not to place an iron cross atop the church roof and put a wooden cross instead. People didn’t believe the sexton and mounted an iron cross, but it fell down on the ground. A new cross was made of a tree branch upon which had sat the Mother of God. The wooden Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos, erected on the site of the last appearance of the icon, burnt three times but the icon remained intact. The miraculous survivals of the icon from the fires are depicted in one of several border panels. Some icons, for example, The Mother of God Tikhvinskaya with the Tale of Its Image (the 1560s) from the Andrei Rublev Museum, show scenes emphasizing the Divine patronage of the Grand Ducal authority by the icon: The prayer of the Grand Ducal court before the wornderworking icon. The tale culminates in the stories of miracles worked by the icon such as the liberation of the Tikhvin Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos from the Swedish conquest in 1613. The Swedish troops fled in panic after it seemed to them they were being surrounded by the countless army. One of the most frequently encountered miracles tells about the miraculous salvation of the builders buried by the fallen roof of the stone Assumption Cathedral. The tale commonly culminates in miraculous healings of crippled and sick people appealing to the icon for help.

The earliest known example of the Tale of the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God is a frame with the Tale, created ca. 1547 for an earlier icon from the Annunciation Cathedral at the Moscow Kremlin.

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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