Ryska ikoner i svensk och norsk ägo, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 1956
H.Kjellin, Ryska ikoner i svensk och norsk ägo [exhibition catalogue], Stockholm, 1956, No. 117, p. 220
The icon follows the compositional scheme traditional for the Orthodox iconography. It is painted against a gold leaf ground with a light ochre border. The Mother of God is shown lying on her deathbed surrounded by the grieving Apostles. Above her, circumscribed by a mandorla with a cherub on top, stands Christ accompanied by two angels, receiving the soul of his Mother represented as an infant child. On both sides of the Virgin’s deathbed stand four bishops: St. James the brother of the Lord, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, Timothy, bishop of Ephesus, Hierotheus and Dionysius the Areopagite, bishops of Athens. In the foreground, at the foot of the bier, are shown the Jewish priest Jephonias (or Athonios) and an angel cutting off his hands for having dared to touch the funeral couch of the Mother of God.
The Dormition of the Mother of God, also known as the Assumption in the Western tradition, is one of the most important feasts of the Virgin. The subject is based on several apocrypha and homilies, such as a sermon on the Dormition of the Mother of God by John of Thessaloniki (610-649). According to the legend, the twelve apostles were present at the deathbed of the Mother of God, together with four early Christian writers James, Dionysius the Areopagite, Hierotheos and Timotheos of Ephesus.
The present iconographic type was first introduced in Byzantine in the post-iconoclastic era and later reached Medieval Russia, where the earliest known example, the icon from the Desyatinny Convent in Novgorod (now in the State Tretyakov Gallery), dates back to the late 12th – early 13th century.
The feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God is celebrated on August 15th. The principal cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin is dedicated to this feast.