The iconography of the The Mother of God Joy to Those Who Grieve was known in Russian religious art since the last quarter of the 17th century, being formed under strong Western European influence. The name of this iconographic variation recalls the text of the praise to the Mother of God. The first lines of this hymn are depicted in the ribbons flanking the Virgin Mary: “Though art the joy of all who sorrow, the feeder of those who hunger, the comfort of wanderers, the safe haven to the troubled, the visitation of the ill, the defense and intercessor of the weak, the support of the old, the Mother of God in the Highest, the All Pure; intercede, we pray to you, for the salvation of your servants”. The common trait of all such icons is the depiction of the suffering people (often split into specific groups), all bowing down before the Mother of God, who stands surrounded by a mandorla. The Holy Virgin can be depicted with the Infant Christ (see Il. 1, which dates back to the icon of Moscow’s Transfiguration Church on Ordynka Street), or without the Infant (Il. 2, in this case the Virgin Mary is shown with her arms and maphorion spread over the praying figures).
The given piece follows the Moscow iconographic tradition. The inscription over the upper field “The Sorrowful All Pure Theotokos” is typical for Old Believer art; the adherence of the icon to this tradition is also made clear by the two-finger blessing gesture of Christ and the title: IC XC.
The artistic traits of the piece, its subtle colour work, built on the use of pale ochres, dim browns, reds, greens and deep blues, the rugged, split gold etching, the rather heavy forms, as well as the recognizable forms of the purple clouds all point to the place of the icon’s creation – the Old Believer centre of Guslitsy. A close stylistic analogy is the Guslitsy icon of the Martyr Abbacum (early 20th century, currently in the State Russian Museum). The widespread region, known as “Old Believer Palestine”, is located in the eastern part of the Moscow Province (currently the Orekhovo-Zuev and Iegoriev Departments of the Moscow Oblast), along the banks of the Guslitsy River. Its centre was the Iliynsky Graveyard, which is 90 km to the south-east of Moscow.
Guslitsy was located near the great iconographic centres of the Vladimir Province; these centres, especially Palekh, greatly influenced the style of the local iconographers. Guslitsy played an important role in the development of the Old Believer artistic tradition of the middle – second half of the 19th century. The Guslitsy masters were especially known for their calligraphy and book illumination, as well as for their bronze-casting; but Guslitsy’s iconographic workshops were also praised, with their icons being commissioned from all over Russia.