The Virgin of the Sign, early 18th century

The Virgin of the Sign, early 18th century, in a metal oklad studded with small river pearls and semi-precious stones. Illustrated in Richard Hare, ‘The Art and Artists of Russia’.

The Virgin of the Sign (Virgin Znamenie in Russia) is one of the most ancient Christian iconographies, with examples dating to the 3rd century CE. Since the 14th century, Russian churches have positioned the image at the centre of the top row of the iconostasis (icon screen) that separates the congregation from the altar in Orthodox churches.

The name of the icon comes from the biblical prophecy of Isaiah: ‘Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and this shall be a sign unto you’.

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