The Virgin of the Burning Bush
Egg tempera on gold leaf on gesso on canvas on wood
Russia, first half 19th century
31 x 26 cms
Private collection, Germany
The theme of the Virgin of the Burning Bush is based on the Old Testament account in the book of Exodus, in which God revealed himself to Moses in a bush that burned without being consumed by the fire (Ex. 3:2). The Burning Bush is used as a metaphor for the Virgin Mary, who bore the incarnate God in her womb, and gave birth to her child whilst retaining her virginity. The icon of the Virgin of the Burning Bush is based in turn on an Akathist Hymn dedicated to the Mother of God and introduced into Russia in the 16th century. The centre of the icon shows an eight-pointed star, formed by two overlapping diamond shapes, with the Virgin and Child in the middle. They are surrounded by angels who represent Christian virtues and the natural elements such as fire, wind and ice. Each angel refers to a stanza from the Akathist. The central image of the Virgin and Child is encompassed by a circle, a symbol of eternity. The Virgin with the Christ-child in the centre represents the New Testament. The four Old Testament scenes in the corners prophetically refer to the Incarnation. In the upper left corner we see Moses before the burning bush. On the opposite side a seraphim cleans the lips of Isaiah with a burning coal. In the bottom corners we see, on the left side, Ezekiel’s vision of a closed gate facing east through which only Christ will appear. On the lower right side there is Jacob’s dream of a ladder leading up into heaven.
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