Europe, possibly Greece or Russia
Post-Byzantine, Greek, Russian, Orthodox
11 1/16 × 6 11/16 × 9/16 in. (28.4 × 17.0 × 1.4 cm)
2.96 oz. (84.0 g)
Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020
Collected by David P. Harris. Source and date unknown.
The silver is tarnished. Some parts of the repoussé are less distinct than others; for example, the right side of the halo has a more polished and clear pattern than the right side. The metal is worn and has sharp edges around the lower two corners; the lack of symmetry around the outer edges, especially the jagged points formed by semicircles at the corners, suggest that some pieces of the silver have been lost. September 2022. - Phoebe Houser ('24)
Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings
There are two small mint marks on the lower left and right corners that appear to have an EM-shape. Mary is labeled with her standard Greek inscription, ΜΡ ΘΥ. Jesus’s halo is inscribed with the Greek letters Ο, Ω, and Ν.
This thin silver plate, approximately the same size as letter-sized paper, would have been used as a revetment to cover a painted icon of Mary and the baby Jesus. The nail holes that were used to attach this plate to a wooden icon are visible: one at the arched upper end, one on either side of Mary’s head, two around the faces of Mary and the child, and four along the lower straight edge.The revetment is executed in repoussé, meaning that the metal was likely shaped by hammering on the back in order to form a design in relief.
The body of the Virgin takes up the majority of the revetment. She has her right hand placed to her chest with the other supporting the child. The faces are absent from the piece, but the outline of Mary’s face appears to be angled down toward the child, while the child’s face is angled up toward Mary. The child’s right hand, with the ring finger bent down, extends towards Mary’s face, and his other hand holds a small object. This iconographic composition, where Mary holds and motions to the baby Jesus while he holds his hand in the gesture of a blessing, is referred to as the Hodegetria. There are vine-like patterns on the lower part of Mary’s tunic and in the halo around her head. A six-petaled flower is at the top center of her headdress.
The silver is brightest on the highest parts of the relief — the limbs of both Mary and the child, along with Mary’s headdress — where the metal would likely have the most contact with people’s hands. On the back the metal takes on a more golden-brown hue. The fabric of Mary’s tunic has a variety of patterns and textures, such as dots and stripes, which are distinguished by indentations in the piece and variations in the shade of the silver.
Phoebe Houser ('24) for ARHS 291 Museum Object (Fall 2022).