Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy
  • Creator:
  • Description: Beginning in the eighth century CE, the Byzantine Empire struggled with the Christian religious practice of venerating figural images. By 726 the emperor Leo III removed one of the most famous images of Christ, an icon fastened to the Chalke gate in the palace of Constantinople, resulting in a city-wide riot and setting in motion a religious conflict that endured for over a century. This conflict, known as iconoclasm, often manifested in periods during which emperors and church authorities removed figural images from Byzantine churches and replaced them with non-figural imagery. Private veneration of small portable icons was forbidden and practitioners persecuted as heretics. Occasionally imperial authorities, often women, restored icon veneration for short spans of time, for example when Empress Irene of Athens permitted icon veneration briefly in 787. By the beginning of the ninth century iconoclastic policies began to wane. In 843, the combined efforts of Empress Theodora, wife of the deceased emperor Theophilos and regent for their son Michael III, Patriarch Methodios I of Constantinople, and the powerful eunuch Theoktistos fully restored icon veneration in the Byzantine world.

    This small icon both depicts and commemorates the “Triumph of Orthodoxy,” namely the reinstitution of icon veneration, on March 11, 843. Theodora, Methodios, and Theoktistos processed an icon of the Virgin and Child from the Blachernai monastery in the northeast of Constantinople to the church of Hagia Sophia in the city center. The icon is divided into two registers of figures associated with the defense and veneration of icons. The holy icon of the Virgin and Child makes up the central focus of the top register. The icon exemplifies the popular hodegetria (“She who shows the way”) type, in which the Virgin gestures to the Christ child to indicate that he is the way to salvation. The icon rests on a richly-tapestried base and two angels support the bottom of the icon. Theodora and her son Michael stand to one side of the icon of the Virgin, dressed in red and gold imperial garb and carrying cruciform staves. Patriarch Methodios stands to the other side of the icon, accompanied by three unknown church officials whose inscriptions have worn off the icon’s surface. The bottom register of the icon shows eleven holy figures, several of whom suffered martyrdom in defense of icons. These include Saint Theodosia at the far left, who wears the black habit of a Byzantine nun and carries an icon of Christ, as well as Saints Arsakios, Theodore the Studite, Theodoros Graptos, Theophanes Graptos, Theophanes, and Theophylaktos.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Byzantium Empresses Iconoclasm Icons Regents Theodora, Saint and Wife of Theophilos, Byzantine Emperor Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean
  • Century: 15
  • Date: ca. 1400
  • Related Work: Multiple views and detailed views: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=114050&objectId=61272&partId=1#more-views
  • Current Location: London, British Museum, 1988,0411.1
  • Original Location: Turkey, E. Constantinople
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Wood; Gold leaf; Paint (Egg Tempera)
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 37.8/31/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Cormack, Robin. "Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy," in Mother of God: Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art. Ed. Maria Vassilaki. Skira, 2000. pp. 222;
    Cormack, Robin. "Women and Icons and Women in Icons," in Women, Men and Eunuchs: Gender in Byzantium. Ed. Liz James. London, 1997. pp. 24-51;
    Kotoula, Dimitra. "The British Museum Triumph of Orthodoxy Icon" in Byzantine Orthodoxies: Proceedings of the Thirty-sixth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, 23-25 March 2002. Ed. Andrew Louth and Augustine Casiday. Ashgate, 2006. pp. 121-30;
    Weyl-Carr, Annemarie. "Icon with the Triumph of Orthodoxy," in Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557). Ed. Helen C. Evans. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. pp. 154-5.