Mosaics of Hagia Sophia

Byzantine Nicopeia icon of San Marco

"The barons and the Venetians battered the walls and towers day and night without with various machines, and redoubled the War, conducting many great skirmishes from one area to another; it was in one of these that they valorously acquired the banner of the Tyrant, but with much greater joy a panel on which was painted the image of Our Lady, which the Greek Emperors had continuously carried in their exploits, since all their hopes for the health and salvation of the Empire rested in it.  The Venetians held this image dear above all other riches and jewels that they took, and today it is venerated with great reverence and devotion here in the church of San Marco, and it is one that is carried in procession during times of War and plaque, and to pray for rain and good weather."

Giovanni Ramusio  - 1559

This icon is of the same type seen in the mosaic of John II Comnenus, Eirene and Alexios.  This image of the Virgin was closely associated with the Imperial throne and the City of Constantinople itself.  The icon is in its original Byzantine frame of gilded silver with gold enamels, pearls and gemstones. The surface of the icon and the figure of Christ was badly damaged by the attachment of jewels and pearls to the icon by Venetian devotees of the icon. These were recently removed and the icon was restored. The face of the Virgin is very well preserved and shows extreme delicacy and refinement in the the painter's technique.  The icon was meant to be seen from a great distance and in low light.The shrine of the Nicopeia in San MarcoAbove is an image of the icon before restoration. The great silver-gilt, gold cloissonne and jeweled halos (long with the magnificent cover) were removed from the icon during its restoration. I assume they were determined not original to the icon.  However, Tthey were very pretty and appropriate - in my opinion the icon looks barren without them.  They appear to be Byzantine and could have been added to the icon from other looted treasures from Constantinople.

Here is what I found on the web regarding the restoration of the icon in 1969:

Restored in 1969 with funding from Save Venice founders Betty and John McAndrew through the Venice Committee of the International Fund for Monuments in honor of Nicky Mariano

"The Basilica of San Marco was also used as the treasury for the Venetian Republic’s precious objects. Byzantine treasures and spoils of war were displayed amongst mosaics, paintings, and sculptures, created by artists from Venice and other parts of Italy and the world. Both the interior and exterior of the basilica are embellished with various styles, allowing the church to function as the perfect architectural representation of Venice as the cultural and political center, bringing together East and West. The Madonna Nicopeia was originally located in the monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Constantinople and was one of that city’s most precious icons. Known as the “Hodegetria,” or “She who shows the way,” the image was carried into battle by various Byzantine Emperors. This panel was brought to Venice by Doge Enrico Dandolo (reigned 1192–1205), as one of the many spoils of the Fourth Crusade of 1204, when the Christian armies sacked Constantinople on their way to Jerusalem."

Project Director: Francesco Valcanover, Superintendency of Fine Arts of Venice
Restorer: Antonio Lazzarin

Icons like this were continuously processed through the streets of the city, moving from one church to another. The processions could be very colorful and exotic, with strange ceremonies, beautiful unearthly chants, rich costumes, incense and candles. Special companies of men were formed to escort the icon back and forth. One guild that escorted the famous (and huge) bejeweled Hodegetria icon dressed as angels in red robes, with red hats and wings. They were blindfolded and it was claimed they were supernaturally directed by the Virgin herself as they carried her icon through the streets.The Hodegetria in ConstantinopleThe Hodegetria icon in its shrine within the grounds of the Great Palace. you can see the 'angels'; on either side of the icon, attending to the curtain below:


Meet Bob Atchison - the Creator of this Website

I am an icon painter, Russian Historian and Austin Web Designer formerly of Seattle, Washington and now living in Austin, Texas. My interest in Byzantium and icons began when I was 8 years old and read my first book on Byzantium called "The Fall of Constantinople".

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The Virgin Nicopeia

A Byzantine HodegetriaBelow you can see a wall painting showing an icon of the Hodegetria displayed on a stand with fine textiles and jewels. The scene takes place in the chapel housing the icon within the Great Palace of Constantinople.

The Hodegetria Icon in the Great Palace Chapel of Constantinople

Icon of the Theotokos

The side frame of the NIopeia