This triptych is a form of Russian icon made during the twelfth century AD. In the tenth century, Russia was converted to Orthodox Christianity under the rule of Prince Vladimir of Kiev. He ordered all pagan images to be destroyed and built many grand churches in an attempt to win his people over to the new religion. To fill these churches, he imported Byzantine icons and furnishings, and Russian artists soon began to copy their rich, ornate forms. This piece was built in three wooden panels, decorated with pearls and precious stones. The intricate topmost layer of gold has been cut away to reveal the paintings on the wood below. The center panel shows the Virgin Mary and Christ, each surrounded by a jewel-encrusted halo. The two side panels depict scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus, edged by a pattern of acanthus leaves. Altarpieces are not used in Orthodox churches, therefore it is likely that this triptych was used for private veneration, in a home, monastic cell or on a wealthy Russian’s travels.

height: 20 in. (50.7 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of John Gellatly

Mediums Description
brass, wood, gemstones and leather
  • Religion – angel
  • Religion – saint
  • Religion – New Testament – Christ
  • Religion – New Testament – Mary
  • Religion – New Testament – Magi
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

More from artist

Fish Decoy

20th century
carved, incised, pyroengraved, and stained wood; galvanized iron sheet; ferrous eye hook; lead weight; and glass eye

Fish Decoy

ca. 1900
carved and painted wood, painted tinned iron sheet, ferrous eye hook, painted brass screw eyes, lead weight, and painted leather

More Artworks from the Collection