The Tree of the Mother of God
The iconographic composition, portraying a tree that bears the Mother of God at its top is a relatively late modification of the compositon, “the Tree of Jesse”. It appeared in the iconography of the Western Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era in connection with the developing idea of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and of Mary’s special role in history. The foundation for the composition of the Mother of God as a tree that gives fruit to the Christ is the ancient Akathist hymn of Byzantine liturgical tradition. In the fourteenth century a new Akathist hymn to the Dormition of the Theotokos was created called the “Tree of Life”, marking a new phase in Byzantine Mariology. In Rus’, the need to glorify the Theotokos through her miraculous icons invoked parallels between the sixteenth-century icon of the Mother of God with the Child and the Tree of Life. A grandiose expression of Mariological theme in the Russian icon is Simon Ušakov’s depiction of a tree that rises from the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin. On top of this tree is not Mary, but her Vladimirskaja icon, which by that time had become an object of veneration by the whole Russian Church for its salvific role in the history of Rus’. In the floral motifs of the cartouches of the work are symbolic references both to the Virgin Mary and Christ.