The Theotokos of Vladimir also known as Our Lady of Vladimir or Virgin of Vladimir and “The Vladimir Madonna” – is one of the most venerated Orthodox icons and a typical example of Eleusa Byzantine iconography. The Theotokos (Greek word for Virgin Mary, literally meaning “Birth-Giver of God”) is regarded as the holy protectress of Russia. The icon is displayed in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Even more than most famous icons, the original has been copied repeatedly for centuries. The icon is a version of the Eleusa (tenderness) type, with the Christ child snuggling up to his mother’s cheek.
About 1131 the Greek Patriarch Luke Chrysoberges of Constantinople sent the icon as a gift to Grand Duke Yury Dolgoruky of Kiev. The image was kept in the Mezhyhirskyi Monastery until Dolgoruky’s son Andrei Bogolyubskiy brought it to his favorite city, Vladimir, in 1155. Tradition tells that the horses transporting the icon stopped near Vladimir and refused to go further. People interpreted this as a sign that the Theotokos wanted her icon to stay in Vladimir. In 1395, during Tamerlane’s invasion, the image was taken from Vladimir to the new capital of Moscow.
The spot where people and the ruling prince met the icon is commemorated by the Sretensky Monastery. Vasili I of Moscow spent a night crying over the icon, and Tamerlane’s armies retreated the same day. The Muscovites refused to return the icon to Vladimir and placed it in the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Moscow Kremlin. The icon of the Theotokos of Vladimir is sometimes described as expressing universal feelings of motherly love and anxiety for her child. A pious custom of the church asserted that the icon was painted by St Luke. In December 1941, as the Germans approached Moscow, Stalin allegedly ordered that the icon be placed in an airplane and flown to the besieged capital.