Title: Madonna Nicopeia (9th or 10th century)
Artist: St. Luke (?)
Location: St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) Venice, Italy
Medium: Tempra on Wood
Dimensions: 48 x 36 cm (18.9 in x 14.2 in)
Similar to the Madonna von Pötsch discussed earlier, the image of Madonna Nicopeia is in the Byzentine style of art. It appears that the mother and child are wearing Greek-like garments. It is also similar to the earlier painting in that it is an iconic painting that has been used for prayer in the past and is still prayed to today. Staring eyes are also prominent. Far more differences exist between the Madonna Nicopeia and the Madonna von Pötsch, however.
The Italian word “nicopeia” translates to “bearer of victory.” Although it is entitled, Madonna, bearer of victory, many other paintings are technically nicopeia. Rather, it is a type of Byzantine iconic art. Some researchers even believe that nicopeia can be seen on coins and seals from the fifth century. Usually, Mary can be seen facing forward, with Jesus in her arms. It seems that this style originated in Constantinople, where the Madonna Nicopeia roots begin.
Dated somewhere in the 800s, the painting was located in the monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Constantinople. Despite many iconic images existing in the city, this image was one of their most prized. Citizens of the city called it the “Hodegetria.” Translated, this means “She who shows the way.” The icon was thought to win battles by those who held it in Asia Minor.
About four hundred years later, the fourth crusade began. Led by Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo, the goal of this expedition was to regain Jerusalem. Originally, Egypt was the destination. There, Dandolo and his men would be able to overtake the Muslims. Instead, Constantinople became the destination. The city was conquered. Along with it, many of its important art and relics were taken. Dandolo brought man items back to Venice, including reliquaries, crosses, and four large bronze horse statues, which are currently in the museum inside of San Marco. He also brought back the coveted Madonna Nicopeia.
The painting received much adoration in Venice. To them, the Madonna would protect their city. It was placed in the Basilica di San Marco, where it still is today. Jewels were placed on the painting, which included pearls, diamonds, and gold. (Unfortunately, many of these gems have since been stolen.) An alter was created just for the image. In the early 17th century, plagues hit Venice. Citizens remained faithful in prayer to Madonna and Jesus. The present patriarch at the time, the Doge Nicolò Contarini, said that if Madonna would release them from the plague, a temple would be built in her honor. In 1631, the Santa Maria della Salute was completed. Today, the painting still remains a symbol of Venice.
Supposedly, the painting was done by St. Luke (San Luca). Legend says that he painted Jesus and Mary directly from life on a wooden table of that Joseph and Mary made. In turn, Mary allegedly blessed the painting, explaining various miracles that the painting has caused. There is no way to indicate whether or not this painting was done by St. Luke. However, the creator of the painting is not as important as the painting and its history.