Icons and Power

The Mother of God in Byzantium

By (author) Bissera V. Pentcheva

Paperback - £35.95

Publication date:

15 November 2014

Length of book:

312 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271064000

The Virgin Mary embodied power rather than maternal tenderness in the Byzantine world. Known as the Mother of God, she became a guarantor of military victory and hence of imperial authority. In this pioneering book, Bissera Pentcheva connects the fusion of Marian cult and imperial rule with the powers assigned to images of this All Holy woman.

Drawing upon a wide range of sources and images, from coins and seals to monumental mosaics, Pentcheva demonstrates that a fundamental shift in the Byzantine cult—from relics to icons—took place during the late tenth century. Further, she shows that processions through the city of Constantinople provided the context in which Marian icons emerged as centerpieces of imperial claims to divine protection.

Pentcheva breaks new ground, contending that devotion to Marian icons should be considered a much later development than is generally assumed. This new perspective has important implications not only for the history of imperial ritual but also for understanding the creation of new Marian iconography during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Centered upon fundamental questions of art, religion, and politics, Icons and Power makes a vital contribution to the entire field of medieval studies. It will be of interest as well to all those concerned with the cult of Mary in the Christian traditions of the East and West.

“This is a major work. It provides a much-needed overview of the development of the cult of the Virgin in Byzantium between the fifth and thirteenth centuries. But it is much more than that, too. In its richly detailed account of how icons of the Virgin helped shape Byzantine imperial ideologies, it offers a significant contribution to studies of gender and empire. Its deployment of an unprecedented range of sources, its attentiveness to both major and minor artistic media, and its brilliant descriptions of the role of icons will ensure that it becomes a standard book on the Virgin and her cult in Byzantium.”

—David Freedberg, author of The Eye of the Lynx