Mother of God
of Vladimir
(The Merciful, Tender Mercy)
Constantinople, XIIth Century

Mother of God
(Affectionate Tenderness)
Russia, XVth Century

Mother of God
Glykophilousa (detail)
(Sweet Kissing, Loving Kindness)
Crete, XVIIth Century
Mother of God "Eleousa"
Mother of God of Tenderness

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In the West, the icon of the Mother of God Eleousa (Virgin Eleousa), is almost always equated with the icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir (Virgin of Vladimir), the treasure of Russia and one of Russia's most venerated icons. It is also referred to as the Mother of God of Tenderness (Virgin of Tenderness), or as Our Lady of Tenderness. However, «Tenderness» is not a strict translation of the Greek name «Eleousa», because «Eleousa» means «the Merciful». That's why, in Russia, starting in the XVIth Century, icons of the Mother of God of Tenderness are named Oumilenie, i.e. «of affectionate Tenderness» (Cf. Marian Icons ; if the link fails, you can go there in 2 steps: first Byzantine Icons by Subject, then Marian Icons).
Even though in both cases (Eleousa and Oumilenie) the faces of Mother and Child are touching affectionately, Eleousa and Oumilenie express two different aspects of the icon of the Mother of God: Eleousa refers to the virtue of Mary, mercy, Oumilenie refers to the sentiment experienced by the Child, following the intervention of his Mother, of affectionate Tenderness. The name Eleousa pertains directly to the Mother, whereas the name Oumilenie pertains to the Child.
With regard to the Mother of God Glykophilousa (Virgin Glykophilousa), she can be considered a more accentuated Eleousa type. In the English language «Glykophilousa» is referred to as the Mother of God Sweet Kissing, or as the Mother of God of Loving Kindness (Virgin of Loving Kindness) : in the Eleousa (Tenderness or Merciful), the Mother simply accepts the signs of affection demonstrated by the Child, while she is sometimes looking elsewhere. In the Glykophilousa, however, the Virgin Mother is actually caressing the Child. Summing it up we could say that the Eleousa-type can be thought of as to comprise 3 sub-types: the Merciful (Greek: Eleousa), affectionate Tenderness (Russian: Oumilenie), and Sweet Kissing (Greek: Glykophilousa).
Bibl.: Maria Donadeo, Icônes de la Mère de Dieu, Éditions Médiaspaul, Paris, 1987; Egon Sendler, Les icônes byzantines de la Mère de Dieu, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1992.
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