It is one of the oldest easel paintings in Lithuania, closely linked to Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania (reigning 1401-1430), and early Christianisation in Lithuania. Up until nowadays this image is considered to be miraculous and is an object of devotion not only for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but also for local Muslims. Numerous ex-votos (gratitude gifts from pilgrims) displayed around the painting testifies such devotion. Regarding the origin of the painting there are many legends but very little historical evidence to justify the stories. For example, an inscription on the back of the painting from the early 18th century states that it was given as a gift to Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, on the occasion of his Baptism in 1386 by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1350-1425). Inscription also states that this is the icon Nikopoia (Greek for “She who brings Victory”), which helped the Emperor John II Komnenos (1087-1143) to break through the Persian siege and successfully return to Constantinople. However, this inscription most likely was made shortly before 1718, when the image was adorned with crowns sent by Pope Clement XI from Rome and granted the title “Intercessor of Sick”. The painting of Trakai Mother of God stands out because of a unique combination of Byzantine, Medieval and Baroque styles. Research performed during the restoration of the painting shows that the oldest layer of paint contains a Late Gothic style full-figure image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Originally the Mother of God was portrayed with her hair uncovered except for a transparent veil and perhaps wearing a crown of roses. However, at the start of the 17th century the painting seemed disproportionately large for a new central altar being installed in the Church. As a result the lower-part of the painting was trimmed. At the same time the background was engraved and gilded anew and the figure of Mary was repainted with Byzantine characteristics. Head and brow of the Mother of God were now covered not with a veil, but with heavy folds of cape. The image, as seen by pilgrims today, shows the Mother of God in the Hodegetria icon style. She is seated and looking towards the viewer. Christ the Child wearing a purple tunic sits on her right knee. He holds a book in his right hand and with his left hand reaches out to three roses with three blossoms each, held by the Mother of God. These roses symbolize the mysteries of the Rosary. There is a Greek cross painted on the forehead area of the cape and a star on the left shoulder. In Marian icons stars on the forehead and shoulder indicate the Virgin’s chastity. The painting is characterized, on the one hand, by the Byzantine iconographic scheme that seems to set its figures apart from earthly reality. At the same time, it also shows traits of Western European painting tradition during the late Middle Ages. In particular, broad clothing that conceals the figure under its folds and an idealized face that recalls the 15th century “completely beautiful” images of Mary (Tota Pulchra). Finally, the image of Trakai’ Mother of God is covered in gilded silver plate dating 1723-1724 made by Johann Friedrich Schömnick. The heads of Mary and Child are covered with the early 18th century crowns.
|Collection||Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary|