Image code: 14425

Our Lady of Clemency or

In the Salzburg Catalogue, mention is made of the 'Basilica, che appellantur sancta Maria trans Tyberis.' In this basilica, there is an image of St. Mary, believed to be 'acheropita,' i.e. not painted by human hands but 'made through her' (que per se facta est). This icon is most likely the ancient Madonna of Clemency, dated between the 6th and 7th centuries, and is one of the oldest preserved in the West. It is kept in the Altemps Chapel of the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome. It is believed that it was the presence of this icon that inspired the dedication of the basilica to the Mother of God. Made using the ancient and refined technique of encaustic, in which colour is mixed with melted wax, this large icon is painted on three pine boards. It depicts the Virgin Mary dressed and adorned like a Byzantine basilissa, an Empress, seated on a throne with the Child Jesus on her lap. At her feet, bottom right, is a praying pope. Mary, for having conceived the Son of God, assumed kingship in heaven. This mystery is depicted in the icon and emphasised by the presence of the angels placed behind her and the inscription on the edge of the icon which, although lacunar, reads: 'For God himself was born from your womb... the princes of the angels pause and marvel at you who bear the Born in your womb...' It is in Rome, in the West, an ecclesial seat far from the iconoclastic controversies that caused the destruction of numerous images, that the oldest icons have been preserved. These icons, painted between the 6th and 8th centuries, are an artistic expression of the undivided Church. The Icon of Clemency is part of this group of ancient icons. Although greatly damaged, it shows an interesting and reciprocal influence between the Byzantine and Roman styles and symbolically recalls the unity between East and West. This panel expresses, in artistic and religious language, the values of the Church of Rome, in which Mary is also a figure of the Church, Mother of God and the Church of Rome, represented by the pope prostrating himself at her feet, perhaps John III (561-574) or his successor, Benedict I (574-579).