Eleusa icon

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13th century Byzantine Eleusa mosaic, Athens

The Eleusa (or Eleousa) (Greek: Ἐλεούσαtenderness or showing mercy) is a type of depiction of the Virgin Mary in icons in which the infant Jesus Christ is nestled against her cheek.[1] In the Western church the type is often known as the Virgin of Tenderness.


Such icons have been venerated in the Eastern Church for centuries.[2] Similar types of depictions are also found in Madonna paintings in the Western Church where they are called the Madonna Eleusa,[3] or Virgin of Tenderness. By the 19th century examples such as Lady of refuge (e.g. by Luigi Crosio) were widespread and they were also used in retablos in Mexican art.[4]

In Eastern Orthodoxy the term Panagia Eleousa is often used. The Theotokos of Vladimir and Theotokos of Pochayiv are well-known examples of this type of icon. Eleusa is also used as epithet for describing and praising the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

While the Eastern Church does not venerate three-dimensional objects, Eleusa-style reliefs and sculptures, as well as icons, have also been used in the Western Church.

The Pelagonitissa is a variant in which the infant Jesus makes an abrupt movement.[5]


Eastern icons

Western examples

See also


  1. The icon handbook: a guide to understanding icons and the liturgy by David Coomler 1995 ISBN 0-87243-210-6 page 203
  2. The Meaning of Icons, by Vladimir Lossky with Léonid Ouspensky, SVS Press, 1999. ISBN 0-913836-99-0 page 85
  3. The era of Michelangelo: masterpieces from the Albertina by Achim Gnann 2004 ISBN 88-370-2755-9 page 54
  4. Art and faith in Mexico : the nineteenth-century retablo tradition by Charles Muir Lovell ISBN 0-8263-2324-3 pages 93-94
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