Inseparable from the liturgical tradition, religious art is seen by Orthodox Christians as a form of pictorial confession of faith and a channel of religious experience. Because the icons provide a direct personal contact with the holy persons represented on them, these images should be objects of veneration, in either a public or private setting, and were even believed to have the ability to heal.
This scene represents the first moments of Mary’s life. Anna, the Virgin’s mother, reclines in a bed, reaching towards her newborn baby held in a cloth by another woman. In the far right corner, father Joachim, stands behind his wife, hand resting upon hand as he gazes upon daughter. This moment is frequently referred to as the Immaculate Conception, the church doctrine that states Mary was born into the world free from sin. On the lower right side of the composition, a handmaid kneels at Anna’s feet, presenting her with a tray containing bread and water or olive oil. Above her, another woman holds out a sheet, preparing to wrap the baby Mary in another cloth. A book standing open upon a bedside table and a chair occupy the lower left side of the painting. This homely touch suggests that someone was sitting by Anna’s side, reading to her, perhaps from the Old Testament, during the long days and nights of her labor. Everything about this scene is touching and derived from a personal encounter with such an event. This is not a mythological nativity, but a very real pregnancy that is as human as it is divine.