Russians inherited the tradition of icon painting from Byzantium, where it began as an offshoot of the mosaic and fresco tradition. During the 8th and 9th centuries, the iconoclastic controversy in the Orthodox Church called into question whether religious images were a legitimate practice or sacrilegious idolatry. Although the use of images was in the end permitted, a thorough distinction between profane art intended to depict reality and sacred art designed for spiritual contemplation was established. That difference is one of the reasons that the artistic style of icons can seem so invariant. Certain kinds of balance and harmony became established as reflections of divinity, and as such they invited careful reproduction and subtle refinement rather than striking novelty. Although this philosophy resulted in a comparatively slow evolution of style, icon painting evolved considerably over the centuries. Unlike the pictorial traditions of the west that aspire towards increased realism and naturalism, the essence of Russian icon painting is not about the representation of physical space or appearance. Icons are images intended to aid in contemplative prayer, and in that sense, are more concerned with conveying meditative harmony than with laying out a realistic scene. They were not painted to please the eye of the mind, but to inspire reflection and self-examination.
On the upper half of this stunning icon, we see the Mother of God surrounded by saints. She holds her protective veil over the entire fellowship. On the lower half of the icon, we see Andrew, the Fool for Christ, pointing to this apparition. The second story concerns Romanus, a church chanter who had an unpleasant voice and was to audition his hymns at court. On the far right, Mary appears to him in a dream, giving him a sheet of music to eat. After ingesting it, he sang so beautifully on Christmas Day that all who heard him were very moved. The royal recitation is depicted on the lower left.