Miraculous Icon of Mother of God-Odigitriia in the Assumption Cathedral. Smolensk


This 1912 photograph of the iconostasis in the main Cathedral of the Dormition in Smolensk shows one of Russia’s most revered icons, the Smolensk Hodegetria Icon of the Mother of God, popularly thought to have been brought from Byzantium to the Kiev lands in the 11th century and transferred to Smolensk in 1097. Russian icons traditionally are painted on wood, but they were often covered with elaborate silver overlays that left visible only the heads and hands of the holy figures. This practice is displayed here, with the Hodegetria Icon enshrined in a sumptuous baldachin. Although the cathedral iconostasis has survived, this icon itself disappeared during World War II, endowing this photograph with exceptional value. The image is by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944), who used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Some of Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographs date from about 1905, but the bulk of his work is from between 1909 and 1915, when, with the support of Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation, he undertook extended trips through many parts of the empire. In connection with the centenary of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, in 1911 and 1912 Prokudin-Gorskii photographed sites along the invasion route. Prominent among them was the ancient city of Smolensk, which endured a devastating attack by French forces in August 1812.

Date Created

Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Чудотворная икона Божьей Матери-Одигитрии в Успенском соборе. [Смоленск]

Additional Subjects

Type of Item

Physical Description

Glass negative (presented as a digital color composite)


  • Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographic work survives primarily in two forms: 1,901 black-and-white triple-frame glass plate negatives, made with color separation filters, which Prokudin-Gorskii used to make color prints and lantern slides; and 12 albums of sepia-tone prints, made from the glass negatives, which Prokudin-Gorskii compiled as a record of his travels and studies. The Library of Congress purchased the glass plate negatives and the albums from the Prokudin-Gorskii family in 1948. In 2004, the Library of Congress had digital color composites made from all the surviving glass negatives using a software algorithm to automatically align the color components. As with most historical photographs, title and subject identifications are corrected and enhanced through new research. Current information on the collection is at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/prok/.

Last updated: September 23, 2016