Greek icon | Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple

Icon: Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple A-10

Ionian Islands, second half 17th century
Tempera on wood, 46.7 x 37.7 cm

Provenance:
Private collection, USA
Private Collection, Germany
ALR Ref. No. S00151038

Bibliography:
Unpublished
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Simon Morsink

Against a gold ground, the scene of the Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple of Jerusalem unfolds. To the left, the elderly figure of the high priest Zachariah is standing on an elevated sanctuary, in front of an altar table sheltered by a high ciborium (baldachin) with a bright red curtain. The sanctuary is enclosed by a greyish stone screen. The three-year-old Virgin, traditionally dressed in a chiton and a maphorion, stands on the entrance steps, her hands outstretched towards the high priest. Zacharias, dressed in a bright red mantle and wearing a typical head cap, bows and outstretches his hands to receive the Virgin. The holy parents, Joachim and Anna, stand behind her on a paved floor of dark blue and red tiles, which the painter has attempted to render incorrect geometrical perspective. Both figures are depicted in three-quarter profile, their heads slightly bowed. Behind, a closely packed group of Hebrew virgins, holding lighted and dripping white candles, come out of a tall building. This tower-like structure represents the entrance of the temple. The maidens turn their heads towards each other as if in silent conversation. In the upper left corner of the icon, the Virgin is depicted again, sitting at the top of a marble staircase beneath a ciborium. Raising her right hand in a gesture of conversation, she is looking up at the approaching angel. The angel is flying between the two ciboria and is holding a messenger's staff in his left hand while making a gesture of blessing with his right hand. A high wall is connecting the buildings to the left and to the right of which the last one has a bright red cloth draped on its rooftop.
 
The icon was possibly intended for an icon-stand or as the epistyle of an iconostasis. The two scenes shown in the icon derive from the narrative from the life of the Virgin, as described in the proto-evangelium of James, and their combination in one representation is a dominant feature in Byzantine art from the 11th century onwards (Drandaki 2002, p. 132). The composition follows the Byzantine iconographic model, as established in Cretan painting from the first half of the 15th century. The most famous example from this period is the Presentation icon by the painter Angelos Akotantos, now in the Byzantine Museum in Athens (Acheimastou-Potamianou 1998, pp. 108, 109; cat. no. 29 / Vassilaki 2010, pp. 166. 167; cat.no. 32). Our icon closely follows this traditional iconographic model. The painterly manner of the execution, and the lack of graphic highlights so typical for the Cretan icon painting point towards it dating back to the second half of the 17th century and its origin being from one of the Ionian Islands. An interesting feature of the representation is the tiled floor in the foreground for which the painter has tried to create a naturalistic perspective. The tranquil movement of the figures, whom all seem to be fully aware of the solemnity of the event, and the warm colour palette bestow the icon a harmonious appearance.

Literature:
Drandaki 2002
A.Drandaki, Greek Icons. 14th-18th century. The Rena Andreadis Collection, Milan 2002
Acheimastou-Potamianou 1998
M. Acheimastou-Potamianou, Icons of the Byzantine Museum of Athens, 1998
Vassilaki 2010
M. Vassilaki, The Hand of Angelos: An Icon Painter in Venetian Crete, Athens 2010