Greek icon | Madre della Consolazione

Icon: Madre della Consolazione A-4

Veneto-Cretan, early 16th century
Tempera on wood, 46.8 x 36.5 cm

French noble family since the early 1900’s
Morsink Icon Gallery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
ALR Ref. No.: S00150709


Dr Eva Haustein-Bartsch

Towards the end of the 15th century, a new type of the Mother of God appeared in Cretan icon painting: the Madre della Consolazione (Mother of God of Consolation). The type, which is characterized by a striking Italian influence, rapidly gained popularity and was used by artists to serve their clientele until the 17th century (Haustein-Bartsch 2010).

As in many Italian Madonna pictures, the Virgin wears a delicate, transparent veil under her headscarf. Her dark blue undergarment is adorned at the hems with fine gold pseudo-Kufic motifs. The dark red, soft and heavy-folded maphorion, has an olive-green lining and is adorned at the hems with gold pseudo-Kufic motifs too. On the forehead and the left shoulder is the usual golden star. How the Virgin's robe is held together with a clasp at her chest, and the punched halo with the fine floral pattern, reflect Western models. The rendering of the facial features with pink tones and brownish shades is reminiscent of the sfumato technique developed by Leonardo.

The Mother of God inclines her head towards her child, but her melancholic gaze is directed to the viewer. Her face has delicate features: the nose is long and narrow, the mouth small, the brown eyes are almond-shaped, and the fine eyebrows have been drawn with an elegant ‘schwung'. The Christ Child sits on the right arm of his mother, who touches his knees with her left hand.  Christ turns his head slightly to the left and looks at the viewer as well. He wears a sleeveless, dark blue undergarment over a transparent white shirt. His bright orange-red himation is decorated with fine chrysography and has a rose lining. With his right hand, he makes a blessing gesture, while with his other hand he holds a closed scroll, which contrasts with the blue undergarment of the Virgin. More often representations are to be found with an open Rotulus, with the partly strongly abbreviated Greek inscription ΠΝΕΥΜΑ ΚΥΡΙΟΥ ΕΠ’ΕΜΕ; ΟΥ ΕΙΝΕΚΕΝ ΕΧΡΙΣΕΝ ΜΕ (The spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me, Isa. 61: 1), or with a golden globe, which is unusual in Byzantine icon painting.

The ‘invention' of this previously unknown Mother of God-type is attributed to the Cretan painter Nikolaos Tzafourēs, since there are no icons of the Madre della Consolazione known which are signed by another painter, until the 17th century. According to documents from Crete, preserved in the State Archives of Venice, Nikolaos Tzafourēs (Italian: Nicolaus Zafuri) was first mentioned in 1487 in Candia (now Herakleion) in Crete, where he lived and worked until 1500. Little is known about the life of this painter who was a contemporary of Andreas Ritzos and Andreas Pavias and painted almost all his signed works ‘al la Latina', a style influenced by the Italian Trecento. Only three icons of the ‘Madre della Consolazione' bear his signature: one in the Canellopoulos Collection, Athens (Chatzidakis / Scampavias 2007,, 129 p.186, ill. Pp. 187-189, Baltoyianni 1994, fig. 135 and 136), another in a private collection in Trieste (Bianco Fiorin 1983, pp. 164-169, fig. 1) and a third icon in a private collection in the Netherlands, which is on permanent loan to the Ikonen Museum Recklinghausen (Bentchev / Haustein-Bartsch 2000 , Cat No. 35 on pp. 68-70, ill. P. 69; Haustein-Bartsch 2001). It is not known whether these icons of the Mother of God, produced by icon painters on the island of Crete who had mastered a Western style, were intended primarily for a Catholic clientele or to the same extent for the native, Greek Orthodox population. Their huge popularity throughout the Venetian dominated area and beyond, however, is beyond question.


Baltoyianni 1994
Chrysanthe Baltoyianni, Icons. Mother of God, Athens 1994
Bentchev / Haustein-Bartsch 2000
Ivan Bentchev und Eva Haustein-Bartsch, Muttergottesikonen (Ausstellungskatalog Museen der Stadt
Recklinghausen), Bielefeld 2000
Bianco Fiorin 1983
M. Bianco Fiorin, N. Zafuri. Cretese del Quattrocento e una sua inedita „Madonna“, in: Arte Veneta 37/1983, pp. 164–169
Chatzidakis / Scampavias 2007
Nano Chatzidakis / Constantine Scampavias, The Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos Museum. Byzantine and post-byzantine Art, Athens 2007
Haustein-Bartsch 2001
Eva Haustein-Bartsch, Eine neuentdeckte Ikone der „Madre della Consolazione“ von Nikolaos Tzafoures, in: Deltion tēs christianikēs archaiologikēs etaireias 22, Athens 2001, pp. 135–140
Haustein-Bartsch 2010
Eva Haustein-Bartsch, Einige  Bemerkungen und Fragen zur Entstehung der Ikonen der „Madre della Consolazione“, in: E. Gerousis / G. Koch, Griechische Ikonen. Symposium in Marburg from 26.–29.6.2000, Athens 2010, pp. 109–122