Special Exhibition • Icons at the Crossroad of Cultures • 14th-17th century

C-1 Virgin and Child

Veneto-Adriatic, ca.1370-1375
Tempera on wood, 51.5 x 38.5 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, Italy
ALR Ref. No: S00141168

The Virgin is looking at the viewer and holds the Christ Child on her left arm while gently touching his leg with her index finger. The Divine Child, with piercing eyes turns frontally to the beholder. In his left hand He holds a scroll with pseudo-kufic letters, while with his other hand He grasps the hem of his precious mantle. Following an old Byzantine tradition,(1) in the upper corners we discern two roundels with stylized golden letters: on the right the M and on the right a D which stands for Mater Dei. Two more roundels, vertically placed above Christ’s head, disclose on a red ground the golden letters IHS XPS, referring to Jesus Christ. 

The conflict between old Byzantine traditions and the innovations introduced by Tuscan artists like Giotto in the early fourteenth century, is the primary artistic essence of our painting. Undoubtedly the unknown creator of the Madonna must have been trained in a non-Italian workshop, deeply rooted in the Byzantine tradition of  “Ikonenmaler”. Given his familiarity with, as we are going to demonstrate, Emilian painting around 1350, he might have emigrated to Italy possibly via Venice from a region along the Adriatic coast. There he must have encountered the more modern artistic conventions in vogue in Italy, in his case mainly those developed during the third decade of the fourteenth century in the Veneto and particularly in the Emilia region.
 
The case of our painting and its unknown author is comparable to the more celebrated panel of an unknown artist of Byzantine descent, who painted the famous Madonna, now in the cathedral of Cambrai for which he quite openly emulated Sienese art of the earlier fourteenth century.(2) In our Madonna the degree of assimilation with Italian art is slightly less strongly felt. The painter, despite his remarkable opening towards Western art did not make an effort to conceal his Byzantine descent. This is easily discerned if we compare our Madonna with the central panel of Simone Martini’s Virgin and Child from the polyptych painted for the Dominicans in Orvieto.(3) Both paintings are visibly based on a common, unknown Byzantine prototype.
 
Some elements in our Virgin and Child demonstrate the artist’s effort to modernize his artistic repertory and assimilate his style to the newly founded artistic principles developed by Italian painters during the fourteenth century. The antiquated Byzantine chrysography of the robes and mantles have given way here to the golden imitations of embroidery as they were introduced to Venetian painting in the first half of the fourteenth century by artists such as Paolo Veneziano and other painters of his following. The technique of applied punched decorations to the halo’s was introduced to Italian art towards 1320.(4) Other details, however, for example the use of old Byzantine conventions such as the roundels with the initials placed in the upper zone of the gold ground, the detail of Christ’s robe which is unnaturally wrapped tightly around his thigh and, the rendition of Christ’s body as an adult male rather than as an infant are clear indications as to our artist’s education within a Byzantine painter’s workshop outside Italy, presumably in the Adriatic region. The Byzantine nostalgias, to which he hung on in his depiction of the Virgin and Child, could have been simply due to the fact, that at the time of this painting, patrons in the Veneto and the neighbouring Terraferma and Emilia expected from their artists a pictorial world which was still strongly permeated by Byzantine conventions, as can easily be discerned in the works of fourteenth century Venetian artists such as the aforementioned Paolo and Lorenzo Veneziano,(5) two major protagonists of Venetian Trecento painting, and in those painted by Emilian painters, such as Barnaba da Modena(6) and others. 

The fleshy tone and subtle modelling of our Virgin’s face as well as her type as a youthful woman seem to be modelled on the Madonnas, painted by Tommaso da Modena in his early years around 1345 under the influence of Vitale da Bologna and other Emilian painters, such as the image of the Knitting Madonna and Child of the charming small altar in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna(7) or another Virgin and Child painted some years later for the diptych of Karlstejn near Prague(8). Even the Christ Child with his thick curly hair compares to Emilian types as they can be discerned in for instance a charming painting with the Virgin Tearing Jokingly her Child’s Ear, formerly in the Buitoni collection, Perugia,(9) painted towards 1350-55 by one of Bologna’s most prolific painters, Simone di Filippo detto “dei Crocifissi”.

The observations made so far which revealed for the author of our painting a remarkable awareness of Venetian and Emilian painting around the middle of the fourteenth century, make a strong case that our anonymous painter from the Adriatic coast, must have worked in the Veneto-Emilia region in the years of the third quarter of the Trecento. This conclusion is further confirmed by his distinct inclination towards gothic aesthetic principles which, around 1370, were developed in the Veneto by artists such as Lorenzo Veneziano, who during his final years progressively turned to a more sophisticated pictorial world of gothic elegance and ornamental splendour. This gothic phase is best represented by pictures such as his Annunciation altarpiece in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice from 1371 or his Virgin of the Rose from 1372 in the Louvre in Paris,(10) which reveal a remarkable gothic flair. This gothic tendency visible in Lorenzo Veneziano’s late works is also shared to some extend in our Madonna through the relaxed pose of her face, graciously inclined towards her Divine Son as well as the dynamized undulating movements of the mantles, which have left behind the graphic stiffness inherent to the rigid artistic formulas usually employed by painters of Byzantine descent. 

In conclusion our Virgin and Child  has revealed itself as a fascinating fourteenth century example of an Adriatic painter’s attempt to emancipate himself from the rigid Byzantine conventions learnt in his homeland by modernizing his antiquated artistic formulas of  Byzantine obervation with his apparent interest for painters active in the Veneto and Emilia around 1350-1375. At some point in the third quarter of the fourteenth century, our Adriatic painter must have immigrated to the Veneto and the Emilia region. There he must have become acquainted with the art of the then leading artists of these regions, whose marvelous works should have inspired him to break up to some extent from his Byzantine tradition. By doing so he created a painting which presents itself as a rare and intriguing artistic fusion between the ancient Byzantine tradition and the innovations of later Italian Trecento art. 

Prof. Dr. Gaudenz Freuler, Professor Emeritus for Art History
Zurich University, Switzerland

1 See for example: Helen C. Evans, Byzantium. Faith and Power (1261–1557), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2004, Cat. No. 207, p. 348 (Virgin Hodegetria, Catherine Monastery, Sinaï, Egypt); Galerie G. Sarti, Splendours of Italian Painting 1250 – 1510, London, pp. 24-31(Virgin and Child with two Angels, Private Collection). 
2 See for the Cambrai-Madonna: Helen C. Evans, Byzantium. Faith and Power (1261–1557), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2004, cat. no. 349, p. 582.
3 See: Giovanni Paccagnini, Simone Martini, Milano 1955, fig. 32, p. 119 (Virgin and Child ,1321, Orvieto, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo).
4 The gilded background of our panel was restored at a later date, but in all probability follows the original design of the punching.
5 See for example: Cristina Guarnieri, Lorenzo Veneziano, Milan 2006, cat. co. 42, pp. 168, 169, 212, 213 (The Virgin Enthroned of the Rose, Louvre Museum, Paris);  Michelangelo Muraro, Paolo da Venezia, London 1970, Plate 4, p. 137  (Virgin and Child Enthroned, Belgrade, National Museum of Serbia).
6 See for example: Noemi Gabrielli (ed.), Galleria Sabauda Maestri Italiani, Turin 1971, fig. 41, tavola 23 (Virgin and Child, ca. 1350-60, Turin, Galleria Sabauda).
7 Robert Gibbs, Tomaso da Modena: Painting in Emilia and the March of Treviso, 1340-80, Cambridge etc. 1989, pl. 4, 6b (Tommaso da Modena, Virgin and Child, ca.1345, Bologna Pinacoteca Nazionale).
8 Idem, pl. 93-94 (Tommaso da Modena, Virgin and Child, ca. 1350, Karlstejn castle, near Prague)
9 Idem, fig. 146 (Simone di Filippo detto “Dei Crocifissi”, Madonna dell'Orecchio, ca. 1350-55, formerly Perugia, Buitoni collection / private collection).
10 See: Cristina Guarnieri, Lorenzo Veneziano, Milan 2006, cat. no. 42, pp. 168, 169, 212, 213 (The Virgin Enthroned of the Rose from 1372, Louvre Museum, Paris); idem, cat. no. 9, pp. 120, 121, 180, 181 (Annunciation altarpiece from 1371, Galleria dell’ Accademia, Venice)
 

C-2 Virgin and Child with Apple

Veneto-Cretan, early 16th century
Tempera on panel, 41.4 x 33.3 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, Italy
ALR Ref. No: S00141146

The Madonna, depicted half-length against a gold-ground, enchants the viewer with her direct gaze. The pose of Mary holding the Christ Child resembles the traditional Madre della Consolazione type in which the Virgin carries her Child on her right arm. However, this traditional composition differs from our panel in which the Virgin presents a piece of fruit in her hand, while Christ is seated on the right side of her lap.(1) The painter stressed the human character of Christ who lovingly stares at his mother, while carefully placing his hand on the apple. Mary holds the fruit upside down between her thumb and index finger. She covers her son’s shoulders with part of her purple mantle (maphorion), thereby enhancing the intimate relationship between mother and child.(2) 

Many pictorial elements point towards Western influences. Firstly, the soft modelling of the figures’ carnation greatly differs from the traditional icon technique in which faces are modelled with highlights. The naturalistic rendering of the heavy drapery and lightly creased diaphanous veil show strong Western influences as well.(3) Furthermore, the different elaborate golden motifs embellishing the Madonna’s maphorion, her blue tunic and the Christ Child’s vermilion coloured robe, also occurred in Byzantine tradition, but much more modest with three stars embroidered on the Virgin’s mantle symbolizing her chastity.(4) All garments depicted are lined with pseudo-Kufic inscriptions in gold, matching the rest of the embroidery. Byzantine representations of the Mother of God with Child usually show the Virgin and Christ carrying no other attributes except for a scroll. In Western art, the scroll transformed into a (closed) book. Since Christ in this Virgin and Child with Apple carries a scroll, the painter was familiar with orthodox icon painting.

The apple in our panel probably evolved from the imperial orb. Christ carrying the orb appears often in icons of the Madonna della Consolazione.(5) However, the orb is unknown in orthodox icon tradition.(6) In Early Christian Western art, either the Christ Child or the Mother of God sometimes appear with an imperial orb in their hand as a sign of dominion.(7) On our panel, the apple seems interchanged with the orb, though they convey different meanings.(8) The apple could refer to the carnation of God as the fruit coming from the loins of the Virgin.(9) The fruit held by the Madonna can also be interpreted as a juxtaposed allusion to the Fall of Man and Redemption.(10) The former commenced when Eve handed the apple from the Tree of Knowledge to Adam that led to their Expulsion from Paradise. Mary giving the fruit to Christ can thereby be paralleled to Eve giving the apple to Adam.(11) The Birth of Christ made amends for Original Sin and therefore Christ can be interpreted as the New Adam: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Cor., 15:22).(12) Even though the Bible does not identify the type of fruit, the Latin word for evil resembles the Latin word for apple: malum.(13) 

Artists from Northern Italy and the Veneto like Giovanni Bellini, Carlo Crivelli and Bramantino executed comparable Madonna scenes from circa 1500 in which the Virgin, depicted half-length, carries an apple or a book while the Christ Child tries to grab the fruit or clenches on to it.(14) A much earlier fourteenth century panel from the same region by Lorenzo Veneziano shows a Madonna and Child very similar to our panel. Lorenzo’s crowned Virgin holds an apple with her left hand while the Christ Child, resting on her right arm gently places his hand on the piece of fruit.(15) Not only the composition of the Madonna and Child reminds us of our Amsterdam panel: the intimate relationship between the two figures, enhanced by Mary’s caressing gaze at her child, also resembles the personal touch of our Virgin and Child. In conclusion we can say that our rather unique Veneto-Cretan version of the Virgin and Child with Apple comes close to the iconography of the popular type of the Madre della Consolazione. The addition of the apple is a clear Italian, or more specifically Venetian, element that points towards a western-oriented viewer. 

Lara Fernández Piqueras

1 Constantine Scampavias, “The Virgin, Madre della Consolazione,” in: The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete, ed. Anastasia Drandaki, New York 2009, pp. 58, cat. no. 13; The Madre della Consolazione occurred in the second half of the fifteenth century in Venetian dominated Crete. 
2 Gertrud Schiller, Ikonographie der Christlichen Kunst, vol 4.2, Gütersloh 1966, pp. 187.
3 See Chryssa Maltezou, “The History of Crete During the Fifteenth Century on the Basis of Archival Documents,” in: The Hand of Angelos: An Icon Painter in Venetian Crete, ed. Maria Vassilaki, Surrey and Burlington: 2010, pp. 28-29, figs. 4 and 5.
4 Constantine Scampavias, “The Virgin, Madre della Consolazione,” in: The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete, ed. Anastasia Drandaki, New York 2009, pp. 58, cat. no. 13.
5 Eva Haustein-Bartsch, “Enige Bemerkungen und Fragen zur Entstehung der Ikonen der “Madre della Consolazione”,” in: Griechische Ikonen: Byzantinische und Nachbyzantinische Zeit, eds. Eleni Kotsou and Ariadne Fioretou, Athens 2010, pp. 110, figs. 1-4.
6 Eva Haustein-Bartsch, “Madre della Consolazione,” in: Die Farben des Himmels: 15 Kretenzische Ikonen aus einer Europäischen Privatsammlung, ed. by Eva Haustein-Bartsch and Simon Morsink, Recklinghausen 2018, pp. 52, cat. no. 5, see also pp. 51, 53 for images of the Madonna della Consolazione type.
7 Gertrud Schiller, Ikonographie der Christlichen Kunst, vol. 3, pp. 176; idem, vol. 4.2, 183-184.
8 Peter B. Steiner, “Vom Apfel des Paradieses zum Herrschaftszeichen: Ein Beitrag zu Ikonographie und Denkmalpflege,” in: Iconographia Christiana: Festschrift für P.Gregor Martin Lechner OSB zum 65. Geburtstag, eds. Werner Telesko and Leo Andergassen, Regensburg 2005, pp. 184.
9 Idem, pp. 185.
10 Mirella Levi d’Ancona, The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting, Florence 1977, pp. 48.
11 Peter B. Steiner, “Vom Apfel des Paradieses zum Herrschaftszeichen: Ein Beitrag zu Ikonographie und Denkmalpflege,” in: Iconographia Christiana: Festschrift für P.Gregor Martin Lechner OSB zum 65. Geburtstag, eds. Werner Telesko and Leo Andergassen, Regensburg 2005, pp. 186.
12 Mirella Levi d’Ancona, The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting, Florence 1977, pp. 48; A more direct connection between Christ and the apple or an apple tree could also be discerned in theological writings, for example in Canticles: “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Cant. 2:3).
13 Mirella Levi d’Ancona, The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting, Florence 1977, pp. 46-47.
14 Giovanni Bellini, Virgin and Child (Rogers Madonna), 1485-1490, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Giovanni Bellini, Virgin and Child (Morelli Madonna), c. 1485-1490, Galleria dell’Accademia Carrara, Bergamo (Oskar Bätschmann, Giovanni Bellini, London 2008, pp. 82, 84 respectively).
15 Irina E. Danilova, ed., State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts: Catalogue of Painting, Moscow 1995, pp. 102-103, cat. no. 264.
 

C-3 Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Four Female Saints

Veneto-Cretan, first half 16th century
Tempera on panel, 50.5 x 69 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, Austria
ALR Ref. No: S00128092

This horizontal panel with five knee-length female figures resemble the Venetian Sacra Conversazione type in which symmetrically arranged saints in a unified space flank the central individual.(1) In our panel, the four female Saints Lucy, Catherine of Alexandria, Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Siena flank the seated Madonna in the centre of the composition. All female figures are depicted with two types of punched haloes. The ones of Saints Lucy, Catherine of Alexandria and Mary Magdalene have a classical and vegetative motive, whereas the ones of the Virgin and Saint Catherine of Siena contain alternating conical and meandering motives. All halo designs have intricate punched backgrounds and the outer dotted registers are finished with three decorative clustered dots suggesting small rays.

The Virgin is dressed in a dark green tunic with chrysography and a mantle with gold embroidery. She holds the Christ Child seated on her lap, while He is blessing Saint John the Baptist. The latter, depicted as a child with halo, hands flowers from the basket dangling on his left arm to Christ. The Baptist is dressed in a Western styled tunic. A scroll draped around the cross-shaped twig resting on his shoulder reads ECCE AGNUS DEI (Behold the Lamb of God). Behind the kneeling Baptist, the depiction of a small lamb’s head framed by a halo and crowned with a wreath visualizes the Latin banderole that refers to Christ as the lamb that took the sins of Mankind.(2) 

Behind the figures of Christ and the Virgin, flanking the latter’s right side, are Saints Lucy and Catherine of Alexandria, both wearing a crown. Saint Lucy carries a chalice with fire and two eyes that refer to the etymological origins of her name from the Latin word lux, meaning light.(3) Lucy removed her own eyes in order to discourage a pagan suitor who admired her beauty. Catherine’s spiked wheel alludes to her martyrdom on the wheel.(4) Additionally, both saints carry a martyr’s palm. Flanking the other side of the Virgin are Saints Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Siena. Each one holds a book in one hand and their attributes in another. Mary has an ointment jar with which she washed the Saviour’s feet and that she carried with her to Christ’s tomb. Catherine of Siena keeps a dragon on a leash. She wears a white habit with a black veil characteristic for the Dominican Order. Traditionally, Catherine of Siena carries a lily, a book and a crucifix.(5) The latter two also appear in our Veneto-Cretan panel. In several artworks mainly created between circa 1460-1568, artists represented Catherine in triumph over the Devil.(6) In the Triptych of Saint Vincent Ferrer (ca. 1455, originally in Santa Maria Novella, Florence), Catherine, on the left side of the altarpiece, triumphs over the devil in the shape of a dragon, while holding a book and a lily in her hands.(7) An earlier figuration painted around 1365 can be found as part of Giovanni da Milano’s now dismembered Ognissanti Polyptych in which Catherine of Siena keeps a dragon on a leash, similarly to our panel.(8) This probably refers to Catherine’s exorcisms and to the many torments by demons as described by her contemporary biographer Raymond of Capua.(9)

The Renaissance garments of the female figures in our panel, as well as the inclusion of a Dominican, hence Catholic saint and the compositional type of a Sacra Conversazione identify the worshipper of this Veneto-Cretan painting as a Westerner. The exclusive depiction of female saints flanking the Virgin would stimulate a female viewer’s identification with the exemplary lives of the saints. This would suggest a western, catholic, female commissioner for our Veneto-Cretan panel. 

Lara Fernández Piqueras

1 Oskar Bätschmann, Giovanni Bellini, London 2008, pp. 144.
2 John 1:29; In some icons, John carries a long staff with a depiction of an Agnus Dei that finds its origins in Western art (Maria Vassilaki, The Painter Angelos and Icon-Painting in Venetian Crete, Farnham and Burlington 2009, pp. 248; The Baptist with an Agnus Dei can be found in Vassilaki, The Painter Angelos, 241, fig. 11.11).
3 Louis Réau, Iconographie de L’Art Chrétien, vol. III, no. 2, Paris 1959, pp. 53.
4 Idem, vol. III, no. 1, pp. 263.
5 See for example Catherine of Siena from the frontispiece of Epistole devotissime de Sancta Catharina da Siena executed in Venice, around 1500 (Peter Humfrey, “Fra Bartolommeo, Venice and St Catherine of Siena,” in: The Burlington Magazine 132, no. 1048 (1990): pp. 483, fig. 31).
6 Diega Giunta, “L’Immagine di S. Caterina da Siena dagli Ultimi Decenni del Trecento ai Nostri Giorni,” in: Iconografie di Santa Caterina da Siena: L’Immagine, vol. 1, eds., Lidia Bianchi and Diega Giunta, Rome 1988, pp. 97-98.
7 Giovanni Giura, “La Seconda Età della Pittura in Santa Maria Novella,” in: Santa Maria Novella: La Basilica e Il Convento, vol. 2, ed. Andrea de Marchi, Florence 2016, pp. 140; Another, similar Italian example can be found in the Pinacoteca of Rieti, ascribed to Marcantonio Aquili, in which a full-figured Saint Catherine triumphs over the devil, again represented as a dragon (Lidia Bianchi and Diega Giunta, eds, Iconografia di S. Caterina da Siena, Rome 1988, pp. 382, cat. no. 357).
8 Miklós Boskovits, Giovanni da Milano, Florence 1966, pp. 39, fig. 76.
9 Daniela Pagliai, “Ignoto Fiorentino,” in: Iconografie di Santa Caterina da Siena: L’Immagine, vol. 1, eds. Lidia Bianchi and Diega Giunta, pp. 305, cat. 228; Raymond of Capua described two episodes in which Satan tried to set the Saint on fire in order to extract her from ecstasy. In chapter IX, Raymond recounts how Catherine stated that evil spirits tormented her daily (Raymond of Capua, The Life of St Catherine of Siena, transl. George Lamb, London 1960, pp. 114, 243).

C-4 Mother of God Glykophilousa

Veneto-Cretan, 16th century
Tempera on panel, 47.8 x 38.2 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, Italy
ALR Ref. No: 10877.23.WK

This icon, representing the Mother of God caressing the Christ Child against her cheek, follows the type of the Glykophilousa, meaning “sweet-kissing” in Greek. This type first appeared after the Iconoclasm of 724-843 and became popular in the tenth century.(1) The half-length Virgin wears a red maphorion trimmed with orange and gold that leaves a small part of her blue tunic visible. Three gold stars decorate the Madonna’s cloak draped over her right shoulder. The mantle’s orange lining is embellished with gold fringes. The artist rendered the maphorion with many dark ridges and bright highlights to suggest a heavy fabric. The Madonna and Christ enchant the viewer with their intense gazes. The Virgin carries the Christ Child with her left hand and holds his left hand with her right hand. The punched haloes around the figures’ heads meet at their loving cheek-to-cheek contact. The floral decorations and undulating lines recall haloes with Veneto-Cretan origins.(2) Both figures are identifiable by their abbreviated names in red, written in Greek: MP ΘΥ (Μήτηρ θεού, Mother of God) and IC ΧC (’Ιησους Χριστòς, Jesus Christ), which appear on the gold background in the upper part of the panel.

The Child’s green chiton with red decorations contrasts with his bright orange robe and his mother’s red maphorion. The painter rendered the orange cloak with a highlighting technique similar to the maphorion, but in the case of Christ, the highlights are applied in the typically Byzantine method called chrysography, consisting of fine gold lines. The technique of the figures’ carnation differs from traditional Byzantine paintings of the Mother of God Glykophilousa.(3) In orthodox icons, the painter models flesh tones with highlights, whereas our Cretan panel shows a very gradual transition between light and shade. This places our icon in a Veneto-Cretan tradition with a strongly Western influenced treatment of the carnation.(4) 

The detail of the sandal on Christ’s left foot and the sandal missing on his right foot correspond to the archetypical Madonna of the Passion, as does the scroll in Christ’s right hand that appears underneath the Virgin and the Child’s intertwining hands.(5) The Madonna of the Passion’s introduction in art relates to the Cretan master Andreas Ritzos.(6) His Mother of God type emerged since the end of the fifteenth century and rapidly gained popularity. Similarly to the Madonna of the Passion, Andreas Ritzos again played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Glykophilousa type in which he merged two iconographies from Veneto-Cretan icon traditions.(7) The combination of elements from the Madonna of the Passion (the loose sandal and scroll) and Glykophilousa (the cheek-to-cheek embrace) created a new iconographic type in Cretan icons, among them our Amsterdam Mother of God Glykophilousa.

Lara Fernández Piqueras

1 Eva Haustein-Bartsch, “Muttergottes Glykophilousa,” in: Die Farben des Himmels: 15 Kretenzische Ikonen aus einer Europäischen Privatsammlung, eds. Eva Haustein-Bartsch and Simon Morsink, Recklinghausen 2018, pp. 40, cat. no. 4; Our work resembles the iconography of Andreas Ritzos’ Virgin of Tenderness in the Velimezis collection, Athens (Nano Chatzidakis, Icons: The Velimezis Collection, Athens 1997, pp. 75, cat. no. 2).
2 Nano Chatzidakis, Icons: The Velimezis Collection, Athens 1997, pp. 80, cat. no. 3; Compare the Amsterdam Glykophilousa with the punched gold background in idem pp. 79, cat. no. 2, fig. 27 and with the haloes in Eva Haustein-Bartsch, “Muttergottes Glykophilousa,” in: Die Farben des Himmels: 15 Kretenzische Ikonen aus einer Europäischen Privatsammlung, eds. Eva Haustein-Bartsch and Simon Morsink, Recklinghausen 2018, pp. 41, cat. no. 4.
3 Compare to Eva Haustein-Bartsch, “Muttergottes Glykophilousa,” in: Die Farben des Himmels: 15 Kretenzische Ikonen aus einer Europäischen Privatsammlung, eds. Eva Haustein-Bartsch and Simon Morsink, Recklinghausen 2018, pp. 41, cat. no. 4.
4 Nano Chatzidakis, Icons: The Velimezis Collection, Athens 1997, pp. 80, cat. no. 3.
5 Eva Haustein-Bartsch, “Muttergottes Glykophilousa,” in: Die Farben des Himmels: 15 Kretenzische Ikonen aus einer Europäischen Privatsammlung, eds. Eva Haustein-Bartsch and Simon Morsink, Recklinghausen 2018, pp. 40, cat. 4.
6 Maria Vassilaki, The Painter Angelos and Icon-Painting in Venetian Crete, Farnham and Burlington 2009, pp. 73, fig. 4.3.
7 Nano Chatzidakis, Icons: The Velimezis Collection, Athens 1997, pp. 74, 76, cat. no. 2, fig. 25.

C-5 Triptych with Christ as High Priest and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V

Veneto-Cretan, second half 16th century
Tempera on panel, Open: 17 x 20.5 cm; Closed: 17 x 11.8 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, United Kingdom
ALR Ref. No: S00135376

The small size of the triptych indicates that it was probably used for private devotion or as a travel piece.(1) In Byzantine and Cretan triptychs, the side panels were often made in the same size as the central panel.(2) The division of the present triptych in one central panel with two wings that together cover the central composition was less common. The triptych’s simple shape attests to a continuation of Cretan fifteenth century workshop tradition. Since the middle of the sixteenth century, the framing with Italianate decoration received almost as much attention as the paintwork.(3)

When opened, the outer wings show two elongated angels in different poses, dressed as deacons in long white tunics and turning towards Christ in the central panel. They carry incense and candles and consecrate the central image of Christ Enthroned on clouds and seraphs. The four evangelical symbols of the lion, angel, eagle and ox surround the throne. Each symbolic creature holds an open book. Christ wears the robes and crown of an orthodox High Priest and carries a staff and an open book while gazing directly towards the viewer. His feet rest on a blue, half globe. Just below his red slippers, an imperial crown with a banderole reading “Carolus V Imperator” identifies the kneeling figure right next to the crown as Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. The Emperor wears an ochre-coloured mantle, highlighted with gold and trimmed with ermine fur that repeats in the mantle’s collar. The chain resting on the Emperor’s shoulders represents the chain of the Golden Fleece, reserved for the highest classes of nobility.(4) The Emperor, depicted in profile, looks up towards Christ and holds the same long staff as the Saviour. The flag fluttering from the staff shows the Habsburg coat of arms: the black double-headed eagle. The composition where the two figures hold the same flag relates the two and simultaneously shows how Charles is lower in rank than Christ. Both leaders rule the world: Christ as the spiritual leader with Charles as his earthly ruler acting in his name. The resemblance of the Emperor in profile with contemporary portraits is striking. The Emperor’s Charles’ short grey hair and beard resemble his portrait from 1548.(5) The triptych probably does not pre-date this portrait much for obvious reasons of age and likeness.

Closed, this triptych shows the Annunciation with a full-figured Gabriel in a blessing gesture and the kneeling Virgin in prayer. The painter depicted the Angel in movement, coming from the left where bright light casts his shadow on the ground. Above Gabriel, the figure of God, appearing from a cloud, sends the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove to the Virgin by way of conception. The latter humbly looks in the direction of the open book with Greek writing in front of her. Right behind the Virgin, an architectural canopy covers part of the golden background. The worn surface on the Virgin’s robes, where the gesso ground and paint completely disappeared, showing the wooden underground, might indicate that the owner of the triptych rubbed the panel many times in an act of devotion.

The triptych masterly combines Byzantine and Renaissance elements and compositional traditions, for example in the representation of Christ as High Priest with a depiction of the catholic Emperor Charles V. Furthermore, Gabriel, the Virgin, Christ, the Evangelists and the angels are identifiable by their abbreviated names in Greek lettering, but Charles’ name on the banderole is in Latin. Both Byzantine and Italianate influences are clearly discernable in the outer wings Annunciation as well. Gabriel’s pose characterizes as traditionally Byzantine, similarly to the manner in which the artist rendered the angel’s garments. A significant difference with Eastern tradition is the lily held by Gabriel in our Amsterdam triptych. Furthermore, the Virgin in the Amsterdam triptych resembles an Italian Madonna instead of a traditional Byzantine Mother of God. The heavy blue mantle covering only her right shoulder reveals her pink Renaissance dress with naturalistic drapery that greatly contrasts the Byzantine Gabriel.(6) 

The iconography and style of painting of this fascinating triptych poses many questions. The representation of Christ as High Priest in combination with Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor is truly unique. The influences of Cretan, orthodox art and of the Italianate, catholic world are wonderfully intertwined in the painting. This somehow reminds us of the triptych’s contemporary artist El Greco, who was trained as an icon painter on Crete and after his stay in Italy, developed his artistic potential at the Habsburg court in Spain. Our panel should be considered in the context of the same époque. Further research hopefully will bring more clarity to the triptych’s specific origin, it’s precise dating and authorship.

Lara Fernández Piqueras

1 Simon Morsink, “Triptychon: Das Entschlafen der Muttergottes, die Verkündigung an Maria und Heilige,” in: Die Farben des Himmels: 15 Kretenzische Ikonen Aus Einer Europäischen Privatsammlung, eds. Eva Haustein-Bartsch and Simon Morsink, Recklinghausen 2018, pp. 72, cat. no. 9.
2 See for example Bilder in Gold: Sakrale Kunst aus Griechenland, eds. Hanna Egger and Ruth Wenckheim, Graz 1993, pp. 216, cat. no. 9; pp. 221, cat. no. 18; pp. 224, cat. no. 24; pp. 247, cat. no. 61. There are exceptions, see for example the Greek triptychs in idem pp. 244, cat. no. 54 and pp. 233, cat. no. 41.
3 Phaidra, Kalafatis, “Triptych with Scenes from the Life of Christ the Burning Bush and Saints,” in: The Power of Icons: Russian and Greek Icons 15th-19th Century, ed. Simon Morsink, Gent 2006, pp. 54, cat. no. 3.
4 Compare the chain of the Golden Fleece to for example the engraving of Charles en profil by Daniel Hopfer from circa 1517 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Yvonne Hackenbroch, “Some Portraits of Charles V,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, no. 6 (1969): pp. 323, fig. 3).
5 Harold E. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian: Complete Edition, vol. II, The Portraits, New York and London 1971, pp. 193, cat. L-5, plate 240; Juan Pantoja de la Cruz copied Titian’s now lost portrait of Charles V and shows the Emperor with very short, grey hair; Perhaps the artist used an example of his image from for instance a medal or print, which were relatively easy to disperse.
6 The Orgins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete, ed. Anastasia Drandaki, New York 2009, pp. 76-77, cat. no. 24; one should note that more Italienate compositions of the Annunciation already appeared in a fifteenth century Cretan icon. See Nano Chatzidakis, ed., Da Candia a Venezia: Icone Greche in Italia, XV-XVI secolo, Athens 1993, pp. 57, cat. no. 11.

C-6 Saint Spyridon with Vita

Crete, second half 16th century
Tempera on panel, 34.5 x 27 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, Germany
ALR Ref. No: S00134165

The icon, an exquisite work of Cretan art, depicts Saint Spyridon in the centre, surrounded by ten scenes from his life, painted in great detail against a gold ground. Spyridon is shown full-length as a tall man, with a long, white forked beard, and with a woven, straw shepherd's hat covering his head. Standing on a green ground, the saint wears liturgical bishop’s robes of the Orthodox Church: a white tunic (sticharion), a rose coloured mantle (phelonion) and a white stole (omophorion) adorned with large brown and gilded crosses carefully draped over his shoulders. Underneath the phelonion the saint wears a gold embroidered epitrachelion and an epigonation both abundantly set with pearls and precious stones. Spyridon raises both arms, making a blessing gesture with his right hand and holding a closed Book of Gospels set with pearls and stones, in his other hand.  

Saint Spyridon lived in the fourth century on Cyprus and attended the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325. After the fall of the Constantinople  in 1453, the saint’s relics were transferred to Corfu and Spyridon became patron saint of the island. The ten scenes, from left to right and from top to bottom show several events from Saint Spyridon’s life and his miracles. The finely executed inscriptions in Greek, written in white along the lower border of each separate scene, identify the depicted events. 

1. Saint Spyridon prays for rain during time of droughts.
2. Saint Spyridon attends the first Council at Nicea which condemns the heresy of Arius. 
3. During a famine Saint Spyridon changes a snake into gold so a poor man can purchase wheat from a greedy merchant.
4. A woman entrusts some valuable jewellery to Saint Spyridon’s daughter Irene.
5. Saint Spyridon takes the woman to Irene’s grave. After having talked to Irene as if she were still alive, she informs her father about the whereabouts of the jewellery and promptly returns to her ‘sleep’.
6. Saint Spyridon points towards heaven after he performed the miracle of the brick to demonstrate the Holy Trinity to a philosopher.
7. A thieve plans to steal the sheep of  Saint Spyridon but the saint gives him one sheep and sends him away.
8. After a year, the poor man (from the third scene) returns the gold to Saint Spyridon. The snake returns to its original living state as it was created by God.  
9. Dormition of Saint Spyridon.
10. After the Arians decapitated both horses who were to pull Saint Spyridon’s carriage on his way to the Council at Nicea, the saint tells a servant to put the horses’ heads back on their bodies. Although the servant places the head of the white horse on the body of the black horse and vice versa, the horses come to life and rise to their feet immediately in order to continue their journey. 

Scenes from the saint’s life occur on the border of Saint Spyridon icons from the sixteenth century onwards. One of the earliest examples is the icon by Emmanuel Tzanfournis dated 1595 in the Greek institute in Venice.(1) This icon served as the model for the Spyridon Vita icon by the hand of Theodoros Poulakis in the Benaki Museum in Athens.(2) On another seventeenth century icon, signed by Emmanuel Tzanes and now in the Museo Correr in Venice, the scenes from his life are arranged vertically down each side, flanking the saint in the middle.(3) Another example of later date is a Spyridon Vita icon by Nikolaos Kallergis from the Velimezis collection.(4) 

The iconography of our icon differs significantly from the mentioned examples and the choice of scenes coincides only partly with known icons of Saint Spyridon. The narrative is rendered in a lively composition and the scenes are set against an elaborate architectural or mountainous background. The fine, delicate colours and the full modelling of the figures, some of which are static and solemn while others are full of movement, point towards the hand of an accomplished miniaturist. The impressive elongated figure of Spyridon in the centre stands out by the skilful rendering of his expressive face and the masterfully modelled tunic and mantle. These stylistic features in all probability point towards a dating of our icon in the second half of the sixteenth century, which makes the icon one of the oldest known vita-icons of Saint Spyridon. 

Drs Simon Morsink

1 Maria Cristina Bandera Viani, Icone Bizantine e Post Byzantine, Bologna 1988, pp. 18-19, cat.  no. 22.
2 Andreas Xyngopoulis, Catalogue of Icons (in Greek) 1936, no. 38, 57-59, plate 29.
3 Giovanni Mariacher, Il Museo Correr di Venezia, Dipinti dal XIV al XVI Secolo, Venezia 1957, pp.239-241.
4 Nano Chatzidakis, Icons. The Velimezis Collection. Catalogue raisonné, Thessaloniki 1997,  pp 346-353, cat. no. 46.
 

C-7 Triptych with Deesis and Saints

Crete, late 16th century, Circle of Georgios Klontzas (1530-1608)
Tempera on panel, Open: 27.8 x 31.3 cm; Closed: 27.8 x 16 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, Italy
ALR Ref. No: S00132529

This small-scale triptych’s richly carved and gilded frame immediately catches our attention. The symmetrical floral decoration in the base repeats itself in the triptych’s frieze, with the addition of a winged head of a Renaissance putto and two grotesque faces in profile at the edges of the frieze. The top part contains symmetrically arranged rosettes, fleur-de-lis and a leafed pineapple on top. The rosettes and pineapple resemble the gilded carvings of a sixteenth century triptych in Vienna, related to the circle of the Cretan painters Georgios Klontzas and El Greco.(1) The central panel depicts the Deesis with Christ enthroned, flanked by the Mother of God and Saint John the Forerunner. Their arms are folded on their chests while with one hand they point towards Christ. Their faces reveal strong emotional expressions.(2) The significance of Christ becomes clear from his dominant appearance compared to the flanking saints. Christ’s head is framed by a halo and He makes a blessing gesture towards the viewer. His left hand supports a decorated closed Gospel book placed on his lap. The purple fabrics of Christ and the Virgin are subtly highlighted, thereby suggesting velvet cloth. This contrasts the robes worn by John, Christ and the Virgin, rendered in a dense Byzantine highlighting technique. The figures of Mary and John fill the space of the recessed panel up to the raised border: the top of their heads and John’s left foot are painted on the ledge of the raised border, similarly to the tassels of the pillow behind Christ’s feet. 

The apostles Peter and Paul, identified by their abbreviated Greek names in red, are depicted in three quarter profile turning towards Christ on the central panel. On the left panel, Peter holds a scroll and his characteristic key, alluding to his role as gatekeeper of Heaven.(3) Paul, on the right, holds an open book decorated with pearls and gold. Both apostles carry a small edifice, through which the viewer is given a glance at a miniature depiction of a chalice and a bowl of bread that form part of the Divine Liturgy. The domes of the small buildings are very similar to the dome of Andreas Ritzos’ icon of Peter and Paul in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.(4) 

On the reverse side of the wings, on a similarly gold and green ground are two Church Hierarchs: Saint Basil the Great on the left wing, and Saint John Chrysostom on the right wing. Both are again identifiable by their names in red Greek writing. The choice for these two Church Fathers relates to the Divine Liturgy, since both Saints John Chrysostom and Basil the Great adapted the Liturgy still used in present times.(5) Therefore they are, together with the third Orthodox Church Father Gregory the Great, considered the Fathers of the Liturgy,(6) visualized in the edifices held by Peter and Paul on the other side of the triptych. Saints John and Basil wear rich bishop’s robes with intricate patterns. The triptych’s fine details and radiant colours are very well discernible in respectively the highlights on the faces and in the rich bishop’s robes. We even see three gold miniature figures that decorate the bearded Basil’s stole. The meticulously applied hairs, for example in the beard of Saint Paul, and the thin white highlights in the figure’s faces attest to a master’s hand. 

The miniaturist painting technique and eye for detail in our Amsterdam triptych is characteristic for the style of the Cretan painter Georgios Klontzas and his workshop. He was renowned for his triptychs. There are fourteen artworks extant today that bear his signature, but only eight of these can be attributed to the master himself with certainty. The other artworks related to Klontzas’ art might originate from his large workshop in Candia where he also taught his sons the art of painting.(7)

Lara Fernández Piqueras

1 The discussed triptych can be found in the Kunsthistorisches Museum; Karoline Czerwenka-Papadopoulos, “Triptychon mit Philoxenia im Mittelteil,” in: Bilder in Gold: Sakrale Kunst aus Griechenland, Graz 1993, pp. 216, cat. no. 9; Compare to the pineapple and rosettes in El Greco’s Modena Triptych in: The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete, ed. Anastasia Drandaki, New York 2009, pp. 32, fig. 3.
2 Compare to The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete, ed. Anastasia Drandaki, New York 2009, pp. 44, cat. no. 3, pp. 60, cat. no. 14.
3 Louis Réau, Iconographie de L’art Chrétien, vol. III, no. 3, Paris 1959, pp. 1083.
4 Nano Chatzidakis, “Saints Peter and Paul Holding the Model of a Church,” in: Maria Vassilaki, ed., The Hand of Angelos: An Icon Painter in Venetian Crete, Farnham and Burlington 2010, pp. 220-221, cat. no. 58. According to Nano Chatzidakis, the building held by the Apostles can also be considered as the Holy Temple of Salomon or as a symbolic representation of Jerusalem.
5 John A. McGuckin, “Divine Liturgy, Orthodox,” in: The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, vol. 1, ed. John Anthony McGuckin, Chichester 2011, pp. 194.
6 Idem, pp. 192.
7 Phaidra, Kalafatis, “Triptych with Scenes from the Life of Christ the Burning Bush and Saints,” in: The Power of Icons: Russian and Greek Icons 15th-19th Century, ed. Simon Morsink, Gent 2006, pp. 55.

C-8 Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Crete, circa 1600
Tempera on panel, 43.5 x 36.3 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, Germany
ALR Ref. No: S00141147

The icon, painted on a thick panel with a relatively deep recessed area and a bold raised border, shows the Virgin presenting the Christ Child to Simeon the High-Priest. The elderly figure of Simeon is standing on a pedestal, holding the Christ Child in his arms, leaning forward to present Him to his Mother, the latter extending her right hand in response. To the left, Joseph carries two doves, while the prophetess Anna points at the event and turns to Joseph behind her. With her left hand she holds an open scroll of which the text in black Greek majuscules reads: “This Child consolidated Heaven and Earth”. Like Simeon, the prophetess Anna recognized the Child’s divinity. The  background of the scene is dominated by an elegant ciborium, its dome and four columns topped with capitals made of marble. The ciborium is flanked by two high, slender edifices, the right one crowned with a golden vase on a large capital with curly decoration. A pair of doors in the foreground in front of an altar table covered with a cinnabar red cloth refers to the temple of Jerusalem. 

The feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Hypapante) is among the most ancient feasts of the Christian Church. Originally, the feast was a minor celebration, but in 542 was established throughout the Eastern Empire by Emperor Justinian I. Up to the present day, the Presentation of Christ is one of the great feasts of the orthodox liturgical calendar (February 14th). According to the Gospel of Luke (2:22–40), forty days after his birth, Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the Temple of Jerusalem for the customary rite of purification. At the temple they encountered the prophet Simeon who had been promised that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. The elderly prophetess Anna was present in the temple as well.  

The composition of the icon is well proportioned and the style of painting is refined and elegant. To the left side, the three figures in a solemn procession approach the prophet Simeon on the right, who holds the Christ Child in his arms. This combined with the elegant buildings rising high up against the gold ground, the scene emanates a graceful quietness, which underlines the importance of the event. 

The iconography of the panel is based on late Byzantine, Palaeologan models, like the fifteenth century icon of the Presentation in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,(1) a fifteenth century icon with the same subject on Patmos,(2) and the border scene on a Cretan icon dated circa 1500 and attributed to Nikolaos Ritzos now in Sarajevo.(3) The same model was used for Cretan icons from the sixteenth century onwards, as for example for the seventeenth century icon of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, attributed to the painter Victor and now in the Zakynthos Museum.(4) Though the composition of this icon is very similar to ours, the less academic style of our icon, with its freely and sketchy applied highlights, flowing lines and spacious design, seems to suggest an earlier dating, in all probability circa 1600. The style points towards a talented and skilled master, trained in the Cretan style of icon painting and active on Crete or one of the other Greek islands. 

Drs Simon Morsink

1 Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1980, pp. 102, 104, fig. 200.
2 Manolis Chatzidakis, Icons of Patmos. Questions of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Painting, Athens 1985 (1977), no. 26, pp. 77-78, plate 24.
3 Idem, plate 202.
4 Zoe A. Mylona, The Zakynthos Museum, Athens 1998, pp. 56-64.

C-9 Baptism of Christ

Crete, first half 17th century
Tempera on panel, 35 x 28 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, USA
ALR Ref. No: S00135371

Saint John the Forerunner, wearing a brown-green mantle over an orange coloured tunic, bows forward and gently touches the head of Christ with his right hand in the act of baptism. Christ stands in the water of the river Jordan, though there is no trace of water on his body. He is dressed in a loincloth and directs his gaze to his right while He subtly makes a blessing gesture with his right hand. The name of Christ is visible in gold lettering. On the right bank, three angels with different coloured robes gaze at Christ while the fourth angel on the background seems to observe the hand of God coming from a segment of heaven. All four angels cover their hands with their cloaks in a gesture of service to Christ.(1) The angels’ long mantles create a sharp contrast with the nudity of Christ. Red cinnabar letters on the gold background state the title of the baptism scene in Greek.(2) All figures have punched haloes with one single rim of dots. Only the halo of Christ contains red lines that create a cross-nimb. The flesh coloured parts of John the Baptist and the angels are heightened with fine paralleled lines in the Byzantine manner. Many details, like the angels’ wings and the vegetation contain fine chrysography. The whole composition is placed within a narrow golden frame. The wingtips of the angels and the leaves of the small tree at the left side of the composition overlap the frame, thus bringing the scene closer to the viewer, creating a vivid effect to the traditional composition. An axe, stuck in the tree’s trunk to the left alludes to Matthew 3:10(3) “Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t bring forth good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). This quote refers to the final judgement.(4) 

The water is filled with fish, indicating the life-giving character of the water of the Baptism. In the lower part are two striking representations of small mythological water figures. In the left corner a miniature muscular river god personifying the river Jordan leans on an amphora from which water springs. Towards the right, the crowned personification of the sea, likely identifiable as Neptune, carries a trident and rides a water animal while looking up at Christ.(5) The mythological creatures’ cloth around their waists appears very classical compared to the Byzantine loincloth of Christ.(6) The representation of the two bodies of water originates from Psalm 114:3: “the sea saw and fled, the Jordan turned back.” 

The only significant difference in traditional Byzantine scenes of John baptizing Christ can be found in the arrangement of the angels.(7) The consecutive arrangement of angels above one another characterizes an icon tradition especially executed by painters from Candia.(8) Our icon can be compared to a seventeenth century Baptism in the Canellopoulos collection in Athens, with which it shares great similarities in its composition and execution.(9) Both panels show a palette of brown, red and blue and elaborately applied gold as for example in the headdress of the sea god and in the river god’s amphora. The angels’ robes are more or less similar with the exception of the first and last angel in Athens, since they wear pink robes instead of red coloured robes. Both icons testify to the hand of a very skilled Cretan master.

Lara Fernández Piqueras

1 Gregor Martin Lechner, “Taufe Christi im Jordan,” in: Ikonen Bilder in Gold: Sakrale Kunst aus Griechenland, ed. Hanna Egger, Graz 1993, pp. 228, cat. no. 31.
2 Stella Faitaki, “The Baptism,” in: The Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos Museum: Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art, ed. by Nano Chatzidakis and Constantine Scampavias, Athens 2007, pp. 370, cat. no. 193.
3 Gregor Martin Lechner, “Taufe Christi im Jordan,” in: Ikonen Bilder in Gold: Sakrale Kunst aus Griechenland, ed. Hanna Egger, Graz 1993, pp. 228, cat. no. 31.
4 Richard Bauckham, “The Messianic Interpretation of Isa. 10:34 in the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2 Baruch and the Preaching of John the Baptist,” in: Dead Sea Discoveries, vol. 2, no. 2, Messianism (1995), pp. 210.
5 Gregor Martin Lechner, “Taufe Christi im Jordan,” in: Ikonen Bilder in Gold: Sakrale Kunst aus Griechenland, ed. Hanna Egger, Graz 1993, pp. 228, cat. no. 31.
6 Myrtali Acheimastou-Potamianou ed., Icons of the Byzantine Museum of Athens, Athens 1998, pp. 90, cat.no. 24.
7 The iconography of our icon is more or less similar to the aforementioned fifteenth century icon now in Athens.
8 Myrtali Acheimastou-Potamianou ed., Icons of the Byzantine Museum of Athens, Athens 1998, pp. 90, cat. no. 24.
9 Stella Faitaki, “The Baptism,” in: The Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos Museum: Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art, ed. by Nano Chatzidakis and Constantine Scampavias, Athens 2007, pp. 370, cat. no. 193.

C-10 New Testament Trinity

Crete, 17th century
Tempera on panel, 44.5 x 35.5 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, The Netherlands
ALR Ref. No: S00135820

Our icon depicts a representation of the New Testament Trinity. A large golden throne on a green and gold ground dominates the composition. Two figures in an almost identical pose are seated on the throne’s red pillows. On the left side, Christ wears a purple tunic with a red mantle decorated with chrysography. He holds a closed book with pearls and gems on his left knee while gazing at the viewer and making a blessing gesture. His feet rest on a footstool. On the right side of the composition, God the Father rests his right foot on a similar pedestal while raising his left foot. He holds a half open scroll. Similarly to Christ, He makes a blessing gesture and looks towards the viewer. His grey hair and full grey beard contrast with the juvenile brown hair of Christ the Son. Above the two figures a white dove with opened wings symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The dove stands out because of its depiction on a dark blue background, resembling a star existing of two superimposed lozenges. 

Byzantine icons depicting the Trinity usually show three angels after the scene of Abraham and Sarah welcoming three visitors in Genesis 18:1. This type is generally referred to as the Old Testament Trinity, also called the Hospitality of Abraham. The New Testament Trinity derives from two Biblical passages: Mark 16:19 and Luke 22:69. The latter reads: “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). Though described symbolically in the Bible, our icon illustrates this Biblical phrase in a literal sense. 

The orthodox type of the New Testament Trinity derived from Palaeologan prototypes,(1) and gained popularity from the fifteenth century, mainly in Cretan icons.(2) Variations of the composition with Christ and God seated on a throne and the Holy Spirit hovering over them, show a globe in between the Son and Father as for example in the New Testament Trinity icon in the Museo Correr, Venice.(3) Other compositions include the Virgin on the left side and Saint John the Forerunner on the right, to emulate a traditional Deesis scene with Christ Enthroned in the centre. Instead, now both the Son and the Father occupy the central throne in the New Testament Trinity panels.(4) Other icons depicting this type contain lavishly decorated backgrounds with slender edifices and additional figures, as for example the Trinity from the Benaki Museum. Here, the icon also contains inscriptions; above the figures, red Greek letters name Christ as “the Being” and God as “the Ancient of Days”.(5) Our Amsterdam panel focuses on the three main characters of the Trinity and omits additional figures and motives. Therefore our version of the New Testament Trinity stands out in its simplicity and serene focus on the figures of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Lara Fernández Piqueras

1 Konstantinos Sp. Staikos, ed. “The Holy Trinity,” in: From the Incarnation of Logos to the Theosis of Man: Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Icons From Greece, Psychiko 2008, pp. 50, cat. no. 22.
2 Boris Rothemund, Handbuch der Ikonenkunst, Munich 1966, pp. 204.
3 Nano Chatzidakis, ed., Da Candia a Venezia: Icone Greche in Italia, XV-XVI secolo, Athens 1993, pp. 185, cat. 47.
4 A famous example is the “Trinity and Deesis,” from the Monastery of Saint Catherine on mount Sinai: The Sinai Icon Collection, accessed November 1, 2018, http://vrc.princeton.edu/sinai/items/show/7335. Another example constitutes a panel by Angelos (?) (Maria Vassilaki, The Painter Angelos and Icon-Painting in Venetian Crete, Farnham and Burlington 2009, pp. 181, fig. 9.15.
5 Konstantinos Sp. Staikos, ed. “The Holy Trinity,” in: From the Incarnation of Logos to the Theosis of Man: Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Icons From Greece, Psychiko 2008, pp. 50-51, cat. no. 22.