THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI
39 x 32 x 1.5cm
Art of Angelos Pitzamanos (born 1467-1532)
The rectangular icon is mounted in a gilded, carved wooden frame with arched top, in the type of a small tabernacle. The Virgin, sitting left, bends over the Christ-Child in the basketry manger in front of her and with both hands lifts up the edges of the white cloth on which he lies. She wears a bright red dress and a deep green mantle, while her hair is covered by a white flimsy veil that falls behind. Joseph stands behind her, turned left yet looking towards the Christ-Child, his hands clasped in prayer. The first king, aged with white beard, is shown kneeling; only his head appears behind the second, portly king in the foreground, who proceeds conspicuously, almost frontal with torsion of the body, holding the precious gift, a metal vessel like a censer, in his raised right hand. He is clad in Turkish costume: a long rose-coloured kaftan with horizontal black stripes, a deep green-blue mantle with pale green shadows, like that of the Virgin, and the typical turban. The third king can be seen behind the Virgin’s head, offering his gift.
The scene takes place in front of a building with a large arched opening (a Roman ruin) on the left, while a landscape of rolling hills below a blue sky spreads out on the right. The painted surface has been damaged in an earlier cleaning using fire; the modelling of the faces, the colours of the garments and part of the landscape in the background have been effaced; the deep blue colour has also been altered. This damage reveals the preliminary sketch of the composition.
The scene follows known models of Italian Renaissance art, as is the case in many sixteenth-century Italo-Cretan icons, the most important examples being the icon by Ioannis Permeniatis, formerly in a private collection and now in the Benaki Museum, the icon in the Tsatsos Collection and the icon by Emmanuel Lambardos.1 The arrangement of the figures, the garments, especially the Turkish costume of the second king, and the landscape in the background are all characteristic features of this iconography. Our icon is, however, quite distant from the models of these works and evidently has more in common with a series of icons in a popular style, dispersed in collections and museums in Italy — in Ravenna, Bologna, Trieste and elsewhere.2 Frequently the common prototype in these works is the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi by Jacopo Bassano (1540-1565).3 In our icon the figure of the Virgin sitting on the ground, bending over the Christ-Child lying in a basketry manger and holding the edges of the white sheet, is taken from the Adoration of the Shepherds, while other figures are borrowed from the Adoration of the Magi:4 Joseph, standing left and turning his head towards the Virgin, and the kings, in particular the standing turbaned one with the incense burner, but also the bearded old man kneeling in adoration. Among these figures noteworthy is the standing king in Turkish costume, who is depicted full-bodied and raising the hand with the precious gift in two late sixteenth-century icons of the Adoration, in Cremona and the Vatican Museum.5 There is an even closer portrayal of the black king on an icon in Cyprus. He wears a white kaftan with horizontal black stripes and raises his right hand holding a censer. The old king also kneels, as in our icon.6
The mannerist, torsional pose of the standing king (figura serpentinata) is reminiscent of a work by Marcantonio Raimondi, depicting a triumph of a Roman emperor (circa 1509), which Theophanis used as a model for the scene of the Ascent to the Cross in the wall-paintings in the Lavra Monastery.7 The prophetess Anna has an analogous pose in the Patmos icon of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, painted by Michael Damaskenos, thus renewing the fifteenth-century iconographic prototype.8
All the above iconographic traits lead to Italo-Cretan painting of the late fifteenth and the early decades of the sixteenth century. Among the contemporary depictions a greater affinity, primarily stylistic, is observed with some icons by Angelos Pitzamanos. Born in Crete around 1467 and a pupil of Andreas Pavias from 1482 until 1487, Pitzamanos renewed the earlier Italian tradition of his master and following the later currents of Italian painting developed his own personal style; he and his brother Donatos left their native isle and painted icons in the region of Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian coast (1518) and at Otranto in Italy.9
The icon of the related theme of the Adoration of the Shepherds, in the Lichacev Collection in the Hermitage,10 though differing from ours in the composition, the pose and position of the figures, resembles it in other respects; the manner of painting the Virgin, in analogous attire and relaxed pose, with gentile movements, refined facial features, that are clearly visible in the infrared photograph, and smooth flesh is common to both works, as are the arched opening of the Roman ruin and the low hills below the blue sky in the background.
There is an even greater resemblance to the two icons painted by Angelos Pitzamanos at Otranto in Italy, in 1532 (one is in the Hermitage (Fig. 85) and the other in the Split Archaeological Museum).11 In these works, in which the Virgin and Child is represented with Saint John the Baptist beside her, there are similarities in the Virgin’s face, which is the same shape and has the same finely
drawn features, in the mantle which envelops her body in broad, soft folds, and in the white veil covering her hair (Figs 85, 86). Also common are the more general, uncohesive organization of the composition in space, with a slight indifference to the harmony of proportions and movements, and the preference for pale colours on the garments as well as the distant landscape in the background. All the above correlations indicate that the icon of the Adoration could be attributed to the circle of Angelos Pitzamanos. Its poor condition does not permit assessment of its painterly values as a whole, it does however expose the preliminary design, which is better discerned in infrared photographs (Fig. 83) and reveals a freedom in rendering movement, especially of the Christ-Child in the manger, and an expressiveness on the faces, particularly of J oseph and the first two kings.12
The gilded woodcarved frame of the icon is in the form of a small tabernacle with arched opening and flat entablature supported by two piers or engaged columns, now lost (Fig. 88). The flat surfaces are decorated with relief shoots, leaves and flowers issuing from a vase (kantharos?). The self-same type of frame, with the same relief ornaments, is known in the Venice region from the first third of the
sixteenth century (Fig. 87).13 The remarkable likeness of these carved wooden frames attests their common provenance, while the presence of a comparable type of carved frame with more elaborate decoration, on a fifteenth-century Cretan icon of the Madre de la Consolazione, at Petra, Mytilene,14 confirms their circulation in Crete from early on.
According to the above, it is clear that the icon of the Adoration of the Magi was mounted in a contemporary frame, totally in keeping with its Italicizing style.
CONDITION The icon had been cleaned previously using fire, which has spoilt the colours and left only the foundation on the faces. The two lateral piers or columns on the frame have been destroyed.
1. On the scene see N. Chatzidakis 1992, 713-741, with examples and related bibliography.
2. Angiolini-Martinelli 1982, nos 123, 124, 125, 125.1, 131, pp. 78, 79, 80. Angiolini-Martinelli 1994, no. 10, 67, fig. on p. 66. Pittura su tavola 1975, nos Il], VI.
3. Da Tiziano a El Greco 1993, no. 53, fig. on p. 171, Verona, G. del Giardino Collection.
4. Da Tiziano a El Greco 1993, no. 57, figs on pp. 177, 178, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
5. Bianco-Fiorin 1992, 79 and figs 11, 12. On the Turkish costume and its dissemination in ItaloCretan icons of the Adoration of the Magi see N. Chatzidakis 1992, 731-732.
6. Papageorgiou 1992, no. 94, 142. Sophocleous 1994, no. 56, 105, fig. on p. 190 (an analogous rendering of the scene is also encountered in an unpublished icon in the Zakynthos Museum).
7. Chatzidakis 1986, fig. 1988. See also M. Constantoudaki-Kitromilides 1991, 271-281, 273ff., pls 132-134.
8. Chatzidakis (1977) 1985, no. 60, 102-103, pl. 39, 115.
9. Chatzidakis 1974, 196-197, pl. KET’; 1. Bianco-Fiorin 1984, 89-94, fig. 5.
10. Collektioni N.P. Lichaceva 1993, fig. 269.
11. Collektioni N.P. Lichaceva 1993, fig. 270. Bianco-Forin 1984, fig. 5. See also the icon of the Visitation in the Walters Art Gallery, which has been published recently, Vassilaki 1990, 86-92.
12. A preliminary design has been ascertained on Domenikos Theotokopoulos’s icon of the Adoration of the Magi, in the Benaki Museum, see Stasinopoulos 1988, 12ff., figs 1-4, 6-7.
13. Newbery, Bisacca, Kanter 1990, 46-47, nos 15-17.
14. Baltoyanni 1994, 295-296, no. 84, pl. 185.
Art of Angelos Pitzamanos. The Adoration of the Magi.
Egg tempera on wood. Late 15th c. – early 16th c.
Frame: 62.5 x 50.2 x 1.5 cm Icon: 39 x 32 x 1.5 cm
(donation no. 10)
Nano Chatzidakis, Icons. The Velimezis Collection, publication of the Benaki Museum, Athens 1997, cat. no. 15, page 166.