See the Book
EPISTYLE OF AN ICONOSTASIS,
IN THREE PIECES
a. Christ, 31.8 x 29.8 x 3.5 cm
b. Saint James, 30 x 27.5 x 3.8 cm
c. Saints Luke and Simon, 31.5 x 54.5 x 3.8 cm
Three integral parts of the epistyle of an iconostasis on a single panel, with the Great Deesis: only the figures of Christ and three apostles, James, Luke and Simon, all waist-length, are preserved. Each figure is depicted beneath a painted arch supported by colonnettes veined in imitation green marble. In the spandrels a painted floral ornament. The apostles are projected against a bichrome ground: bright red above and yellow ochre below,
a. Christ is portrayed in frontal pose, clad in a red chiton and a blue himation with vertical yellow clavus. He blesses with his right hand, palm outwards, while the gospel book in the left has been completely destroyed. Beside him, left, the date in black ,ZPΛς’ (7036 = 1627/8) and part of the hand of the apostle depicted in the adjacent representation. Christ’s halo, with incised outline, is gold with a cross marked lightly in red, in which the letters O ΩN (The Being) are inscribed.
b. Saint James, with thick brown hair and sparse beard, turns left, with his head in three-quarter pose and the body frontal, like the evangelist Matthew in the sixteenth-century icon Cat. no. 16. He wears a deep blue chiton with pinkish white clavus and a deep red himation that falls on the right shoulder and swathes round the right arm, while his hand points towards the left; the himation also covers the left part of the body leaving the left hand holding a closed scroll free. On the red ground in white capitals the inscription: O AΓIOC HAKOBOC.
c. Saint Luke is represented with his head turned three-quarters left. He has a lean face, short hair with characteristic tonsure, a short beard, and holds a closed gospel book in both hands. He wears a blue chiton, like James, and a deep red himation covering only the left arm. On the red ground the inscription in white capital letters: O AΓIOC ΛOYKAC. Next to him is Saint Simon, turned in the opposite. direction, towards the right. He wears a red chiton and a deep blue himation. In his left hand he holds a closed scroll and with the right points right. On the gold ground in white letters is the inscription: O AΓIOC CIMON.
The apostles are represented turned sideways, in different direction. Simon’s pose corresponds to James’s and both turn towards the central figure of Christ. So the likely position of the parts of the epistyle can be reconstructed: at the centre the figure of Christ, left the part with saints Luke and Simon and right Saint James. The colours in the icons are clear and bright, in three basic tones: red, blue and ochre. Blue and red alternate on the garments. The ochre haloes projected against the red area of the ground harmonize with the ochre used in the lower section. The flesh is modelled with dense dark brown and off-white brushstrokes, while pronounced darker brushstrokes define the outlines and the wrinkles on the forehead, as on the face of Simon.
This technique, with the frugal coloration and particularly the combination of red, blue and ochre, is characteristic of a large number of icons from Kastoria and Veroia. Icons of the same type, from an epistyle on a single piece of wood with polychrome ground, are not unknown in churches in Macedonia, Kastoria and Veroia.1 The figures of Christ and the saints are also linked stylistically with these epistyles, since they display analogous schematic rendering of their features. Strikingly similar is the epistyle in the church of Hagios Vlasios at Veroia, circa 1360,2 in which the figures of the apostles are painted on a uniform ochre ground without arcade. Saint James in our icon can be compared with the homonymous saint on this epistyle, in which he appears in corresponding pose, turned three-quarters, and with the same facial features. Further, the apostles on an iconostasis beam, with comparable schematization, occur in an icon in a private collection in Switzerland.3 An epistyle of exactly the same type with figures painted on a red ground, 1638/9, was presented in a recent paper on icons in the Kastoria region.4 Lastly, analogous schematic rendering is encountered in an icon of four apostles, in bust, in a private collection in Switzerland, with corresponding bichrome ground, orangey red above and green below.5
The figure of Christ in a small icon from the church of Prophetis Elias in Veroia, of a good workshop of an earlier period,6 is almost identical to that in our icon, with greater plasticity in the modelling of the flesh and the drapery. The facial features are prominent with dark shadows around the eyes and at the beginning of the beard. The drawing of the fingers is similar and the drapery of the chiton and the himation arranged in the same way. The same drawing of the characteristics and in particular the blessing hand with the thumb joined to the fourth finger, is observed in another icon of Christ, dated 1643, from the church of Hagios Georgios in Veroia.7
Our epistyle’s connection with this region is further confirmed by the obvious similarity to certain wall-paintings in the area of Veroia. In Hagios Georgios of archon Grammatikos the figure of the Gregory Palamas presents the same characteristics as the figures of the apostles in the Velimezis icon and, moreover, the letters in the accompanying inscriptions are of the same type, particularly in
the writing of the date which virtually coincides: ,ZPΛς’ (1629).8 It may be assumed that the painter of our epistyle, of 1627, followed a model existing in one of the earlier churches in the region.
CONDITION Part (a) is badly damaged top left and bottom right, where the wood has been destroyed completely. The colours are preserved in good condition. On part (b) the painting is damaged in the upper part of the surround and low down right on the saint’s hand. The colours are preserved in good condition. On part (c) damage to the painting in the middle and left on the figure of Saint Luke has destroyed part of his neck. Minor damage top and bottom near the frame.
1. Holy Image, Holy Space 1988, no. 37, 198 (M. Chatzidakis). Papazotos 1995, nos 83-88, pls 184- 189; 15th-century epistyle on a single piece of wood with scenes of the Twelve Great Feasts below an arcade, from a church in Veroia. Tsigaridas 1995, 395, fig. 4: 15th-century Apostolika on a single board with alternating green and ochre ground, from Kastoria.
2. Papazotos 1995, nos 48-52, pls 146-150,
3. The epistyle was cut in three sections, Ιcones suisses 1968, no. 40.
4. Kakavas 1996, 34.
5. Icones suisses 1968, no. 113.
6. Papazotos 1995, 151, fig. 53.
7. Papazotos 1995, no. 135, pl. 236.
8. Papazotos 1994, 191, pl. 103β.