Project Description


See the Book


14.5 x 11.5 x 1cm
Circa 1600

A very small icon depicting only the head of Christ to just below the neck, frontal. Of his vestments the purple chiton and dark blue himation are visible. The hair falls behind asymmetrically from a central parting, in parallel wavy lines. The facial features are described with precision in tiny brushstrokes and the modelling of the flesh is carefully executed. On the crossed halo in red letters the inscription: O ΩN (The Being). Top left, traces of the inscription: IC.

The origin of the iconography of only the head of Christ, as well as of other single saints, can be traced back to much earlier examples in the Byzantine period. On a late twelfth-century icon at Tver1 the Head of Christ is rendered with stylistic traits of contemporary Byzantine icons, such as the Virgin Hodegetria on the double-sided icon in Kastoria. On a thirteenth-century icon in Sinai,2 the Head of Saint George is painted in a comparable manner, except that the saint turns sideways, obviously because he formed part of a Deesis group. Our icon reproduces the established iconography encountered in a large number of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century icons. In all probability the type was diffused with the icons by Emmanuel Lambardos, an example of which can be seen on the painted iconostasis in the icon of Saint Menas, in the Greek Institute, Venice.3 The icon of the Head of Christ is usually accompanied by icons of similar type with the Head of the Virgin and of Saint John the Baptist in a composition of Deesis.4 An icon by Emmanuel Lambardos in the Byzantine Museum (no. T. 2103) represents the Head of Christ in the type of the Pantocrator, while there are similar icons in the Benaki Museum,5 Russia6 and collections in Britain;7 of excellent technique, most of them are attributed to Emmanuel Lambardos and dated around 1600; the type was used later by Emmanuel Tzanes in an icon in the Historical Museum, Crete.8 Our small icon follows these models and probably dates to the same period.

CONDITION Very good, although the colours are faded and the gold dull.


1. Smirnova 1994, 299-302, pl. 170.
2. Sinai 1990, 116, fig. 57.
3. Chatzidakis 1962, 83, no. 54, pl. 43.
4. See N. Chatzidakis 1993, 176, no. 43 and Cat. no. 19, 234,
5. Xyngopoulos 1936, no. 17, 32, pl. 14.
6. Post-Byzantine Painting 1995, no. 14.
7. Sotheby’s 1988, no. 413 (30 x 24.5 em) and no. 414 (28 x 22 cm),
8. lcons of Cretan Art 1993, no. 171, 524-525 (M. Borboudakis).

Head of Christ

Egg tempera on wood. c. 1600

14.5 x 11.5 x 1 cm

(donation no. 16)

Nano Chatzidakis, Icons. The Velimezis Collection, publication of the Benaki Museum, Athens 1997, cat. no. 21, page 240.