Project Description


See the Book


45 x 37.5 x 3.4 cm

Ioannis, 1778

The Virgin is depicted to the knees and seated. In her right arm she holds the Christ-Child whom she is about to suckle. She wears a dark red maphorion with broad gold border band over a dark green dress embellished with gold striations and gold embroidery on the sleeves. Christ is clad in a blue short-sleeved chemise and swathed with a red himation with gold striations. On the gold ground in red capitals is the inscription: M(HTH)P Θ(EO)Y H CΠΗΛΑΙΩΤΙCA (Mother of God, the Spelaiotissa). At the bottom is an explanatory inscription: ANTITYΠON THΣ EIKONOC OΠOY Ο IEPOC ΛOYKAC ICTOPHCEN THC YΠEPAΓIAC Θ(EOTO)KOY HTIC εv TΩ MEΓΑΛΩ CΠΗΛΑΙΩ EYPICKETAΙ χειρ ιω 1778 (Copy of the icon in which the holy Luke painted the Most Holy Theotokos, that is to be found in the Mega Spelaion, hand Io, 1778).
The iconographic type in this icon, known from the Byzantine period1 reappears occasionally in sixteenth-century Cretan icons and more frequently in later periods.2 There is a large number of icons of the Galaktotrophousa: around forty, in Italicizing style and dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, are recorded in Ravenna.3
The surname ‘Spelaiotissa’ for the icon of the Virgin denotes its association with the icon venerated in the Mega Spelaion Monastery. Moreover, the use of the term αντίτυπον (copy) in the text of the inscription indicates that it reproduces one of the prints circulated by this monastery in the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century.4 A mid-nineteenth-century engraving of the Virgin Galaktotrophousa, from Mount Athos (Fig. 254),5 as well as others of the Virgin of the evangelist Luke, in the type of the Hodegetria with the Christ-Child lying in her arms, as in our icon, feature similar inscriptions ἀντίτυπον τῆς ἱστορηθείσης ὑπό τοῦ ἀποστόλου Λουκᾶ (copy of that painted by the apostle Luke), the same inscription is found in an engraving of 1814 from the Karakalou Monastery on Mount Athos and engravings of 1834 and 1835 from other monasteries.6 In all the above examples and in our icon, the Virgin is plumpish with a round face, smooth flesh and large eyes, a fact that confirms the connection between the models used in those prints and our icon. It seems that this manner of rendering the Virgin Galaktotrophousa is not unknown in other icons of the period. Our icon is related in every respect to that of the Virgin Galaktotrophousa by the painter Makarios from Galatista, dated 1784, in the Byzantine Museum.7 The figure of the Mother and Child is similarly rendered, while a long inscription of the same type appears in the corresponding position, on a horizontal gold band at the bottom. The common stylistic traits in these two icons indicate that the painter of our icon, Ioannis, must have learned his art in the same workshop as Makarios from Galatista.8 This workshop, which was established at Karyes on the Holy Mountain and executed wall-paintings in the katholika of Athonite monasteries, is known to have extended its activities into other regions, even including Attica, while a series of 40 anthivola (working drawings) of these painters has been found in the Benaki Museum collection.9 However, icons of comparable art are also encountered earlier, such as an icon dated 1703, by the painter Demetrios from Southeastern Thrace, in Sophia.10
It is difficult to identify the Ioannis who painted our icon with one of the twenty- two at least recorded painters of this name who were active in the second half of the eighteenth century.11

CONDITION  Excellent.
BIBLIOGRAPHY  Unpublished.

1. E.g. see Lazarev 1938, 27-36.
2. Th. Chatzidakis 1982, no. 28.
3. See Icone di Ravenna 1979, nos 71-110.
4. The earliest known engraving was made in Venice in 1780, see Papastratou 1986, II, no. 544, 510; for other later copies see op. cit., nos 544-547.
5. Papastratou 1986, I, no. 90, 114 (Galaktotrophousa). The Virgin is rendered in analogous iconography in the engravings, Papastratou 1986, I, nos 83-90, pp. 111-114.
6. Papastratou 1986, I, nos 91-94 (copy of the icon by Saint Luke).
7. Chatzidakis, Byzantine Museum 1969, 49, 51, fig. 28.
8. Chatzidakis 1987, p. 108° see also n. 12.
9. Bouras – Tsigakou 1984, 50-56.
10. Paskaleva 1981, no. 82, 224-225; for the painter Demetrios see Chatzidakis 1987, 270, no. 25; there are icons by him in Andros and Kythnos.
11. Chatzidakis 1987, nos 55-76, pp. 333-339.

Ioannis. The Virgin Galaktotrophousa ʻThe Spelaiotissaʼ.

Egg tempera on wood. 1778 .

45 x 37.5 x 3.4 cm

(donation no. 66)

Nano Chatzidakis, Icons. The Velimezis Collection, publication of the Benaki Museum, Athens 1997, cat. no. 61, page 406.