Project Description


See the Book


37x 27.5 x 2.2 cm

Konstantinos Kontarinis (1699-1738)

The icon, painted on a uniform gold ground, is divided into two registers. In the upper register Saint Alexander stands upright, holding a cross in his right hand and a palm branch in his left. He wears a short red chiton and an open red cloak falling behind his back. His calves are bound with off-white bandages highlighted in gold. Above, within a wide semicircle defined by white clouds, appear the winged heads of angels and the full-bodied figure of Christ, seated and blessing with both hands outstretched.
The saint stands on a deep red foreground rendered as a rectangle set in the gold field. Close to his feet is the artist’s signature, in black cursive letters: χείρ κωνσταντίνου τοῦ κονταρήνη (hand of Konstantinos Kontarinis). Towards the top, in red lettering on the gold ground is the inscription: ὃ Πρωτομάρτυς’ Αλέξανδρος (the Protomartyr Alexandros). Represented in the lower register is an episode from the saint’s life, according to his Synaxarion: ‘Alexander was brought first to the place of judgement and was unable to stand upright, because he suffered from gout, and so together with Kronion, his own man, they were set on camels and were paraded in ignominy about the market place. Afterwards … and finally lime, afire and boiling, was poured upon them …’.1
Saint Alexander evidently cured gout, and because of this virtue the icon was dedicated to him, as declared in the related inscription, written in black capitals on a broad painted tablet within a Renaissance-type gold frame: ΕΙ ΚΑΙ ΗΝΕΓΚΑC ΝΟΥCON THC ΠΟΔΑΛΓΙΑC CE ΔΥCΩΠΩ ΤΑΥΤΗC KAΓΩ ΜΕΤΕCXHΚΩC ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΕ ΔΟC THN ΘΕΡΑΠΕΙΑΝ ΗΔΗ / CH ΜECITIA ΠΡΟC TON ΔΕCΠΟΤΗΝ ΠΑΝΤΩΝ (And even thee bring the illness of gout and I partaking of this affliction, Alexander, give cure through thy supplication to the Lord of All).
He is shown mounted on a camel held by two soldiers, in front of a building with a group of Roman soldiers to the left. On the right, in a landscape of rolling hills, the scene of the saint’s martyrdom in a pit of quick lime is depicted on a smaller scale. The saint projects half-naked from the pit, while soldiers gesticulate at him. In the background the buildings of a city are precisely drawn in monochromy. The Saint Alexander in our icon is not included among the homonymous saints described in the Painter’s Manual by Dionysios2 and is not known from any other icon. The iconography of the scene follows faithfully the description of the hagiographer Nikodemos Synaxaristis, which seems to be the sole source for this unusual composition. The originality of this graphic scene is comparable to that observed in Konstantinos Kontarinis’s votive icons, which are distinguished for the vivid rendering of some biographical scenes, such as the miracle of the rescue of his son Nikolaos (1718), in the Stathatos Collection, and the miracle of Saint Lucian (1708) in an icon in Corfu. 3
A large number of signed works by Konstantinos Kontarinis (1699-1738), a painter working in Corfu, have survived in various regions, in museums and collections in Greece and abroad.4 His models can often be located in icons by Emmanuel Tzanes, whose technique he imitates in the linear modelling of the flesh with parallel white highlights. Like other painters of his day, such as Tzankarolas, he adopted themes from Western iconography, as in our icon. Noteworthy is the fact that Saint Alexander has analogous facial features and exactly the same pose as Saint Alexios in an icon by Tzankarolas in Corfu.5 In all probability the phonetic affinity of the two names led Kontarinis to use an already existing model for portraying Saint Alexander, since it seems that his iconography was never actually formulated. The execution of the icon differs considerably from Kontarinis’s familiar technique, which is characterized by firm drawing and linear highlights on the flesh, as seen in Saint Antypas (Cat. no. 44, Fig. 203). This is perhaps due to the |miniature nature of the scenes here, which are encountered in other icons of thisperiod. In particular, the diligent drawing of the city in the background, with the perspective rendering of the buildings, is reminiscent of an analogous pepicnani in the Descent from the Cross (Cat. no. 40, Fig. 195).

CONDITION  Good, though slight damage on the highlights of the painted surface, particularly the flesh and the drapery.


1. Nikodemos Hagioreitis 1868, vol. I, 172.
2. Hermeneia 1909, 160, 272 and passim.
3. Xyngopoulos 1951, 19-20, no. 18, pl. 17. See Vocotopoulos 1990, 163 and no. 131, fig. 305.
4. See Vocotopoulos 1990, 163; see also Cat. no. 44, 338-340.
5. Vocotopoulos 1990, no. 128, fig. 301.

Konstantinos Kontarinis. Saint Alexander and scenes of martyrdom.

Egg tempera on wood. Early 18th c.

37 x 27.5 x 2.2 cm

(donation no. 42)

Nano Chatzidakis, Icons. The Velimezis Collection, publication of the Benaki Museum, Athens 1997, cat. no. 43, page 334.