Project Description


See the Book


44.4 x 34.6 x 2.9 cm

Nikolaos Kallergis, 1744

Saint Spyridon is portrayed enthroned, wearing a white sticharion and a greenish blue phailonion with tiny black crosses and a red lining. The plain throne, without back, stands on a red and white checkered floor. Flanking the saint, on the same scale, two full-bodied angels on clouds turn towards him. They hold lighted candles and open scrolls with inscriptions of hymns; left: ΧΑΙΡΟΙC ΤΡΙΜΥΘΟΥΝΤΟC H KΑΛΛΟΝΗ (Rejoice thou the Beauty of Trimythous), and right: ΧΑΙΡΟΙC ΚΕΡΚΥΡΑC ΩΝ Ο COΦΩΤΑΤΟC (Rejoice thou being, the wisest of Corfu). Left and right of the saint, in red capital letters: O AΓΙΟC CΠΥΡΙΔΩΝ Ο ΘΑΥΜΑΤΟΥΡΓΟC (Saint Spyridon the Miracle-worker). Six scenes from the saint’s life are depicted, three in the upper and three in the lower part of the icon. At the bottom of the icon the painter’s signature is distinguished in red capital letters on the gold ground: ,ΑΨΜΔ’ ΧΕΙΡ ΝΙΚΟΛΑΟΥ. ΚΑΛΕΡΓΗ. (1744. Hand of Nikolaos Kalergis). The reading of the scenes commences top left: 1. The saint stops the heavy rain (Figs 207, 209). Saint Spyridon prays on his knees, looking up at the sky filled with dark clouds. In the background a landscape with picturesque details and the buildings of a city. Above, the ominous black clouds and the downpour that ceases after the saint’s miraculous intervention are painted with accuracy and simplicity. 2. The saint steps on Arius (Figs 207, 210). The saint is depicted standing and conversing with a group of clerics making vigorous gestures. Arius lies fallen on the ground. 3. The saint transforms the snake into gold (Figs 205, 211).
The saint, standing, holds the snake in his right hand, in front of a kneeling man. Behind him is a rich landscape with various buildings. 4. The saint appears in the king’s dream (Fig. 212). The saint stands upright left, inside a chamber where the king is asleep in a Renaissance canopied bed, covered with luxurious bedspreads, while a small angel appears beside him. 5. The relic of Saint Spyridon (Fig. 213). Depicted in a conspicuous position in the central panel, below the enthroned figure of the saint, the relic is under a baldachin in front of a large, embroidered hanging, within a space defined by a low, columned balustrade in perspective. High up, in red capital letters, the inscription: ΛΕΙΨΑΝΟΝ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ CΠΥΡΙΔΩΝΟς (Relic of Saint Spyridon). 6. The saint raises the king’s daughter (Fig. 214). The saint stands upright left and blesses the king’s daughter, who arises from inside a large marble sarcophagus.
The scenes are painted according to an Italicizing model, as seen mainly in the rendering of the colourful landscape with the blue sky, the buildings and the furniture, such as the canopied bed. They are characterized by a charming polychromy and an expressive vitality, a softness in the modelling of the flesh and a looseness in the treatment of the drapery. All are projected against the gold ground of the icon, which simultaneously forms a uniform frame around each, as observed in Theodoros Poulakis’s icon of Saint Nicholas with Scenes from His Life, in Corfu.1 The painter follows this same model for the type of the signature as well, in red capital letters, very low down.
Spyridon, who originated from Cyprus and later became patron saint of Corfu, to where his miraculous relic was translated,2 is painted on a large number of icons with the same facial features, He has a long white beard and wears the characteristic knitted cap, as described by Dionysios in his Painter’s Manual: ‘Saint Spyridon, an old man with long, forked beard, wearing a cap’, and ‘an old man with rush-like and forked beard’3 He is more frequently shown in bust, while one of the earliest examples of him enthroned is an icon in Paros, work of a Cretan painter of the second half of the fifteenth century.4 The enthroned saint in our icon reproduces the established iconography of the enthroned hierarch, as known from a large number of Postbyzantine icons.5 The scenes from the saint’s life are often added on the borders of icons from the sixteenth century onwards.
One of the earliest is the icon by Emmanuel Tzanfournaris (1595), in the Greek Institute, Venice,6 which was the model for the icon by Theodoros Poulakis, in the Benaki Museum.7 On an icon of a standing Saint Spyridon by Emmanuel Tzanes, in the Museo Correr, Venice,8 scenes from his life are arranged vertically down the sides, while in an icon of the enthroned hierarch, in the Loverdos Collection, now in the Byzantine Museum, with the signature of Ioannis Moskos, the scenes are arranged horizontally above and below, as in our icon.9 Of the eight scenes from Saint Spyridon’s life described by Dionysios only two are included in our icon, the first and the third, and their iconography seems to observe the instructions in the Painter’s Manual: ‘the saint, kneeling, with arms and eyes raised to the sky, and rain clouds above and around him’ (first scene) (Fig. 209) and “Houses and inside the doorway a poor man stretching out his hand…, and the saint standing outside the door gives him the golden snake’ (third scene) (Fig. 211).10
All the scenes on our icon are encountered in that by Emmanuel Tzanfournaris, but their iconography differs significantly, indicating that Nikolaos Kallergis followed a different model. Different again is the iconography of the scenes in the aforementioned icons by Theodoros Poulakis, Emmanuel Tzanes and Ioannis Moskos.
The representation of the saint’s relic is also included in the cycle of biographical scenes (Fig. 213), although it constituted an independent iconographic subject. It is encountered as such in an appreciable number of later icons in Corfu, where the veneration of the miraculous relic spread after 1532, and even moreso with the circulation of the saint’s printed akolouthia, after his miraculous intervention in the siege of Corfu by the Turks in 1716.11 One of the earliest and best examples of the iconography of the subject is in an icon by Theodoros Poulakis, in Patmos.12The depiction of the relic in Kallergis’s icon displays affinity with regard to the decoration and the position of the reliquary, in front of a hanging embroidered with flowers, with a late seventeenth-century Heptanesian icon in the Kosmetatos Collection.13 The two full-bodied angels holding large lighted candles, beside the relic in the Kosmetatos icon, are transposed in our icon to the central panel, flanking the commemorated saint. Scenes from the life of Saint Spyridon are widely disseminated in icons and engravings of the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century,14 though again the iconography differs considerably from that of our icon. The only scene in common is the saint’s miracle with the snake, as in the icon in Stemnitsa (1771), and an eighteenth-century engraving in a private collection in Corfu, where Spyridon stands in front of a kneeling male figure,15 most probably following Dionysios’s description.
The cycle of scenes from the life of Saint Spyridon in the Velimezis icon apparently differs from cycles encountered in icons by most of the known sixteenth- and seventeenth-century painters, such as Emmanuel Tzanfournaris, Emmanuel Tzanes and Theodoros Poulakis. Nikolaos Kallergis draws on some other pictorial cycle of the saint, of Western provenance, as yet unknown. Nikolaos Kallergis, of whom works are known from 1699 to 1747, was one of the most prolific painters on Zakynthos.16 Scion of a Cretan family, he was the son of the prosperous priest and painter Frangiskos Kallergis, who left Rethymnon after it fell to the Ottomans in 1645 and settled on Zakynthos, where he had a private church, Hagia Anna, in the town and an important library that he bequeathed to his daughter. A wall-painting with Saint Spyridon, signed by Nikolaos Kallergis, has survived from the church of Hagia Anna and there are several signed icons of his in Zakynthos as well as in museums and collections in Athens. He painted diverse categories of icons, large despotic icons and bema doors for the iconostasis, as well as icons with scenes from the Life of Christ. Apparently Kallergis preferred to copy old icons, which he did systematically. This is suggested by the condemnation of his father for copying the miraculous icon of the Virgin Anaphonetria, in the homonymous monastery in Zakynthos, and by the fact that Nikolaos copied icons by great Cretan painters, brought to Zakynthos by Cretan refugees. Among these are some very important works, such as the icon of Saint Theodore by the painter Angelos (Figs 232-233), the fifteenth-century icon of Saint George standing and slaying the dragon, in the Zakynthos Museum, the icon of the Passion of Christ, by Domenikos Theotokopoulos (Cat. no. 17) (Figs 134-135), and the icon of the Annunciation (Cat. no. 48) from the Modena triptych17 (Figs 224-225). Kallergis’s style is often conservative in character, particularly when he copies earlier icons, while in those icons in a miniature genre more often follows the Western models of the iconography. His works are distinguished by their precise drawing, chromatic sensitivity and picturesque details, particularly in the secondary scenes surrounding single saints. All these traits of his art visible in the icon of Saint Spyridon are observed in another vita icon by Nikolaos Kallergis, of Saint Charalambos with Scenes from His Life, 1728, in the Zakynthos Museum.18 Both icons are identical in the depiction of the enthroned hierarch as well as in the drawing and coloration of the small biographical scenes projected on the gold ground in exactly the same way. Analogous elements of the painter’s graphic style are encountered in an unsigned icon of Saint Nicholas with Scenes from His Life, in Cephalonia,19 as well as in the icons of the Annunciation (Cat. no. 48) and the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple (Cat. no. 47), which I attribute to the same cycle of works of miniature character. Our icon of 1744 is one of the latest known dated works by Kallergis.

CONDITION Very good.


1. Vocotopoulos 1990, no. 88, fig. 243; see also an icon by Christodoulos Mariettis, 1677, op. cit., fig. 337.
2. Vrokinis 1973, 307-310.
3. Hermeneia 1909, 154. For the saint’s iconography see Lexikon, 8, 1976, cols 387-389.
4. Mitsani 1996, no. 1, 14-15.
5. E.g. see the icons of Saint James the Less (Adelphotheos) (Cat. no. 45) and Saint Antypas (Cat. no. 44), by Konstantinos Kontarinis, with related bibliography.
6. Chatzidakis 1962, no. 62, 94-95, pls 46, 47.
7. Xyngopoulos 1936, no. 38, 57-59, pl. 29.
8. Drandakis 1962, 17-24, pl. 1.
9. Papayannopoulos-Palaios 1936, no. 64, 22.
10. Hermeneia 1909, 181-182.
11. See Chatzidakis 1972, 172, nn. 1, 2, 3, 5 with related bibliography. See also Katselaki 1994, 470-48 1ff. and nn. 48-53, figs 10-12. Bitha 1995, 164ff.
12. Chatzidakis 1977 (1985), no. 50, 169, pl. 188.
13. Katselaki 1994, 470ff., fig. 10.
14. For other Corfiote examples of Saint Spyridon see Bitha 1995, 151ff., figs 1, 6-10.
15. Bitha 1995, figs 1, 6-8.
16. For the painter see Chatzidakis 1956a, 15, fig. 3. Chatzidakis 1975a, 263. Chatzidakis 1987, 1, pp. 98, 125. Xyngopoulos 1957, 324. Triantaphyllopoulos 1985, A’, 364. Also Rigopoulos 1994 and 1994a, 283-287. Chatzidakis 1997. See also Cat. nos 47-48 and n. 17 below.
17. See Introduction, 49, 51-52, 54-55, Figs 13, 18, 19, Cat. no. 48, 362ff., with further examples. I gave a first synoptic presentation of the results of my research in a communication entitled «Γνωστό άγνωστο έργο κρητικού ζωγράφου» at the VIIIth International Congress of Cretan Studies, Herakleion, 9-14 September 1996, These findings will be published in detail in a monograph I am preparing on this subject.
18. Dimensions: 59 x 46 cm. Chatzidakis 1956, 16, n. 13. Konomos 1967, 30. Konomos 1967a, 26-27. Kreidl-Papadopoulos 1970, 110, fig. 88. Rigopoulos 1994a, 34-35, fig. 2.
19. From the iconostasis of the church of Hagios Nikolaos ton Livathenadon, at Lixouri, see Cephalonia IΙ 1994, 44-45, figs 36-39.

Saint Spyridon and scenes from his life.

Egg tempera on wood. 1744.

44.4 x 34.6 x 2.9 cm

(donation no. 49)

Nano Chatzidakis, Icons. The Velimezis Collection, publication of the Benaki Museum, Athens 1997, cat. no. 46, page 346.