Project Description


See the book


21.3 x 16.2 x 1.4 cm

Circa 1500

The saint is portrayed standing, frontal, his right hand on his chest in a gesture of respect and his left holding a small cross. He wears a light brown, knee-length chiton with short sleeves. The head is disproportion-ately large, with short bushy beard and long hair, while the face has well-drawn features and an intense expression. The saint is painted against a gold ground, most of which has been destroyed; in the lower part, in front of the foreground, are a small house in an enclosure, drawn in outline, left, and a low hill, right. Left and right, traces of an inscription in red capital letters: ΑΛΕΞΙΟC O ΑΝΘΡΩΠΟC TOY ΘΕΟΥ (Alexios the man of God).

Chatzidakis remarks in his catalogue: ‘The aristocratic saint, who forsook his betrothed and his wealth to live as a mendicant even in his own mansion, is not common in Byzantine painting. … In an eleventh-century menologion from the Athonite Monastery of Kastamonitou, there is for 17 March a miniature depicting him on his death bed with the Emperor Onorius taking from his hands the paper on which he had written his life and origin.1 On page 51 of a seventeenth-century manuscript of a painter’s manual, in the Benaki Museum, no. 35, an ink drawing of Saint Alexios has been added in the left margin by a later hand.’2 There are no known Byzantine icons of Saint Alexios as a single figure,3 whereas he appears quite often in Postbyzantine wall-paintings, depicted in accordance with the instructions in the Painter’s Manual by Dionysios: ‘like John the Baptist, with pointed beard’.4 In the Philanthropinon Monastery he is shown full-bodied and wearing the same type of short brown chiton, as he is later in the Docheiariou Monastery (1568).5 He is also encountered in medallions in the church of Hagios Nikolaos at Vitsa (1618/1619) and the church of the Panagia of the archon Apostalakis, in Kastoria.6 Saint Alexios is known from fifteenth-century Italian painting too, with analogous short tunic and cross.7 In a late seventeenth-century icon by Stephanos Tzankarolas, in Corfu, he is presented in a different iconographic type, with torsion of the body, standing, clad in a long chiton and a himation.8

Our icon provides, as far as I know, the earliest representation of the saint in icon-painting and its iconography heralds the known examples in sixteenth- century wall-paintings. Despite the damage to the painted surface, the fine, careful drawing is distinguished on the few folds and the pale highlights on the edges. These traits, which are not encountered in later Cretan painting, point to a date around 1500.

CONDITION  The gold ground, the modelling and the highlights on the flesh have been damaged in a previous cleaning.


1. In the Historical Museum, Moscow, fol. 269v, Treneff 1911, 8, pl. IX, 43; see Glory of
Byzantium 1997, no. 56, 101-102. For the saint’s life see Doukakis 1981, 302-314.
2. The codex is a keimelion from the Exchange of Populations of Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor Fund.
3. For the iconography see Lexikon 5, 1973, cols 90-95.
4. Hermeneia 1909, 166 and 294.
5. Monasteries on the Island in the Lake of Ioannina 1993, fig. 216. Millet 1927, pl. 241.2.
6. Tourta 1991, 166, pl. 92. Pelekanidis 1953, pl. 243.
7. Kaftal 1978, 26, no. 10, fig. 39.
8. Vocotopoulos 1990, 160, fig. 301.

Saint Alexios

Εgg tempera on wood. c. 1500.

21.3 x 16.2 x 1.4 cm

(donation no. 7)

Nano Chatzidakis, Icons. The Velimezis Collection, publication of the Benaki Museum, Athens 1997, cat. no. 7, page 100.