Project Description


See the book


41.7 x 33 x 1.3 cm

Second quarter of 16th century

The saint is depicted waist-length and in frontal pose at the centre of the icon. She holds a long-handled Crucifix in the right hand and in the left her severed head and an unfurled scroll which bore an inscription, now erased (it had been overpainted later with ΑΓΙΟC, ΑΓΙΟC, KYPIOC CABAΩΘ Holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth). Both the saint’s heads are nimbed by a halo with punched vegetal decoration. Twelve scenes arranged around the central figure illustrate the miracles and martyrdom of Saint Paraskevi as narrated in her Vita.1
In the bottom left corner of the central panel is the forged inscription in black capital letters: XEIP IΩANNOY MOCKOY (Hand of Ioannis Moskos). Right and left of the saint’s head, in red capitals: H AΓIA ΠAPACKEYH. In the bottom right corner of the last scene, of the beheading, the inscription: ΔEH(CIC) TOY ΔOYΛOY TOY [ΘEOY …] Z (Supplication of the servant of God …Z). The painted surface and gold ground were damaged by previous conservation and subsequently retouched. The overpainting was removed in recent conservation and the preliminary incised design used by the painter is clearly visible, especially in the scenes surrounding the saint. The saint’s facial features and attire, with a dark reddish brown maphorion covering her head, are the same as those depicted in a large number of icons from the fourteenth century onwards,2 such as in Veroia,3 the Benaki Museum, London4 and Patmos, in which she holds a cross.5
The presence of the Crucifix in our icon is associated with the Lord’s Passion, which is alluded to symbolically in earlier representations of Saint Paraskevi in which she holds an icon of the Man of Sorrows.6 This type, in which Saint Paraskevi (i.e. Friday) is sometimes identified with Good Friday, occurs often in icons in Cyprus from the fourteenth century onwards.7 Saint Paraskevi holding the Crucifix as in our icon is encountered in a seventeenth-century icon in Ravenna,8 in which she is portrayed full-bodied and holding a palm frond in her left hand, without the other iconographic traits of the type of our icon.
The Crucified Christ is a recurring element in the iconography of other saints too, such as Saint Catherine in a series of late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century icons, such as those by Ieremias Palladas and Emmanuel Lambardos.9 Saint Barbara also holds the Crucifix in a seventeenth-century icon in Cephalonia.10 Lastly, in several icons from the seventeenth century onwards the Virgin, in the type of the ‘Lypemeni’ or Lamenting, also holds the Crucifix.11
The saint holding her severed head can be included in the series of representations of ‘kephalophoros’ saints, such as Saint George, who is always depicted in profile in the examples known to date..12 Saint Catherine is shown in three-quarter pose and holding her severed head in a good seventeenth-century Cretan icon in the Latsis Collection, in which she is framed by six scenes from her life.13 In a late sixteenth-century icon in the Piana degli Albanesi,14 Saint Sophia is represented in a type analogous with Saint Paraskevi, in frontal pose, holding a platter with the heads of her three daughters in the left hand and a cross with long handle in her right.
The figure of Saint John the Baptist, depicted in frontal pose and holding his severed head, already established from the Palaeologan era, can be considered the model of these representations; the earliest known example at Arilje is dated 1296.15 The frontal pose of Saint Paraskevi in our icon is most probably modelled on some corresponding representation of the Forerunner. This hypothesis is strengthened by the even greater similarity between the Saint Paraskevi in our icon and the representation of Saint John the Baptist in a late sixteenth-century icon in Patmos, in which not only the frontal pose of the two saints is common but also the way in which they hold the severed head in the same hand as the unfurled scroll.16
It is thus ascertained that Saint Paraskevi is depicted here in an iconographic type of a kephalophoros saint that derives from earlier Palaeologan representations of Saint John the Baptist in frontal pose. It differs from equivalent representations of other saints, such as Saint Catherine and Saint George, who are usually shown in three-quarter pose.
The subject of Saint Paraskevi holding her severed head is known in wall-paintings as well as panel icons.17 She appears in frontal pose and holding a platter with her severed head in her raised right hand in a wall-painting in the church of Hagios Nikolaos at Kastoria,18 as well as in the church of the Evangelistria, 1690, at Nymphes in Corfu,19 whereas she is frontal and holding her severed head in the left hand in a small early seventeenth-century icon in the Tsakyroglou Collection.20 In an interesting seventeenth-century icon in Siphnos, in the church of the Panagia Ouranophora, the saint is framed by scenes from her life21 but is portrayed in a different type, without the Crucifix, full-bodied and turned to the right, like Saint Catherine in the Latsis Collection. In a later icon in Thessaloniki, with eight scenes from the life of Saint Paraskevi,22 she is depicted
at the centre of the bottom zone, waist-length, frontal and holding her severed head in the left hand, as in our icon. Lastly, in an early nineteenth-century icon in the church of Hagia Paraskevi at Monopolata, Cephalonia, the homonymous saint is presented full-bodied, frontal, holding her severed head together with a scroll and surrounded by four scenes from her life.23
The scenes surrounding the central figure of Saint Paraskevi in our icon comprise an extremely interesting ensemble in which the narrative element dominates. They read from left to right horizontally: 1) The saint before Actios. 2) The saint in gaol. 3) The whipping of the saint. 4) The torture of the burning helmet that the soldiers placed on the head of the enthroned saint. 5) The saint in a cauldron converses with the emperor. 6) The saint slays the dragon. 7) The saint’s torture on a wheel. 8) The saint, tied by her hair to a post, is burnt with candles. 9) The saint in the cauldron converses with the angel descending from heaven. 10) The saint converses with the emperor, portrayed kneeling, in an episode associated with his baptism. 11) The saint in front of the altar rejects the idols. 12) The beheading of the saint.
The cycle of scenes from the Life of Saint Paraskevi is included in the Hermeneia where nine basic ones are described.24 One of the earliest extensive cycles in Postbyzantine Cretan painting is in the wall-paintings at Episkopi Pediados (1516), which includes inter alia scenes encountered in our icon, such as the saint before the emperor, the saint in gaol, the torture by whipping, the torture in the
cauldron and the final martyrdom by decapitation.25 However, there is no iconographic affinity with these scenes, since the compositions are few-figured and incorporate Western elements, mainly of the Late Gothic period, which are not encountered in our icon. Equally sterile is comparison with the scenes depicted in the fifteenth-century icon in London:26 on account of damage, only the last scene with the saint’s torture in a cauldron can be recognized.

The Siphnos icon27 has six scenes in common with ours, though in different iconographic types. Placed either side, they are read vertically from top to bottom: 1) The saint before the emperor (1). 2) The torture of the helmet (4). 3) The saint in the cauldron (5). 4) The saint being whipped (3). 5) The saint slays the dragon (6). 6) The beheading of the saint (12).
Lastly, scenes of the saint’s life that follow a different model from our icon occur in several later, eighteenth-century, icons of folk style, in Thessaloniki’ in a private collection in Switzerland29 and elsewhere.
Certain scenes from the saint’s life constituted autonomous subjects in Cretan icons. An early sixteenth-century icon in Switzerland presents the first scene of the cycle — the saint’s appearance before the emperor30 — with different iconography in the poses of the figures and the rendering of the buildings. The scene of the beheading of Saint Paraskevi is encountered as an autonomous subject in a later icon by Michael Damaskenos,31 who created a new iconographic type that was repeated by Victor (1654).32 In this new type the executioner is shown frontal with marked torsion and contrapposto of the body, and the hand brandishing the sword on high, while a host of animated figures participate in the scene. The iconographic type of the beheading from the period just before this innovation, known from the wall-paintings of 1516 in the church of Hagia Paraskevi Pediados, Crete, differs significantly; it follows the iconography of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, as shown in an icon in the Dionysiou Monastery,33 in which the executioner is portrayed strictly frontal, without torsion of the body, with the hand holding the sword raised high above his head.
In our icon the scene differs both from the model crystallized in carly Cretan painting and that established later by Michael Damaskenos’s icon. The painter of our icon follows a different model in which the executioner is represented in side view, holding the sword in the hand raised in front of his chest, with marked torsion of the body (Fig. 92). This sideways pose is encountered in the scene of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist in early sixteenth-century icons, on the border of the icon of Saint John the Baptist, in Bologna (Fig. 91), as well as in the triptych by the painter Stylianos ‘priest’ in the Abou Adal Collection.34 The figure of the executioner in these representations derives from the corresponding figure of a soldier from the Massacre of the Innocents in an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi,35 which, as Chatzidakis has shown, was widely diffused in this period.36 It was the model for the corresponding scene painted by Theophanis in the Lavra (1535) and Stavronikita (1546) monasteries, and copied in an anthivolon (working drawing) in the Benaki Museum, as well as in a seventeenth-century icon in the Lavra Monastery.37
The above comparisons indicate that the iconographic model of the scenes of the life of Saint Paraskevi in our icon differs not only from the known fifteenth-century depictions but also from the later ones of Damaskenos’s day. The scene of the beheading displays greater affinity with early sixteenth-century icons of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, just as the frontal depiction of Saint Paraskevi at the centre is linked with the earlier iconography of the Forerunner. Unfortunately the icon’s poor condition precludes further observations on its style, since in most cases the damage extends to the outlines and the figures seem to be clumsily drawn; however, where the preservation is better it is noted that the scenes are executed with the precision of a miniature, apparent in the incised preliminary design and the illumination of the drapery planes with tiny white highlights (scenes 1, 4), as well as the finely drawn features of the figures (scenes 1, 2, 5), and even the mask above the cauldron of torture (scenes 5, 9). This at once detailed and discreet treatment is quite close to the manner of the Cretan painters of the early decades of the sixteenth century in the icons already cited. Nevertheless, the compositions with many figures in vigorous motion (scenes 3, 7) point to a later period.
The scenes unfold in front of tall, well-drawn buildings with rose or blue walls (scenes 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10) and a floor of alternating rose and white square tiles (scene 3). Buildings of the same type and colours are encountered in the icon of Saint John the Baptist in Bologna, in the triptych by the painter Stylianos in the Abou Adal Collection, in the icon of the Akathistos Hymn in the Velimezis Collection (Cat. no. 14, Fig. 151), as well as in the Italo-Cretan icon attributed to Angelos Pitzamanos, in the Canellopoulos Museum.38 Apart from the similarity in the rendering of the buildings, the relationship of scale between the buildings and the human figures is analogous in these icons.
The pastel colours with ample use of blue and rose, and the lively movements evidently belong to a common repertoire of early sixteenth-century icons, in which characteristics of contemporary Italian painting are just perceptible. The painters of these icons are poised between two periods, since certain details in the rendering of the flesh and the drapery are still close to earlier, fifteenth-century, Cretan painting. These stylistic traits can be seen in our icon of Saint Paraskevi, which has the additional element of the punched decoration on the halo in common with fifteenth-century icons. The art of our icon overall is consistent with this new current of Cretan painting which, though continuing fifteenth-century tradition, introduces Renaissance elements, to an ever increasing degree, mainly through the use of engravings such as those by Marcantonio Raimondi, which enjoyed wide circulation on the island. This current, already apparent in the opening decades of the sixteenth century in the art of Theophanis, prepared the way for the acceptance of mannerism by painters such as Michael Damaskenos, who renewed Cretan painting in the second half of the century. The triptych by the painter Stylianos and the icons of the Virgin with scenes from her life in the Canellopoulos Museum, of Saint John the Baptist in Bologna, and of the Akathasistos Hymn (Cat. no. 14), cited above, are considered the best examples of it. The icon of Saint Paraskevi has all the stylistic prerequisites for inclusion in this circle of icons. The iconographic singularities in the rendering of the central subject, as well as of the scenes on the border, and the resemblance to fifteenth-century works, permit a dating in the early decades of the sixteenth century, while the many-figured compositions with vigorous movement indicate that the icon is a later example of this group of early sixteenth-century icons.

CONDITION  Previous cleaning using fire has largely destroyed the colours, the gold ground, the outlines of the figures and the background buildings. The incised preliminary design can be clearly seen. See also Appendix III.



1. Hermeneia 1909, 207, 26 July: ‘Saint Paraskevi (executed) by a sword’; 286-287: ‘The saint’s tortures’.
2. On the saint’s iconography see Hermeneia 1909 and RbK 2, 1971, s.v. Heilige, col. 1087ff. (A. Chatzinikolaou). Lexikon 8, 1976, 118-120. Koukiaris 1994, 74-105.
3. Papazotos 1995, no. 99, 200, nos 115-116, pp. 216-217, no. 128, 230.
4. Treasures of Orthodoxy 1993, no. 42, 221 (A. Drandaki). Byzantine, Greek and Russian Icons 1979, no. 43, figs 70-71; see also below n. 26.
5. Chatzidakis (1977) 1985, 99, nos 56, 57, pls 48, 110, 112; see also icons in the Ekonomopoulos Collection (Baltoyanni 1986, nos 48, 64, 99, pls 55, 137, 156).
6. It has been maintained that in these representations the Virgin mourning the dead Christ was depicted originally: Kalokyris 1972, 81-85, n. 2 with relevant bibliography, pls 93a-f, 96. The earliest known representation of the saint as an allegory of Good Friday is in the codex Par. gr. 510, Omont 1929, pl. XLII. See also Koukiaris 1994, 35ff.
7. See Icons from Cyprus 1975, 66 no. 22 and 152 no. 63; Papageorghiou 1991, 62-64, fig. 41; Sophocleous 1994, 98, fig. on p. 174 and no. 42.
8. Inv. no. 4501, Icone di Ravenna 1979, no. 146, 90.
9. See relevant bibliography in the icon of Saint Catherine, Cat. no. 26, 256 and also N. Chatzidakis 1993, 178, 179, 181, 183, nos 42, 46.
10. Cephalonia I 1989, 64, fig. 83.
11. In particular it is diffused in icons, often of Italo-Cretan art, see Rizzi 1972, nos 4, 31, 88. Icone di Ravenna 1979, no. 149, 91. Baltoyanni 1986, 114, no. 236, pl. 211. Mary Magdalene also holds the Crucifix in an eighteenth-century icon that copies an Italian model in the Benaki Museum, Xyngopoulos 1936, 97, no. 76, pl. SLA.
12. For the resemblance to the iconography of Saint John the Baptist, as well as for collected examples, see Walter 1992, 694-703, pls 374-380. Noteworthy is the fact that the sources on the martyrdom of Saint George do not mention that he carried his severed head, Cf.
Charalambidis 1986, 367.
13. After Byzantium 1996, no. 28.
14. Lindsay-Opie 1991, 301, pl. 145. A 17th-century icon of Saint Eudokia, in frontal pose and carrying her severed head, is mentioned in the catalogue of the Loverdos Collection (Papayannopoulos-Palaios 1936, 37, no. 240).
15. See in connection Lafontaine-Dosogne 1978, 121-144, fig. 8 and Walter 1989, 85-86; see also
Cat. no. 26, 256.
16. In this icon Saint John the Baptist also holds the cross in the same hand (see Chatzidakis (1977) 1985, 124, no. 77, pl. 133), while in earlier representations Saint John the Baptist holds an unfurled scroll and a long-handled cross in the same hand (see Exhibition for the Centenary of the ChAE, 1985, 33, no. 20. Chatzidakis (1977) 1985, 68-69, no. 18, pl. 85, 84, no. 35, pls 96 and 201).
17. For the spread of her cult in Byzantium, in Bojana, Zemen, Berende see Grabar 1928, 118, 193, 250; see also Subotié 1971, 89ff., 102ff., 131ff. Koukiaris 1994, 42-62: 17 ensembles with 14th to 15th-century wall-paintings are recorded, 13 of which are in Crete.
18. Pelekanidis 1953, pl. 247B. Tourta, 1991, 197-198 with bibliography.
19. Holy Metropolis of Corfu 1994, fig. on p. 71. In the same church, Saint Artemios holds a Crucifix, op. cit., fig. on p. 71.
20. Karakatsani 1980, no. 47, 58.
21. Dimensions 108 x 82cm. Aliprantis 1979, 19, and personal observations.
22. See Tourta 1992, 607, pl. 342; dated to the 18th century it is an overpainting on a 12th-century icon of the Virgin.
23. Cephalonia II 1994, 177-178, figs 347-350; a bema door of the same art in this church is signed ‘Demetrios the Cretan, 1815’.
24. Hermeneia 1909, 286-287.
25. Chatzidakis 1974, 204, 209, pl. AT” 1. The cycle includes 20 scenes from the saint’s life. Koukiaris 1994, 58-62.
26. See above n. 4; Saint Paraskevi is portrayed to the waist; at the bottom of the icon three badly damaged scenes from her life. The saint’s torture in a cauldron is discernible in the last scene. The icon, of 1Sth-century date, is assigned to a good workshop in Northern Greece.
27. See above n. 21.
28. Tourta 1992, 607, pl. 342; closer to folk art and dated in the 18th century; see also n. 21 above.
29. Icones suisses 1968, no. 133. Saint Paraskevi with twelve scenes from her life is encountered in an icon in the Loverdos Collection (55 x 70 cm), in the Byzantine Museum (Papayannopoulos-Palaios 1946, no. 494, 69, 18th century). An icon of Saint Paraskevi and four scenes from her life (33 x 43 cm), is mentioned in the same collection (Papayannopoulos-Palaios 1946, 47, no. 299), and an icon of the Beheading of Saint Paraskevi with eleven scenes from her life and the signature ‘hand of Philotheos, 1661’ (40 x 47 cm) (Papayannopoulos-Palaios 1946, 47, no. 301).
30. Icones suisses 1968, no. 13.
31. Cf. Vocotopoulos 1990, 137, fig. 326.
32. Vocotopoulos 1990, 137, fig. 325. See also Victor’s icon of the Martyrdom of the Ten Saints (1668), in Corfu, with a beheading of similar type, Vocotopoulos 1990, no. 93, 136-137, figs 254-255. .
33. See related examples in wall-paintings. Chatzidakis 1974, 204-205, pl. AI’ 1, 2 and n. 25 above.
34. N. Chatzidakis 1993, no. 18, 88-91. N. Chatzidakis 1996, figs 1, 2 and on p. 46.
35. Cf. N. Chatzidakis 1993, 88-91, no. 18.
36. Chatzidakis 1949, 150ff., figs 1, 2. Chatzidakis 1969-70, 331 and nn 82, 83, figs 101, 103.
37. Chatzidakis 1940, fig. 3. Chatzidakis 1969-70, 331, fig. 101. The executioner has the same pose in the beheading of Saint Barbara, in the refectory of the Lavra Monastery, Millet 1927, pl. 143.2.
38. For the small group of icons cf. n. 34 above and the icon of the Akathistos Hymn, Cat. no. 14, 163, 164, and nn. 48, 49, 50: see also Affreschi e Icone 1986, no. 76, 122-124 (M. Acheimastou-Potamianou).

Saint Paraskevi and scenes from her life.

Egg tempera on wood. 2nd quarter of 16th c.

41.7 x 33 x 1.3 cm

(donation no. 11)

Nano Chatzidakis, Icons. The Velimezis Collection, publication of the Benaki Museum, Athens 1997, cat. no. 16, page 174.