See the Book
55.5 x 37 x 2.5 cm
Early 17th century
‘Procopius, a young, unbearded, handsome warrior, is presented standing, frontal, in full panoply. He wears a short, red, sleeved tunic to mid-thigh length, and a brown cuirass over it. His dark green cloak is tied on the right shoulder and falls behind it. The legs, in embroidered leggings, are bound with reddish bands below the knees. His bow hangs from one shoulder and his shield from the other, while the quiver is fastened on one side of his waist and the scabbard on the other. At his side hangs a gold cross from a chain passed over the shoulder. In the right hand he holds an upright spear and in the left the drawn sword pointing downwards. The ground at thigh level is rose-violet, veined like marble, which is more clearly visible in the lower part. The remaining ground and the integral relief frame are embellished with broad leaves and flowers in gilded plaster. The halo is also in gesso relief, as are the two tablets with the inscription in capitals: O AΓΙOC ΠΡΟΚΟΠIOC.’ Manolis Chatzidakis, 1945.
Procopius is one of the most popular soldier-saints.1 He appears in the wall-paintings in the Protaton,2 and the Chilandari Monastery,3 where he is depicted standing, in analogous attire but without the cuirass, and has the same facial features. His figure in our icon is even more reminiscent of the soldier-saint in an early fifteenth-century icon of Saint Demetrios, in Belgrade, who holds a drawn sword pointing downwards in the same manner.4 Saint Procopius is portrayed in bust, with similar features, in a late fourteenth-century icon in Veroia.5 He has an analogous relaxed pose and analogous garments in the wall-paintings by Theophanis in the Monastery of Stavronikita.6 The type is repeated in the wall-paintings of the Philanthropinon Monastery on the Island in the lake of Joannina and the Varlaam Monastery at Meteora,7 The figure of the soldier-saint in our icon, with the slim legs bound with bands and standing on a marble floor, recalls the soldier-saints in a fifteenth-century icon in the Byzantine Museum (Fig. 151).8 An analogous marble floor is also encountered in a late sixteenth-century icon of Saint John the Theologian in the Byzantine Museum.9
The saint’s short hair falls behind the ears and the facial features are prominent and well-drawn on the smooth surface of the flesh. His calm expression, softly modelled, seems distant from the painting of mainland Greek workshops. The relief decoration with gold foliate motifs on the ground and frame in our icon, is a characteristic device of icons in Romania. Numerous icons with analogous relief vegetal decoration are known from the sixteenth century in the Humor Monastery and the Suceava region, such as Christ, with a Greek inscription, and Saint Paraskevi (Fig. 153).10 Relief decoration also occurs on an icon of Saint Nicholas, 1643, with Greek inscription,11 on a seventeenth-century icon of the Virgin with the prophets,12 as well as an icon of Saint Nicholas with a Greek signature of the painter Demetrios Moschos, 1722, and an Arabic inscription at the side.13 In these works the soft modelling with the smooth almost rose surface of the flesh, the finely drawn facial features, the dulcet expression and the raised eyebrows are the same as in our icon of Saint Procopius. Furthermore, an illustrated sketch book of the painter Radu Zugravu, of the second half of the eighteenth century, which includes figures of standing soldier-saints in similar poses and of comparable bodily proportions, is of Wallachian provenance.14
The Velimezis icon was produced by a competent and technically skilled painter fully conversant with the art of workshops in Moldavia. The uniform of the soldier-saint, which is drawn with great precision and attention to detail, as well as the harmonious colour combinations, reveal acquaintance with models of Palaeologan art on Mount Athos, as well as with works from sixteenth-century Cretan workshops. The quality of the painting of this icon points rather to an early period, probably the beginning of the seventeenth century.
CONDITION Very good. A vertical crack has not damaged the painting.
1. Synaxarium, col. 808. Hermeneia 1909, 157.
2. Millet 1927, I, pl. 53.2.
3. Chilandar 1978, fig. 60.
4. Chatzidakis – Babić 1982, 142, fig. 298.
5. Papazotos 1995, no. 47, 145.
6. Chatzidakis 1986, fig. 165.
7, Acheimastou-Potamianou 1983, 99, n. 879 with other examples, pls 61 and 84.
8. Chatzidakis 1969, 68, 77, fig. 48.
9. Chatzidakis 1969, 39, 73, fig. 14.
10. Voineseu, in Chatzidakis – Babić 1982, 376, figs 394 and 400.
11. Romanian Icons 1993, no. 9, 55.
12. Icones suisses 1968, no. 197.
3. Sotheby’s 1989, no. 413.
14. Voinescu 1978, figs 12, 49.