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THE VIRGIN HODEGETRIA
45.5 x 35.4 x 2.1 cm
Second half of 15th century
The Virgin is portrayed in the type of the Hodegetria with the Christ-Child on her left arm. Both figures are in three-quarter pose and turned towards one another in mystical commune. The Virgin’s head is inclined slightly and her right hand is in a gesture of supplication towards Christ who holds a furled scroll in his left hand and blesses with his bent right. The Virgin’s purplish red maphorion covers her head and leaves a deep triangular opening revealing her deep blue dress with gold band round the neck. The gold ornaments on the maphorion are limited to the usual star on each shoulder and one off-centre on the head. The maphorion covers the right arm uniformly, without the overfolds which in most cases permit the addition of gold fringing.1 Christ’s grey blue chiton with random motifs is girdled with a red sash with gold striations, passing round the waist and over the shoulders to form two vertical bands. The ochre himation with gold striations leaves the chiton exposed to the thighs and only covers Christ’s legs; despite the damage, traces of the crossed feet are discernible. The Virgin’s face is well drawn with finely arched eyebrows, a long slim nose and a small mouth with thin lips. The outlines of the elegant tapering fingers are firmly drawn.
The face of the Christ-Child is similarly refined, differing from the normal iconographic type of the infant with rounded features. He has a high forehead, barely puffed cheeks and a small chin. Top left there are traces of inscriptions on the damaged gold ground. The position of the Virgin and Child is consistent with the iconographic type in the famous icons of the Virgin ‘Perivleptos’ and ‘Psychosostria’ in Ochrid, which was widely diffused in Cretan icons from the fifteenth century onwards, the mid-fifteenth century icon in Corfu and the icons by Andreas Ritzos being outstanding examples.2 However, Christ’s attire, with the himation swathed low around the waist, leaving the chiton exposed, belongs to another group of icons known from a few splendid Palaeologan examples such as the Eleousa in the Athonite Monastery of Chilandari (first quarter of 14th century)3 (Fig. 22) and the ‘Perivleptos’ in the Zagorsk Museum (second half of 14th century),4 (Fig. 23) which reproduce the type of some miraculous icon in Constantinople.5 Another icon of the Virgin, in the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow (second half of 14th century),6 belongs to this group, although the Virgin’s left hand is in a different pose, resting on Christ’s leg. The same model is interpreted in a different manner and with minor deviations in two interesting double-sided icons in Rhodes (mid-14th century) and Kos (14th-15th century);7 it differs not only in the position of the Virgin’s right hand, which touches Christ’s leg, but also in that of Christ’s left hand, which hangs down. Divergences from the model of our icon are also apparent in the magnificent icon of the Virgin ‘Alethini’, in Patras (late 14th century),8 in which the Virgin’s right hand passes under Christ’s legs, while he holds the scroll with a bent hand, as in the Chilandari icon. Nevertheless, a constant iconographic trait in these three icons and ours is the way in which Christ’s himation is arranged, exposing the chiton on the upper body.
Of these representations of the Virgin and Child, ours has the greatest number of traits in common with the iconographic type of the Chilandari icon. Not only are the pose and relationship of the two figures — turned towards one another — the same, but also the type of Christ’s dress with the himation fallen around the waist, the position of the Virgin’s right hand in intercession, as well as the way in which Christ holds the scroll with his left hand bent. M. Acheimastou-Potamianou ascertained that the icons in Rhodes and Kos reproduce the same iconographic type as an icon in the Museo Correr, Venice, which is ascribed to a fifteenth-century Venetian-Byzantine painter,9 while Chr. Baltoyanni, adding further examples, suggests that Rhodes in the time of the Knights of Saint John was the centre from which this type was diffused.10
The iconographic type of our icon also occurs in works by sixteenth-century Cretan painters. An icon of the Hodegetria exhibited for auction in London11 uses it with minimal modifications: the Virgin’s hand rests on Christ’s knee and Christ holds the scroll differently, as in the Rhodes icon, two venerating angels appear on high, as in the Virgin ‘Alethini’, while the gold fringes on the Virgin’s maphorion are due to the elaboration of the model by a good sixteenth-century Cretan painter. The Hodegetria on the reverse of the sixteenth-century icon of the Crucifixion, in the Byzantine Museum (no. T. 157), should also be attributed to an analogous Cretan model.12 The same model is followed by the painter of the Virgin ‘Pammakaristos’, which is dated to the second half of the sixteenth century, on the back of a double-sided fourteenth-century icon of the Hodegetria, in Veroia.13 The prototype of this representation, which like our icon follows that in Chilandari, is interpreted in the artistic idiom of northern Greece.
Lastly, the same type is also used in an interesting icon from Cyprus, work of a gifted early sixteenth-century painter, with obvious influences from Western art, primarily in the soft rendering of the flesh and the drapery.14 In this representation the Virgin’s right hand holds Christ’s body in check, passing under his legs, as in the Virgin ‘Alethini’ in Patras,15 but a deviation is observed in Christ’s scroll, which is open.
The style of our icon bears several traits recognized in fifteenth-century Cretan painting. The well-drawn facial features and especially the Virgin’s long fingers recall the icons by Andreas Ritzos, in Florence and Parma.16 The austere drapery 2 and the lack of a decorative gold fringing on the Virgin’s maphorion bind it with earlier traditions.17 Nevertheless, the morphology of the maphorion and of Christ’s garments, with the rectilinear folds, is a characteristic feature of fifteenth-century Cretan painting, though without the strict geometric development seen in the works of Andreas Ritzos and later painters. The modelling of the flesh in warm tones with dense, finely executed brushstrokes and warmer brownish red on the cheeks belies connections with Palaeologan tradition, as encountered in icons by the painter Angelos, of the first half of the century, as well as others in Crete.18 Even so, the refined facial features of both figures indicate a barely perceptible distancing from these models, as well as from icons of the Virgin and Child attributed to their workshops. All these characteristics, which endow the icon with the texture of a wall-painting, lead to a date in the middle rather than at the end of the fifteenth century, and to a workshop of an accomplished artist equally familiar with Palaeologan tradition and Cretan painting. It is well known that in Crete during the first half of the fifteenth century the art of wall-painting developed to a high standard alongside that of icon-painting; the Palaeologan tradition was assimilated creatively by painters who decorated churches, as attested by the wall-paintings in the churches at Sklaverochori, of the Panagia at Kapetaniana (1401), Valsamonero and Embaros (1436/7), as well as at Apano Symi Viannou, by Manuel Phokas (1453).19 This is the context to which the art of the painter of our icon, who adopted the Constantinopolitan model, can be obviously assigned.
CONDITION Manolis Chatzidakis, 1945: ‘The icon is painted on wood with fine gesso preparation on linen. Outlines and details are incised. In general it is in good condition but is rather worn in places. The wood was spliced to the right. The icon is framed by a later red band, clumsily painted.’
1. See further example Cat. no. 2.
2. For the type as well as collected examples see Vocotopoulos 1990, no. 6, 13-14, fig. 6; see also Cat. no. 4.
3. Chilandar 1978, fig. 71.
4. Bizantij 1991, no. 56, 232-233, with bibliography.
5. See relevant article by G. Babić, Quelques observations concernant l’ icône de la Vierge Kosinitsa, in the volume (in press) in memory of D. Mouriki,
as cited by Baltoyanni 1994, 235 n. 13.
6. Bizantij 1991, no. 78a, 245-246 with bibliography.
7. Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art 1986, nos 82, 89, pp. 79, 88 (M. Acheimastou-Potamianou).
8. Acheimastou-Potamianou 1995a, 471ff., fig. 1.
9. Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art 1986, 88.
10. Baltoyanni 1994, 233ff.. 236-237, nos 66-67, pls 128-132.
11. Sotheby’s 1987, no, 297.
12. Soteriou 1931, 78, fig. 34. Baltoyanni attributes the icon to the workshop of Frangos
Katelanos (Baltoyanni 1991, 23 and 1994, 30-31, fig. 16).The Virgin’s right hand is in the same gesture of intercession as in our icon.
13. Archaeological Museum no. 117. Byzantine Art – European Art 1964, no. 221. Papazotos 1980, 167ff. Papazotos 1995, fig. 133.
14. From the church of the Panagia Katholiki, see Sophocleous 1994, no. 45, 99, colour plates on
15. See above n. 8.
16. See N. Chatzidakis 1993, 42-46, nos 6, 7, with previous bibliography.
17. See Icons of Cretan Art 1993, nos 149, 156.
18. See good photographs, Icons of Cretan Art 1993, nos 139, 142.
19. Cf. Chatzidakis 1969-70, 335-337. Borboudakis, Gallas, 1983, figs 75, 77, 78. 130-139, 289, 304-367, 429-432. Borboudakis 1988, 23lff. and Borboudakis 1992, 375-399.