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THE VIRGIN OF TENDERNESS
20.4 x 14.9 x 1.8 cm
Second half of 15th century
The Virgin, shown to the waist and turned three-quarters left, holds the Christ-Child in her arms; she supports his back with her left hand, while her right passes under his legs. Christ embraces his mother and touches her face with his cheek; his right hand passes round her neck, where the tips of his little fingers are shown, while the left is extended on her shoulder. Red-lettered inscriptions top right and left: ΜΗΡ ΘΥ, ΙC XC. The Virgin’s maphorion is deep red with geometric folds on the surface covering her body and softer ones, forming a deep curve after the Western mode, on the section falling between the arms. Her headdress is dark blue with lighter shades in the angles of the folds. The broad border band of the maphorion, decorated with intricate pseudo-Cufic motifs, belongs in the same tradition. Christ wears a dark blue (oxidized, almost black) chiton with a red sash girdling the waist and passing over the shoulders in two perpendicular bands; his himation falls low around the waist, leaving the chiton exposed but covering his legs. The feet project above the Virgin’s right forearm; the right one with bare sole is tucked under the left, since the sandal with very fine gold thongs is loose and dangles at a distance below his mother’s hand. The deep blue chiton, the red sash and the ochre himation with rich drapery and tiny overfolds, are embellished with dense gold striations. The modelling of the faces is soft and uniform, the warm brown tones forming smooth planes, as in Italo-Cretan icons. However, the passionate expressions, the rounded volumes on the cheeks and especially on the wide, round chin, reveal affinity with earlier Palaeologan models, such as the Italicizing Virgin and Child in the Benaki Museum.1 There is simple, finely punched decoration on the small haloes and the entire surface of the gold ground is patterned with broad-leafed volutes, a manner of decoration that places our icon among the early examples of Italo-Cretan painting. Foliate volutes are more usually encountered on haloes of icons in this group, and only rarely on the gold ground. Rather simply executed volutes on the ground are known from a few icons of the second half of the fifteenth century, such as one in a private collection in Athens.2 On other icons of the late fifteenth century the incised decoration of the ground describes simpler geometric motifs as in the icon of the Madre della Consolazione type in the Historical Museum, Moscow,3 in which there is decoration in radiate arrange-ment, and in icon T. 224 in the Byzantine Museum, where there is a lozenge ornament.4 On this last icon the haloes of both figures are likewise small and bear analogous simple punched decoration, as is the case in another fifteenth-century icon in a private collection in Athens.5 The freely executed decoration on the haloes and ground of our icon is ascertained in several early Italo-Byzantine or Italo-Cretan icons, such as the Virgin in the Benaki Museum,6 as well as those just cited in a private collection in Athens,7 in the Byzantine Museum (no. T. 224)8 and an icon in the Ekonomopoulos Collection.9 The icon of the Glykophilousa reproduces a type established in Cretan iconography, that combines traits alluding to the iconography of the Passion, as it appears in the widely diffused types of the Virgin of the Passion10 and the ‘Kardiotissa’.11 Three icons of a similar type are located in Naxos,12 the Lichačev Collection13 and a collection in Antwerp.14 Not only are the pose and relationship of the figures identical in every respect, but also the deep blue chiton on Christ. These icons differ from each other stylistically, however, in their degree of association with Byzantine tradition and manner of assimilation of Western influences.
Although our icon cannot be assigned to a specific workshop, it is most closely related to the Glykophilousa in the Lichačev Collection,15 mainly because the two traditions are blended to a considerable degree. Both icons combine the Byzantine-style geometric drapery on the garments with the finely worked, gold pseudo-Cufic motifs on the border band, a characteristic feature of Italo-Cretan icons. An additional similarity can be ascertained in the Western-style treatment of the flesh — with much softer modelling in our icon — and in the soulful expressions, with the Virgin’s eyebrows less arched and the eyes with dilated pupil gazing upwards.
An analogous combination of contrasting traditions is ascertained on comparing our icon with the Virgin ‘ton Chionon’ in the Catholic church on Naxos,16 where the modelling of flesh on the faces is achieved through soft tonal transitions, as in our icon, yet the features are consistent with Palaeologan tradition. Other traits common to both icons are the passionate expression and the distance between the index finger and the other digits on the Virgin’s left hand. A variation of this type occurs in those icons in which Christ, in the same position, holds an open scroll with the inscription Πνεῦμα Κυρίου… (Spirit of the Lord…), in his lowered right hand, as in two in the Lichačev Collection.17 Each of these icons belongs to a different phase of the fifteenth century and displays a different degree of Italian stylistic influence. They have a further trait.in common with our icon, the dark blue of Christ’s chiton, suggesting that this is a colour widely used in icons with Italian influences18 and only occasionally in traditional representations of the Virgin and Child.19
To conclude, our icon follows an iconographic type established in fifteenth-century Cretan painting, which is also known from very early works, such as the Virgin ‘ton Chionon’ in Naxos. Its style is closely related to these early works, as well as to others displaying more pronounced influences from Italian painting, as known in a series of Italo-Cretan icons. Our icon can be attributed to a Cretan workshop of the second half of the fifteenth century, which although conversant with Italian modes of painting had not yet moved away from Palacologan tradition.
CONDITION Quite good; the wood is damaged at the edges.
1. Baltoyanni 1994, no. 20, 86, pls 39-40. Treasures of Orthodoxy 1993, no. 43, 222 (M. Vassilaki).
2. Baltoyanni 1994, no. 58, pl. 110.
3. Icons of Cretan Art 1993, no. 41 (I. Kyzlasova).
4. Baltoyanni 1994, no. 35, pl. 65.
5. Baltoyanni 1994, no. 66, pl. 128.
6. Baltoyanni 1994, pl. 39.
7. Baltoyanni 1994, no. 66, pl. 128.
8. Baltoyanni 1994, no, 35, pl. 65.
9. Baltoyanni 1994, no. 45, pl. 80.
10. See passim, icon Cat. no. 2, with bibliography.
11. For the pose of Christ seen from the back, as well as the red sash, a sartorial element of the iconography of the Anapeson, see N. Chatzidakis 1983, no. 1, 17.
12. In the Catholic church of the Panagia ton Chionon (15th century), Baltoyanni 1994, no, 32, 136-137, pl. 60.
13. Italo-Cretan icon (second half of 15th century), in which the iconographic type’s reference to the Passion is confirmed by the presence of two little angels with the symbols of the Passion, Lichačev 1906, 131, fig. 8.
14. Golden Light 1988, no, 59, 88-89. After Byzantium 1996, no. 9.
15. Baltoyanni 1994, pl. 8.
16. See n. 12.
17. See further examples, Lichačev 1906, 132, 136-137, figs 10, 11.
18. For examples see N. Chatzidakis 1993, nos 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31, 37. Baltoyanni 1994, nos 68-73, pp. 75-83, pls 137-147 and 148-174.
19. See examples in icon Cat. no. 2, 74-76.