Project Description


See the Book


54.5 x 32.5 x 2.5 cm and 24.5 x 17 cm (icon)

Frame: 17th century

Icon painted by Demetrios Pelekasis (1881-1973)

The elliptical icon is integral with the carved wooden frame. The surface of the wood is covered with a fine layer of gold leaf on which is painted the scene of the Nativity of Christ, with several secondary episodes, a work by Demetrios Pelekasis who was in the habit of copying old icons of miniature character. A comparable style is encountered in his manuscript miniatures representing Theophilos and Theodora, and Theodora on horseback, as well as in his icons of the Anastasis (Descent into Hell), the Last Night of the Repentance and the Kissing the hand of the Bishop of Zakynthos-Cephalonia Gerasimos Loverdos.1 The woodcarved frame, in good condition, was gilded and embellished with colours. Its decoration includes a vegetal ornament with rinceaux and acanthus leaves, in various shades of pale blue, terminating in little roseate flowers. The top is surmounted by two heraldic griffins each placing one leg on a crown. Traces of whitish pigment are preserved on their body and they wear a wide rose garment. Acanthus leaves on the upper part of the frame, intertwine to form broken arches. On the lower part is a mask of an elderly figure with moustache and beard. The elliptical frame with its lavish carved and painted decoration recalls in shape and griffin ornaments Italian frames of around 1500, such as a mirror frame from Siena,2 and other frames of rectangular shape from the regions of Venice and Florence in the first half of the sixteenth century.3
The mask (mascherone) at the base of the frame is reminiscent of an analogous figure in Renaissance reliefs on fountains in Crete, such as at Pentamodi, in the village of Rousospiti and in the Vrontisiou Monastery, as well as the Rimondi fountain,4 which originate from corresponding relief ornaments on monuments in Venice from the mid-sixteenth century onwards.5 The mascherone on our icon frame is uniquely similar, not only in features but also in expression, to the mask on a well-head in the Palazzo Ducale, Venice.6 Woodcarving is known to have flourished in Venetian-occupied Crete and examples of it have survived in a large number of monuments.7 Our woodcarved frame was produced in a Cretan workshop and I believe that its workmanship and motifs point to an early seventeenth-century date. It is from this period that relevant documents confirming the practice of ecclesiastical woodcarving in Candia have survived.8 However, the lack of such testimonies for previous periods does not mean that this craft was not practised earlier. On the contrary, the documents indicate the existence of a long tradition on the island,9 while several woodcarved frames of exceptional craftsmanship are preserved on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century icons, such as the one on the Adoration of the Magi (Cat. no. 15).10 The carving of the frame on the same wood as the icon is encountered in the icon of the Passion of Christ by Domenikos Theotokopoulos (Cat. no. 17) as well as in an unpublished sixteenth-century Italo-Cretan icon of the Assumption of the Virgin, in the Solomos Museum, Zakynthos, with intricate woodcarved decor- ation.11 Furthermore, the oval shape, together with the elaborate woodcarved upper and lower parts, evokes the decoration on Italian mirrors.12 The original subject painted on the elliptical icon is not known.

CONDITION  The original painting of the icon has been completely destroyed and replaced by a painting on gold by D. Pelekasis. The woodcarved frame is in very good condition, save for slight damage to the upper part where the head and part of the left leg of the left griffin have been cut. The colour preserved in places was revealed in recent conservation.

BIBLIOGRAPHY  Unpublished.

1. The Painter Β. Pelekasis and his Work, publ. Pyrsos, Athens n.d. (19287). See also above Cat. no. 71, n. 1.
2. Newbery, Bisacca, Kanter 1990, no. 54, 80-81.
3. Newbery, Bisacca, Kanter 1990, nos 18, 19, pp. 48, 49.
4. Dimakopoulos 1970, 322ff., pl. ΠB’, fig. 1, pl. ΠΔ‘ figs 5, 6.
5. Dimakopoulos 1970, pl. ΠH’, figs 14, 15, 16 and pl. ΠΘ’, figs 19, 20. For the diffusion of similar decorative motifs in Crete during the first half of the 16th century see Constantoudaki – Kitromilides 1991, 271ff., n. 2.
6. Dimakopoulos 1970, 335, pl. ΠH’, fig. 14.
7. Cf Fatourou 1982.
8. Kazanaki 1974, 251ff.
9. Kazanaki 1974, 251-252.
10. Cf. Cat. no. 15.
11. Konomos 1977, no. 1, 4, ‘vaulted’ icon, see also Demetis 1987, 41.
12. Newbery, Bisacca, Kanter 1990, no. 54, 80-81. For elliptical icons see Cat. nos 17 and 49.

Woodcarved icon frame of the Nativity

Frame: 17th c.

Icon painted by Demetrios Pelekasis. Egg tempera on wood. c. 1930

Frame: 54.6 x 32.0 x 5.0 cm, Icon: 24.5 cm

(donation no. 127)

Nano Chatzidakis, Icons. The Velimezis Collection, publication of the Benaki Museum, Athens 1997, cat. no. 72.