...these four delicately
wrought images are exemplars
of the Late Byzantine icon
style of the empire's
Icons, religious images revered in the Orthodox world, appear in the first Christian centuries. In 787, the Second Council of Nicaea reaffirmed that "as the sacred and life-giving cross is everywhere set up as a symbol, so also should the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the holy angels, as well as those of the saints and other pious and holy men . . . [to be] revered by all who might see them. For the more they are contemplated, the more they move [people] to fervent memory of their prototypes. . . . for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented."
Painted around 1400, these four delicately wrought images are exemplars of the Late Byzantine icon style of the empire's capital Constantinople. Like the finest earlier Byzantine works attributed to the capital in the Museum's collection, their style was influential throughout the Orthodox world. A divinely inspired Saint John the Theologian sits in his cave on the island of Patmos dictating his gospel to his scribe Prochoros. Delicately attenuated figures depict Christ being baptized by John the Forerunner (the Baptist) in the river Jordan. From the heavens, the hand of God and the dove of the Holy Spirit make explicit the recognition of Christ as the son of God. The Anastasias, the Easter image of Orthodoxy, displays a radiant Christ standing on the doors of Hell as he raises Adam and Eve from their graves. Saint Nicholas, fourth-century bishop of Myra long noted for his protection of sailors, appears enthroned in liturgical robes whose cascading folds reflect the artist's awareness of contemporary Italian art. His dress is possible evidence that the works were painted on Crete, a wealthy Venetian-controlled island, by an artist trained in Constantinople. These images are from a now-lost larger work, possibly a polyptych icon. Four other icons from the whole survive in European collections–the evangelist Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Christ Child; the Crucifixion of Christ; a pair of military saints, George and Merkourios; and the Prophet Kings David and Solomon pointing to the Souls of the Righteous in the Hands of God.
Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art
Department of Medieval Art