Christ riding on a donkey approaches the city of Jerusalem, his right hand raised in blessing and in his left a scroll. In front of the Mount of Olives on the left we see eight of the apostles headed by Peter wearing a yellow himation and (probably) Paul who wears green with golden sandals on his feet.1 On the right the citizens come out from the city gates gesturing and bearing branches in greeting, behind them the walls and towers of Jerusalem among which we note the four porphyry columns supporting a canopy, part of the Temple of Solomon. A tree in the centre divides the icon and two children wearing red and blue chitons are up in the branches while below are two more children. The ground is strewn with branches and two short chitons are laid on the ground beneath the donkey’s hooves.
The Entry into Jerusalem, known in the West as Palm Sunday, is one of the major feasts of the church. The ancestry of the design can be traced to Byzantine icons and to miniature ivory carving. Already in the tenth century, all the elements of the composition are present.2 The iconography owes its ultimate origin to the imperial Roman ‘adventus’ – the visit of the emperor, or a high ranking official of the state to a city. The higher the rank of the visitor the further out of the city the officials and citizens came to greet him. According to the gospel account (John 12; 12-13, Matt. 21;8) Christ enters in triumph with the citizens bearing palm branches and crying ‘Hosanna’. The event is the beginning of the Passion cycle.
This example is typical the Cretan School and the composition fits into a series of Cretan icons of the Entry analysed in great detail by Maria Vassilaki who traces their origin to a lost Constantinopolitan original the oldest version of which is now in the Clark Institute, Williamstown MA.3 She speaks of the decisive role played by Crete in the spread of the iconography citing, among others, later examples in Spilia, Crete and one in Venice by Michael Damaskinos (Fig. 1).4
Our icon is one of twelve icons once forming the Feasts Row of an iconostasis. Another from the group, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, is No. 8 in this catalogue. The present location of the others is not known.