The Greek word ‘Deesis’ means literally ‘entreaty’ and is usually rendered today as ‘intercession’. Certainly, that was the meaning of the image of Christ Enthroned attended by The Virgin and John the Baptist from the period of the 13th century, contemporary with the famous mosaic located in Hagia Sophia (fig. 1). However, the composition is older and examples are known from the 9th century when the meaning was not so much that of intercession but rather that of honouring Mary and John as the first witnesses of Christ’s divinity.
The present icon follows the traditional composition with Christ in the centre flanked by Mary to his right and John the Baptist to his left.1 For half-length figures in the later period of Russian icon-painting we usually find three separate panels (Fig. 2). Where a single panel is used the figures are usually shown standing (Fig. 3). The format of our icon, with the three half-length figures on a single laterally extended panel, is therefore unusual. Its precedent is a masterpiece of icon painting in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow dated to the thirteenth century (Fig .4.) Our icon is the work is an artist of great spiritual sensitivity. His style is conservative and does not reflect the Western influence that was present in Russia in the seventeenth century. Icons from that period, especially in the main centres of intellectual and artistic life such as the Moscow Armoury School, became brilliant and decorative rather than explorations of the mysteries of contemplation. The present icon follows the original purity of the tradition.