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Inscription: ΜΗΡ ΘΟΥ (Mother of God ), Η ΚΥΡ........., Μ: (Michael), Γ: (Gabriel), Saints (top row, left to right): Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΜΑΡΚΟΣ (St Mark), ΑΓ[ΙΟΣ] Ι[ΩΑΝΝΗΣ]: St John), Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΠΕΤΡΟΣ (St Peter), Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΠΑΥΛΟΣ (St Paul), Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΣ (St Matthew), Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΛΟΥΚΑΣ (St Luke).. Left row(top to bottom): ΑΓΙΟΣ ΑΝΔΡΕΑΣ (St Andrew), ΑΓΙΟΣ ΣΙΜΩΝ (St Simon), ΑΓΙΟΣ ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΣ (St Philip), ΑΓΙΟΣ ΝΙΚΟΛΑΟΣ (St Nicholas).. Bottom row (left to right): ΑΓΙΟΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΣ (St John), [....], [....], [....], ΣΠΥΡΙΔΩΝ (St Spyridon). Right row (top to bottom): O ΑΓΙΟΣ ΒΑΡΘΟΛΟΜΑΙΟΣ (St Bartholomew), Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΙΑΚΩΒΟΣ (St Jacob), Ο ΑΓΙΟΣ ΘΩΜΑΣ (St Thomas).
The work displays Byzantine mannerisms of style and character with strong, individualised portraits of the saints. There are also some elements of Cretan mannerism, for example in the stiff pose of the central figures and the soft look on the faces of the angels. But these Mediterranean influences are secondary and the likely origin for the work would be a major artistic centre in Northern Greece. The probable venue is the region of Thessalonica which, with its surrounding territory, the Kingdom of Thessalonica, had been the largest fief of the Latin Empire in the thirteenth century. It was recovered by the Byzantine Empire in 1246 who sold it in 1423 to Venice, which held the city until it was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1430. By the end of the 15th century the city was richly multicultural with a population consisting of Orthodox, Muslims and Jews and Catholics. It was a centre of international trade and culture and, with its important early Christian churches and its proximity to Mount Athos, it had long been second only to Constantinople.
The term Panagia Platytera (Greek: Πλατυτέρα; 'wider' or 'more spacious') refers to icons of the Theotokos, facing the viewer directly, and with the image of Christ as a child in front of her chest, also facing the viewer directly. By containing the Creator of the Universe in her womb, Mary has become Platytera ton ouranon : 'More spacious than the heavens'. The term, which comes from liturgical poetry and, specifically, the liturgy of Saint Basil, is not precise and is 'quite freely applied to a variety of iconographic types' (See Kazhdan ed., The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, OUP, 1991, Vol. 3, p. 2175).
The theme of the Virgin and Child enthroned and accompanied by angels is of great antiquity, examples are known from the 6th century (Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai) and the 7th century (Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome). For a comprehensive and richly illustrated study of this and related questions see Vassilaki ed., Mother of God, Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art , Skira, Milan, 2000). The disposition of the figures is derived from imperial court ritual that predates Christianity and, according to some writers, to Egyptian images of Isis and her son Horus.
Our icon is one of a type that includes saints and festival scenes on the border. We see, in the top row: The Apostles Mark, John, Peter, Paul, Matthew and Luke. In the next row: Andrew and James. Next: Simon and Bartholomew. Next: Thomas and Philip. In the lower row: Nicholas, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzos, Basil the Great, and Spyridon. This format relates to a Cretan icon in the Benaki Museum in Athens (fig. a) though the latter has different figures on the border. (see e.g. Skrobucha, H. Mesterwerke Der Ikonenmalerei , Recklinghausen, 1961, p. 99 et. seq. and p. 115 et. seq.).