Temple Gallery

Established 1959

St John the Theologian - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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RR011. Saint John the Theologian

Post Byzantine
16th century
Panel: 116 x 84 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial
Greek Inscription: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him’ (John 1:1-3).

Provenance:  1. Sotheby’s; 2. Private collection, Paris

Published: Sotheby’s, 1985

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Our icon follows an ancient tradition of depicting St John as an old and contemplative figure. His large domed forehead with a small tuft of hair, long wavy beard, penetrating gaze, and head slightly tilted towards the viewer are classic iconographic features. The similarities between our icon, a 14th century Byzantine icon (Fig. a),[See footnote 1] as well as an illumination of St John (Fig. b), (both in the Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos) highlight the physiognomic consistency.

Fig. a. St John, Byzantine, 14th c. Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos

Fig. b. St John the Theologian, Illuminated Manuscript, Byzantine, 14th c. Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece

The piece shows that the artist was following this tradition, which others have noted is connected to hesychasm.[See footnote 2] For example, St John’s hand does not attempt to hold the pen, but lets it hover in the air as if the space is not confined by the laws of gravity. This is a typical feature of Byzantine art, especially in the Palaeologan period.[See footnote 3] Yet despite the fact that our icon is clearly following the Byzantine tradition of icon painting demonstrated above, minor details show an awareness of the Cretan School (which was influenced by Venetian painting), particularly in the shadow that falls across the Gospel-book: an icon of Christ Enthroned by Andreas Ritzos from the late 15th century contains a comparable depiction of a Gospel, especially in the oblique shadows that fall across the pages, creating a sense of literal space (see Fig. c).

Fig. c. Andreas Ritzos, Christ Enthroned (detail),
late 15th c. Monastery of the Theologian, Patmos
Fig. d. Temple Gallery (detail)

In addition, the chiaroscuro moulding of the flesh is close to another icon of St John from the 16th century (Fig. e),[See footnote 4] and the curving, sketchy lines that delineate the folds of clothing are comparable to a 16th century icon of the apostle from Cyprus (Fig. f).[See footnote 5]

Fig. e. St John, Post-Byzantine, 16th century Fig. f. St John, Cyprus, 16th century

But as with these works, the Byzantine tradition is the main source of inspiration for the artist, while the Cretan influences are only identifiable in specific details, as shown above. This evidence justifies attributing the object to the 16th century.

1. The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopedi, Vl. II, (Mount Athos, 1998), Fig. 326
2. See, for example, Euthymios N. Tsigaridas’ catalogue notes on Fig. a above: Treasures of Mount Athos, (Thessaloniki, 1997), p.86-7
3. See Richard Temple’s analysis of a 14th century icon of St Mark in: Divine Beauty, 2004, p.69-72
4. See also a late 15th century icon of St John on Patmos in: Icons of Patmos, (National Bank of Greece, 1995), plate 14
5. See also: Cyprus - The Holy Island: Icons through the Centuries, (Nicosia, A.G. Leventis Foundation, 2000)

Detail Images