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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.
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).
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]
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.