Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Royal Doors with the Annunciation - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

[ Click on the above image for a full screen view ]

SS005. A Pair of Royal Doors with the Annunciation

Onoufrios of Neokastro, Albanian
16th century
122.6 x 77.5 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

Provenance:  Christies, London. Icons and Artefacts from the Orthodox World, June 2008. Private Collection, London

Click here to convert price to USD or EUR

[ Click on any image for a larger view ]   Switch to full-screen mode

The following evidence suggests that this icon of the Annunciation is by the hand of the great 16th century painter Onoufrios of Neokastro (Elbasan), who has been described as 'one of the best icon painters of the whole Balkan region and the best painter that had ever worked in Albanian territory.'[1] Inscriptions on some of his frescos indicate that he was also the protopapas (Archpriest) of Neokastro, and worked in this area between 1547 and 1554.[2]

Though Christies in London previously attributed the object to Northern Greece,[3] careful analysis reveals stylistic similarities with Albanian painting and especially Onoufrios. Characteristics associated with his work - such as unique facial expressions; small, circular heads; long necks; Palaelogan and Italian influences; and intense colouring that often juxtapose cool and warm tones - are the notable features of our example.

Comparing details in our icon with other works attributed to Onoufrios clearly illustrates these similarities. For example, the figure of Gabriel has the same shaped head, similar body posture and folds as depictions of St Joseph and St John the Evangelist by the Albanian master (see details of fig's a & b). While the chiton of Joseph and Gabriel are both painted in a fiery cinnabar that contrasts with icy blues and greens.

Fig. a detail. Temple Gallery SS005 detail. Fig. b detail.

If we look closer at the faces we notice analogous expressions, proprtion of eyes, mouths and noses, and manner of execution – especially the technique of applying light tones on a dark brown base for the flesh (see details below). These parrallel features can further be found in Onoufrios' depiction of Christ, another version of Gabriel, and one of the midwives at Christ's Nativity (see details below).

Fig. c detail Temple Gallery SS005 detail Fig. b detail Fig. b detail

Fig. d detail

Eugenia Drakopoulou accurately describes these ‘elegant figures...with their small round heads, the finely drawn features, the small mouth, the gently curving eyebrows, the tranquil, rather sugary expression’ as reflecting Late Gothic painting.[4] While the dramatic lighting suggests a Cretan influence.

The Virgin in the current example also shares stylistic and schematic similarities with other images of St Mary by Onoufrios (see details below).

Fig. a detail Temple Gallery SS005 detail Fig. e detail Fig. f. Virgin from a Deesis, Berati

Another compositional mannerism of Onoufrios is how he often repeats the shape and positioning of feet- which Panayotis Vocotopoulos calls 'affected stances'[5] - as we see in our Gabriel and various works by the Albanian (see details below).

Temple Gallery SS005 detail Fig. a detail Fig. e detail Fig. g detail

This gives the appearance of levitation and derives from Palaelogan art – especially the Chora Monastery in Istanbul (see fig. g) - which was influenced by hesychasm, a mystical form of contemplative prayer. Such details suggest a space that is free from the laws of gravity.[6]

Fig. g. Journey to Bethlehem, Chora Monastery, Istanbul, early 14th c. Note the detail of Joseph’s feet on the right and compare with the details above.

Thus, as others have noted, ‘[Onoufrios] managed to combine the local painting tradition with the best tradition of the eastern (Palaelogan) and western (Italian) schools, resulting in a realistic and natural drawing of strictly Byzantine subjects together with a degree of individuality in facial expression.'[7]  

This evidence highlights the connections of this object to 16th century Albania and to the work of its greatest artist, Onoufrios of Neokastro.

Fig.a. Onoufrios, Presentation, 16th c. Korce Museum Fig. b. Onoufrios, Raising of Lazarus, Korce

Fig. c. Onoufrios, Virgin and Child, 16th c. Onufri Museum, Berati Fig. d. Onoufrios, Nativity, Korce

Fig. e. Onoufrios, Royal Doors,
16th c.
Fig. g. Onoufrios, Baptism of Christ, 16th c. Korce

1. E. Pavlidou, N. Civici et al, 'Onoufrios, the Famous XVI’s Century Iconographer, Creator of the “Berati School”: studying the technique and materials used in wall paintings of inscribed churches': (accessed: 18/05/2016)
2. Anastasia Tourta [ed.], Icons from the Orthodox Communities of Albania, (Thessaloniki, 2006), p. 20
3. Christies, Icons & Artefacts from the Orthodox World, June, 2008. Lot: 7596. (accessed 18/05/2016)
4. See, Tourta [ed.], Icons from the Orthodox Communities of Albania, p. 62
5. Ibid. p. 20
6. For example, see Anita Strezova, Hesychasm and Art, (Canberra, ANU Press, 2014); Richard Temple, Icons and the Mystical Origins of Christianity, (London, Luzac, 2001); and Paul Underwood’s multi-volume study of the Chora, The Kariye Djami, (New York, Pantheon, 1966)
7. 'Onoufrios, the Famous XVI’s Century Iconographer, Creator of the “Berati School”: studying the technique and materials used in wall paintings of inscribed churches'. See also, Icons from the Orthodox Communities of Albania, p. 58-64