Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil the Great - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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UU024. Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil the Great

Cretan artist working on Patmos
Circa 1600
Each panel 40.5 x 38 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

Provenance:  Kasteel de Wijenburgh probably 1980s

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These panels would originally have been part of a pair of Holy Doors from an iconostasis: the screen in Orthodox churches that conceals the sanctuary, a symbol of paradise. The painted images thus create a paradox as they reveal the invisible world, and at the same time hide it. This paradoxical concept recalls patristic expressions on the Incarnation of Christ, as Pseudo-Dionysius describes the Saviour in one of his letters: Jesus is 'hidden even amid revelation'.[1] In this sense, the iconostasis unifies the two worlds:

The screen symbolises the uniting of the eternal and the temporal spheres, or heaven and earth, through the Incarnation. The boundary between these spheres is represented by the 'Royal' or Holy Doors, through which the clergy proceed in the course of the liturgy and from which they read the gospel and administer communion.[2]

The meaning behind such ideas is further present in early Christian texts on the liturgy, most importantly St Maximus' Mystagogy and the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy by Pseudo-Dionysius.

These two panels depict Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil, two of the most significant Fathers of the Church in the 4th century, and authors of the Divine Liturgies. In their hands they hold scrolls with inscriptions from their respective liturgies. On the scroll of Basil it reads: 'No one bound by world pleasures and desires is worthy...' While on the scroll of John: 'O God, our God, who did send forth the heavenly bread...' Their liturgies still function today in Orthodox worship. They are also known for having written some of the key texts of Patristic theology.

In the iconographic tradition these figures are distinguished by easily recognised characteristics. Basil (on the right) has a long, dark beard and a domed forehead. John has short hair and a neatly trimmed beard. The poses and gestures of the two saints mirror each other: this symmetrical composition leads us into the centre, and thus steers our imagination through the doors and into 'paradise' (the sanctuary); as Paul advises in his epistle to the Colossians: 'Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth' (3:2).

1. Dionysius the Areopagite, The Complete Works, (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), p.264
2. Mariamma Fortounatto & Mary Cunningham, 'Theology of the Icon', in Mary B. Cunningham [ed.], The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008), p.143

Detail Images