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The iconography of Christ enthroned in heaven is one of the most important and well known in Eastern Christian art. Jesus is shown sitting on a throne with an open Gospel in his left hand, while his right hand blesses the viewer. A key theme of this image is to show that Christ is the embodiment of divine glory - indicated by the gold striation across his garment - and can be connected to Saint John the Evangelist's idea that Jesus manifests the glory of the Father (John 14:5-14). The depiction of the Mother of God and Saint John the Baptist surrounding Jesus, shown in prayerful intercession (deesis) on behalf of humanity - so that we too can see the glory - is a theme echoed in John: 'Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory' (17:24). The inscription on Christ's gospel reinforces this idea of the viewers being called to join the eschatological 'beholding' of the glory: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me that I am meek' (Matt. 11:28-29).
The current icon is an excellent example of the post-Byzantine style. The faces and the garments have been executed with remarkable skill, and the colours have a harmonic balance. The iconographic approach of the painter is conservative; he looks back to the great 15th century versions of the Deesis as models. He specifically uses Nicholas Ritzos' Deesis model from an icon now in Sarajevo (see fig. a).
Our icon is closely connected with the Ritzos icon: it follows the same composition; the folds in the garments; the face of Jesus; the placement of the book; and the general proportions of the figures.
Stylistically, however, the closest comparison can be found with icons painted on Patmos in the late 16th century. The bold highlights and energetic brushstrokes are characteristic of icons painted on Patmos during this period. Patmos is the Greek island famous for being the location where John the Apostle, according to tradition, wrote the Book of Revelation in exile. It was an important location for Cretan art after the fall of Byzantium in 1453. Key post-Byzantine artists such as Andreas and Nicholas Ritzos are known to have worked here and produced some of their most important paintings on the island.
A particularly close example, a Deesis - with, unusually, Saint Andrew and Saint Paraskevi surrounding the enthroned Christ instead of the Virgin and the Baptist - has the signature of the 'priest-painter' Ioannis Apakas (fig.).A comparison with our icon illustrates the similarities in the style of the garments (especially the graphic striation and green-blue of Jesus' himation), the face of Jesus, the delicate hands, and the overall composition. While the face of Saint Paraskevi in the Apakas icon is damaged by a large split, the sombre facial expression and confident brushstrokes depicting light (assiste) are very close to the face of Mary in our work (see details below). If we compare a detail of Mary and Saint Paraskevi's garment folds we find they almost exactly mirror each other (see details below). Based on these comparisons, it is highly possible that our icon was also painted by the priest-painter Ioannis Apakas, or at least an associate working on Patmos.