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The composition consists of three main sections. On the left, Christ stands with his right hand raised to bless Lazarus, while in his left hand he holds a scroll. The disciples stand behind him discussing the mystery of the event. Mary and Martha (Lazarus' sisters) kneel before Christ. On the right of the panel, Lazarus is depicted wrapped in a shroud and emerging from his tomb. Two men stand in front of him moving the stone cover and un-wrapping the shroud. In the gap between the rocky mountains, Jews stand gazing in amazement at the scene. Behind them is the city of Bethany.
In Scripture the raising of Lazarus is only told in the Gospel of John.
It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone...Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me... And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. (11:38-44)
The iconography is known in Byzantium, yet the specific composition of our version was formulated in Cretan art from the late 15th century. An early example can be found on a two-zone icon created by a Cretan artist working on Patmos at the Monastery of the Theologian, New Treasury (fig. a).
The icon that seems to have made this particular arrangement popular, however, is by Theophanes the Cretan - the great 16th century painter who worked mainly on Mount Athos, and is considered to be one of the best post-Byzantine artists. E. N. Tsigaridas considers this icon one of 'Theophanis's most splendid creations' and points out that it was 'especially popular in the art of the Ottoman period'. In his version (fig. b) - which is at the Stavronikitia Monastery, Athos - we find not only the compositional archetype for our example, but also the stylistic influence: the bold, bright colours, careful attention to detail, and radiant faces. Our icon is thus an example of a 16th century artist working within the tradition of Theophanes the Cretan and at a similar date. The size of our icon suggests that its original function was the same as Theophanes' icon: to adorn the festal tier of an iconostasis. Another 16th century version in the Benaki Museum in Athens is also close to our example, and is almost exactly the same size at 37 x 25.5 cm (see fig. c).
The Raising of Lazarus is celebrated in the Church eight days before Pascha, and symbolically anticipates Jesus' Resurrection and the resurrection of the saints at the Last Judgement.