Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Virgin and Child - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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XX005. Virgin and Child (Madre della Consolazione, 'Mother of Consolation')

Veneto-Cretan School
Circa 1500
42 x 34.5 (with frame 53.7 x 46.5)Click here to convert metric size to imperial

Provenance:  Acquired from the Scottish baronial Ruthven family who had owned it since the 1920's.

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This icon of the Virgin in half-length holding Christ follows the iconographic type known as the Madre della Consolazione [Mother of Consolation]. The Virgin is wearing a chiton, and a maphorion with a translucent peplos beneath. Both her chiton and her maphorion are decorated with fine patterns. Her mantle is pinned together by a golden brooch decorated with a star. Christ is wearing a purple chiton and a red and gold himation. He holds a sealed scroll in his left hand and blesses with his right. They both gaze towards the viewer.

According to scholars the Madre della Consolazione iconography is probably of Italian origin - though an Italian prototype is not known[1] - and was 'introduced into Cretan icon painting during the second half of the 15th century', most likely by the renowned Cretan artist Nicholas Tzafouris.[2] An early version bearing Tzafouris' signature can be seen below (see fig. a).

Fig. a. Nicholas Tzafouris, Madre della Consolazione, 1490's, private collection[3]

In these works, we find a manner of depicting flesh with the chiarscuro technique. While the folds and peplos - which is in places transparent, revealing the flesh beneath - along with the chiaroscuro shadows of the skin, highlights the influence of Western ideals of painting that developed during the Renaissance period. Cretan art of this era can thus be understood as a hybrid of Byzantine and Italian art fused into a composite style,[4] and could function in both Orthodox and Catholic churches, as Maria Vassilaki points out:

Icons of the Madre della Consolazione are characteristic products of Venetian Crete and of the conditions prevailing in it at the time. Icons could equally address an Orthodox or a Catholic clientele, as well as functioning in monasteries and churches of both rites not only in Crete but also outside.[5]

Our icon belongs to this tradition and can be dated to around 1500. An icon in the Recklingahusen Musuem in Germany (fig. b), also dated to circa 1500, bears some similarities, including the finely decorated garments and the faces.

Fig. b. Madre della Consolazione, Cretan, c. 1500, Recklinghausen Museum Recklinghausen, Germany XX005

Another relevant comparison is an icon in the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens (fig. c).

Fig. c. Madre della Consolazione, Cretan, early 16th c. Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece

XX005 (detail) Fig. b (detail)

Fig. c (detail)

Suggested frame (created using Photoshop)

1. (accessed 27/09/2018)
2. Ibid
3. Published online at: (accessed 27/09/2018)
4. For example, see Nano Chatzidakis, From Candia to Venice: Greek Icons in Italy 15th - 16th Centuries, (Athens, Foundation of Hellenic Culture, 1993)
5. (accessed 27/09/2018)