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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 - and was 'introduced into Cretan icon painting during the second half of the 15th century', most likely by the renowned Cretan artist Nicholas Tzafouris. An early version bearing Tzafouris' signature can be seen below (see fig. a).
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, 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.
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.
Another relevant comparison is an icon in the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens (fig. c).