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This arch-shaped panel is divided into two tiers. The upper half contains a deesis: Christ surrounded by the Virgin and John the Baptist, all in half-length. Christ is holding a closed Gospel in his left hand and raises his right in a gesture of oration. The Virgin and the Baptist are both turned towards the Saviour with gestures of prayer and intercession. Below this scene are two saints again in half-length and both in a frontal position: St Bessarion, Metropolitan of Larissa (our left) and St Charalambos (our right). The two saints are both holding closed gospels in their hands and each have their right hands raised in a gesture signifying oration or teaching. The image would have functioned as the main panel in a triptych; the two outer wings of the triptych are no longer attached.
Though St Charalambos is a well-known Orthodox saint, St Bessarion – not to be confused with Cardinal Basilios Bessarion – is more obscure. He was a 16th century monastic figure from Thessaly in Greece.1 His inclusion in this panel – and his centralised placement - perhaps suggests the icon was painted in a monastery that had some association with him.
The style of the icon indicates that it was painted in the early 17th century, probably in central Greece. A comparable triptych attributed to mainland Greece in the 17th century is in the Rena Andreadis Collection in Athens (see fig. a). Though the quality of this icon is not as good as the current work (e.g. the paint isn’t as skilfully applied and it lacks the inner intensity of the faces that is a significant feature of our icon) we can still see important parallels - especially the bold brushstrokes; the manner of depicting flesh tones and general outlines; the long, fluid fingers of the figures; the two tiers forming the main compositional structure; as well as the subject: a deesis in the top tier with monastic bishops in the lower tier.
Yet if, as Anastasia Drandaki observes, the Rena Andreadis icon is ‘mere craftsmanship’ that simply follows known typologies, then our work can be seen as the kind of panel that functioned as a prototype for the icon in Athens – not only because it is clearly by a much more skilled artist, but also because it is by an artist who is intuitive in expressing the spiritual nature of his subject. In this sense, the icon, to a certain degree, continues the richly monastic style that we see in earlier icons, such as cat. no. XX003 and cat. no. XX011 in the current exhibition.