Temple Gallery

Established 1959


BZ22. Christ Pantocrator
Northern Greece or Balkans, circa 1600
Tempera on gesso on wood.
Panel: single panel 92 x 65.3 x 3.2 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial.
Condition: good, minimal repairs.
Inscription: ω O N (‘He who is’) Exodus 3:14; Gospel book, John 8:12 (see detail 2)
Provenance: European art market
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Detail 1.

Detail 2. Christ holds open Saint John’s gospel 8:12: ΕΓΩ ΕΙΜΙ ΤΟ ΦΩΣ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ Ο ΑΚΟΛΟΥΘΩΝ ΕΜΟΙ ΟΥ ΜΗ ΠΕΡΙΠΑΤΗΣΗ ΕΝ ΤΗ ΣΚΟΤΙΑ ΑΛΛ ΕΞΕΙ ΤΟ ΦΩΣ ΤΗΣ ΖΩΗΣ. Gospel of John 8:12 ‘I am the light of the world. He that followeth me will not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,’

The half length figure of Christ, gazing directly at the viewer, blessing with his right hand and holding the gospel in his left, is the most enduring and unchanging image in the eastern Christian church. We recognise it as easily in the sixth century (Fig. 1) as in the thirteenth (Fig. 2) or the seventeenth (No. 22). In the early Byzantine periods the book is closed. This changed around the eleventh century to an open book, generally displaying the text from St John’s gospel. Christ is clothed in the traditional robes of a philosopher in the Greco-Roman period. The vividly contrasting colours, the blue himation over a maroon chiton are typical for the late sixteenth or seventeenth century (Fig. 3).

Fig. 1. Pantocrator, 6th century, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

Fig. 2. Pantocrator, mosaic, 13th century, Hagia Sophia, Constantimople

Icons of monumental proportions such as the present example would be placed at eye level next to the Royal Doors of an iconostasis (Fig. 3). At certain points in the Byzantine liturgy the priest turns to the icons of the Mother of God and of Christ reciting prayers that invoke their presence and their blessing.

Fig. 3. Church of Hosios Loukas, Greece. 11th century with late 16th or 17th century icons

Back of the panel. Constructed from a single board and hand adzed.