Temple Gallery

Established 1959


BZ21. Saint Nicholas
Greek, Cretan School, 17th century
Tempera on gold background, on gesso on wood
Panel: 29.7 x 23.8 x 1.8 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial
Condition: minor restoration
Inscription: Top-left IC (Iesous Christos); Top-right MΘ (Meter Theou); To the right of Nicholas’ head Ο AΓ[IOS] ΝΙΚΟΛΑΟC;Gospel:John 10:9
Provenance: German art market
Feast Day: 19th of December, 22nd of May (translation of his relics from Myra to Bari in Italy)
£7,500Click here to convert price to USD or EUR

St Nicholas is shown as a bishop wearing the traditional stole with crosses. The classic image shows him attended by Christ and the Virgin and seated on a magnificent stone bench blessing the onlooker with his right hand and holding the gospels in his left (Detail 1). He is among the most widely revered saints in Orthodoxy and legend attributes many miracles to him. According to one tradition he was present at the Council of Nicaea (325) where he violently attacked the heretic Arius. That night, in a dream, St Nicholas saw Christ handing him the gospels and the Mother of God holding out to him his bishop's stole thus endorsing his actions. The two miniature figures illustrate this vision.

Detail 1: Gospel Inscription (John 10:9): ΕΙΠΕΝ Ο ΚC. ΕΓΩ ΕΙΜΙ Η ΘΥΡΑ … ( I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved).

The small panel gives Nicholas the same presence and dignity as in a monumental icon, an effect achieved by the proportions of figures in relation to each other and in the space. The crisp linearity of the brushwork is typical of how the later Palaiologan style was developed by Cretan painters. We note the face delicately modelled with olive green shadows and warm ochre for the skin and parallel white strokes on the hair and beard.

BZ21 closely resembles an icon in the ‘Masterpieces of Byzantine Art’ exhibition shown recently at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, loaned by the Benaki Museum in Athens, Emilios Velimesis and Christos Margaritis collections (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Saint Nicholas, ca. 1500, Velimizis Collection. Recently exhibited at the Tretyakov Gallery.

Detail: Back of Panel