Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Athos Holy Mount

Portable Icons
2.4 Two parts of the epistyle of an iconostasis
12th c., 2nd half
Vatopedi Monastery
Wood, egg tempera, 45 x 71 cm and 69 x 71.5 cm



The Original New Testament

Among the most important works preserved on Mount Athos is an epistyle icon, which has been reverently treasured at Vatopedi Monastery. It was originally on the cornice of the katholikon marble templon, which no longer survives.

The epistyle icon is now in four sections, which contain a total of thirteen relief arches, each one resting on colonnettes and enclosing one painted representation. The arcade is bordered top and bottom by a projecting integral frame ten centimetres wide.

The central subject of the epistyle is a compact form of the Great Deesis, which occupies five compartments. The other eight contain scenes from the Life of the Virgin and the life of Christ.

The epistyle displayed in the exhibition depicts the Presentation of the Virgin and Mary Entrusted to Joseph on one part and the Crucifixion and the Deposition on the other.

Certain iconographical details link the epistyle with twelfth- and early thirteenth-century painting. The diaphanous loincloth, for instance, worn by Christ in the Crucifixion and the Deposition is also seen in Vatopedi Cod. no. 762 (Millet 1916, fig. 428. Thesauroi 1991, fig. 219). Again in the Deposition, the artist most unusually places the Virgin on the right, rather than the left, as she receives Christ in her arms, with Joseph of Arimathaea at her side. It is an iconographical type seen in relatively few post-tenth-century works (Chatzidakis 1964-5, pp. 391-2).

Some striking features in the Presentation of the Virgin are the realistic portrayal of Mary and the seven accompanying maidens, who are depicted very small, in striking contrast to the towering figures of her parents and Zacharias. The scene of Mary Entrusted to Joseph is innovative in that two priests are present rather than one, and that Joseph, bowing at the head of a group of suitors, is not holding the usual flowering rod or rod with a dove (Lafontaine-Dosogne 1964-5, pp. 167-79. Kalokyris 1972, pp. 109-11).

Typologically and stylistically, the scenes reflect twelfth-century painting. The faces express a pensive tranquillity, devoid of inner tension and charged emotions, even in scenes like the Crucifixion and the Deposition. The drapery is also more simply and summarily executed than in the Great Deesis, with highlighted areas which hint at the body beneath or give shape to the drapery, and white lines which define the edges of the folds without the rather mannered effect that appeared towards the end of the twelfth century.

The compositions are spare, confined to the essential figures, and they are organised evenly and symmetrically around the focal element of the human figure. Particularly in the Crucifixion and the Deposition, the figures are reposeful, well-positioned, and harmoniously linked and held together by their reciprocal poses and movements. They seem to be inspired by a breath of inner life, which animates their faces and unites them in an integrated, closely bound, comprehensive schema. A similar quest for synthesis is evident to varying degrees in monuments of the second half of the twelfth century (Tsigaridas 1986, pp. 132-8).

On the basis of the iconographical and stylistic features, this writer believes that all the paintings on the epistyle display a unity of artistic style that reflects the general trends of the second half of the twelfth century. Indeed, the high standard of the work, with the painterly modelling, the noble, restrained ethos of the figures, the flowing drapery, and the lithe postures with their rhythmically reciprocal poses and movements in the classical style, makes this epistyle one of the most outstanding works of Comnenian painting. There is every chance, moreover, as Chatzidakis also surmises, that it is the product of a Constantinople workshop (Chatzidakis 1964-5, p. 396).

Bibliography: Chatzidakis 1964-5, pp. 377-403, pls. 77-86. Weitzmann et al. 1966, pp. XIV-XV, pl. 43. Tsigaridas 1996 (1), pp. 354-61, figs. 296-305.

Index of exhibits of Monastery of Vatopedi
12th century

The Authentic Greek New Testament Bilingual New Testament I

Icon of the Mother of God and New Testament Reader Promote Greek Learning
Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Learned Freeware


Reference address :