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Athos Holy Mount

Portable Icons
2.42 Part of an epistyle with scenes from Christ's Passion
Iviron Monastery
Wood, egg tempera, 137 x 46 cm
Cretan School. Theophanis the Cretan


The Original New Testament

Four parts of the epistyle of an iconostasis survive in Iviron Monastery, decorated with twelve themes from the Christological cycle. In the second quarter of the sixteenth century, these four parts, together with others now lost, composed the epistyle of the iconostasis in the katholikon, with a total of twenty-four themes. Two of the four surviving parts are displayed in the exhibition.

This section of the epistyle contains three scenes from Christ's Passion: the Last Supper, the Washing of the Feet, and Christ Praying on the Mount of Olives. Each scene occupies a separate compartment defined by a carved relief arch resting on colonnettes. The inner curves of the arches are decorated with a row of little arches, and the spandrels are filled with a rosette in the centre of three acanthus leaves. The colonnettes take the form of stylised palm trunks, topped with cubic capitals.

From an iconographical point of view, the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet closely resemble the same themes in the katholika of Anapafsas Monastery (1527), the Great Lavra (1535), and Stavronikita (1545/6), all by Theophanis the Cretan. Both the iconographical format and the quest for synthesis expressed in the spatial organisation of the figures and their reciprocal poses and movements are identical in the forementioned monuments and on the Iviron epistyle.

An identical version of the scene of Christ Praying on the Mount of Olives is seen in the katholikon of Stavronikita, though not in the katholika of Anapafsas Monastery and the Great Lavra. Typical of Theophanis's approach to the organisation of the scene is the fact that the four main incidents of the divine drama are disposed crosswise in the icon with the same poses and gestures as in the fresco in Stavronikita; and the group of dozing disciples is absolutely identical in the icon and the fresco. The rocky masses are also conceived and rendered in a very similar way, though their rendering is more sculptural in the icon.

The iconographical and stylistic features which this section of the epistyle shares with Theophanis's work indicate that it may be firmly ascribed to the Cretan painter.

Bibliography: Tsigaridas 1991-2, pp. 185-208, figs. 1-7, 21-6.

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