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Athos Holy Mount

Portable Icons
2.9 The Virgin Hodegetria
ca. 1260-70
Chelandari Monastery
Wood, egg tempera, 109 x 57 cm


The Original New Testament

The Virgin is depicted from the waist up on a gold ground, turning three-quarters towards Christ. She holds him with her right arm, tilting her head slightly in his direction, and lifts her right hand before her in a gesture of supplication. She wears a bluish kerchief and a dark brown mantle edged with gold. Christ's head is slightly raised, and he holds a closed scroll in his left hand, lifting his right in blessing. He wears an orange himation covered with gold striations.

The paint film is badly damaged. The Virgin Hodegetria represents an established iconographical type, in which the sadness of the facial expression hints at Christ's future Passion.

The Virgin's physiognomical type, with the triangular face, narrow brow, large expressive eyes, arched eyebrows, long narrow nose, and full red lips, reflects the tradition of works of the second half of the thirteenth century, such as the Virgin Hodegetria with Christ on her right (13th c., last quarter) in the Sinai Monastery (Mouriki 1990, fig. 62. See also Soteriou 1958, no. 192) and the Hodegetria in Vatopedi Monastery (Tsigaridas 1996 (1), fig. 310).

The iconic type of Christ, with the chubby face, rough features, high forehead, and broad nose, was also in vogue in this period and is seen in the above-mentioned icons of the second half of the thirteenth century.

From a technical point of view, with their broad expanses of blushing ochre, limited olive-brown shading, and linear highlights, the faces of the Virgin and Christ reflect techniques commonly seen in works of the second half of the thirteenth century, such as the Sinai Hodegetria (Mouriki 1990, fig. 62) and the Vatopedi Hodegetria (Tsigaridas 1996 (1), fig. 310).

In conclusion, the facial type of the Virgin and of Christ, the technical execution of the faces, the Virgin's sadly pensive, noble expression with its spiritual beauty, and the high standard of the painting link the Chelandari icon with such outstanding works of Byzantine art as the frescoes in the Sopocani church (ca. 1265) in mediaeval Serbia (Djuric 1963, pl. LIV), and make it, together with the icon of Christ (no. 2.8), a masterpiece of Byzantine art.

Bibliography: Pelekanidis 1956, pp. 75-83. Bogdanovic - Djuric - Medakovic 1978, pp. 62-4, fig. 43. Weitzmann et al. 1982, pp. 135, 161. Mueller - Djordjevic 1984, pl. 5.

Index of exhibits of Monastery of Chelandari
13th 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

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