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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.12 Cameo with the Virgin Orans
13th c.
Chelandari Monastery
Green jasper, 4 x 3 cm


The Original New Testament

This oval cameo depicting the Virgin in an attitude of supplication is one of a numerous series of similar pieces (Putzko 1969, p. 164) associated with a dated work, possibly part of a panagiarion, which belonged to the Emperor Nicephoros III Botaniates (1078-81) and is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (Byzantium 1994, no. 171, p. 158). The Virgin, wearing a long-sleeved tunic and a mantle, has raised her hands, palms turned outward, in front of her breast. The lines of the figure, while carefully executed, are somewhat heavy. Her mantle, slightly swelling around her head, gently frames her face; by contrast, the folds lying over her shoulders are both heavy and cursorily worked. The long face with its accented features - deep-set almond eyes, long, flat, triangular nose, wide mouth with expressive wrinkles marking the cheeks and heavy jaw - resembles a tragic mask. The hands raised in front of the breast are so closely juxtaposed that their lack of symmetry is obvious. These features occur in other similar twelfth-century carvings, both in steatite (Byzantium 1994, no. 184, p. 168) and in semiprecious gemstones (Popovic 1983, p. 25). The halo is incised, as is the abbreviated name of the Virgin framing the head. Stylistic similarities with the jasper cameo with the Pantokrator in the Belgrade Museum suggest that the two pieces may have come from the same workshop (Popovic 1983, pp. 27-8).

Bibliography: Radojcic 1955 (1), pp. 183-4, fig. 43. Popovic 1983, pp. 8, 22-8, fig. 23.

K. L-T.
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13th century

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