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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.16 Icon with the Crucifixion
Late 10th-11th c.
Dionysiou Monastery
Carved ivory
21.5 x 13 x 2.2 cm
Constantinople (?)


The Original New Testament

This ivory icon has been set into the leather-bound wooden cover, of the monastery's Cod. 27 of the thirteenth century. Like many similar works, the ivory tablet has a raised, flat frame, with nail holes on the two narrow sides. The nail in the top, indeed, has split the icon into three.

The composition of the Crucifixion, which occupies the entire surface of the icon, seems compressed, with both the vertical and the horizontal arms of the cross touching the edge of the frame and the open palms of the Crucified reaching to within a few millimetres of it. In addition to the three principal figures the scene also depicts, on a smaller scale, two soldiers seated at the foot of the cross and the busts of two angels, wings outspread, flanking the tabula ansata of the upper arm of the cross, their gestures expressive of wonder and sorrow. The Virgin is represented standing rigidly, turned towards the cross, her head slightly inclined and her left hand raised to her breast. John is depicted frontal in the attitude of an ancient philosopher, right leg relaxed; he is holding a bejewelled book with both hands, the left being concealed by his mantle. The angle and inclination of his curly head mirror the attitude of the figure of the Virgin. Inscriptions with the usual abbreviations of the names of Christ and the Virgin are incised above their heads. Jesus is depicted as a sturdy man, broad-chested and with a well-defined waist, feet placed firmly on the suppedaneum. His head is slightly bent, and a lock of hair falls over each shoulder. The droop of the head and the eyes rendered without pupils, unlike those of the other figures, would seem to indicate that death has already occurred.

The reserved grief of the Virgin and the beloved disciple is an archaic iconographic type found in ivories from the tenth, eleventh and twelth centuries. Another archaic feature is the Gospel held by St John, a type common in tenth-century ivories (Millet 1960 p. 405 n. 1). Two other Crucifixions from the second half of the tenth century, on ivory triptychs in London and Paris (Byzantium 1994, no. 153, pp. 142-3. Byzance 1992, no. 150, pp. 236-7), both belonging to the 'Romanos group' (Goldschmidt - Weitzmann 1934, nos. 38-41), display iconographic and stylistic features similar to those seen here, including the 'classical elegance of the drapery and facial features'. Moreover, the composition of this icon is iconographically and stylistically comparable to that of a twelfth-century steatite icon in the Hermitage (Kalavrezou-Maxeiner 1985, no. 45, pp. 137-8). The proposed late tenth- or eleventh-century dating suggested for this icon is therefore quite plausible.

Bibliography: Thesauroi 1973, pp. 45, 406. Kadas 1979, fig. 114 (colour photograph). Kadas 1997, p. 115.

K. L-T.
Index of exhibits of Monastery of Dionysiou
10th century

The Authentic Greek New Testament Bilingual New Testament I

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