Icon depicting the Crucifixion

The Crucifixion is represented against a gold ground, in front of the walls of Jerusalem. Christ, his body limp and his head inclined onto his left shoulder, has his hands nailed to the Cross and his likewise limp arms slightly lower than the horizontal bar. The prismatic Cross is topped by an inscribed tablet and has a suppedaneum. It stands upon the low hill of Golgotha, in which is the cave with Adam’s skull and two bones. Red blood trickles from the wounds in Christ’s hands and feet onto the gold ground and in denser runnels inside the cave and on Adam’s skull.

The Crucified Christ is flanked symmetrically by the Virgin left and John right, both with expressions of profound grief. The Virgin, wearing a deep red maphorion edged with gold fringe, touches her cheek with the left hand and raises the right towards her Son. Beside her and supporting her with both hands stands Mary Magdalene, clad in a bright red maphorion that covers her loosened hair, which falls on her bosom. Visible behind the two is the top of the head of another female, in a deep blue maphorion. John stands on the right, in a pale rose-coloured himation over a deep blue chiton, and turns slightly towards the viewer, his head bowed in intense sorrow and his right hand brought high in front of his chest. Behind him is the Centurion in full armour, embellished with gold brushstrokes on the cuirass and the scales of the flanges; he holds a small round shield with mask motif at the centre and gold ornaments in radiate arrangement on the rim, and raises his right hand towards Christ in a gesture of speech. Next to him is the face of a soldier with helmet and behind can be seen the tops of the helmets of two other soldiers with lances.

The symmetrical composition of the Crucifixion reproduces an iconography established in fifteenth-century Cretan icons, as known on the frame of the icon by Nikolaos Ritzos in Sarajevo, which is replicated exactly in a sixteenth-century icon in the Byzantine Museum, Athens, and, enriched with a host of lamenting angels, in the well-known icon by Emmanuel Lambardos.

The composition, in which the figures and their features, as well as the geometric drapery, are rendered with precision and confident brushwork, is distinguished by strict symmetry and restrained rendering of sorrow, which is registered intensely, however, on the countenances of the Virgin, Mary Magdalene and John, by knitted eyebrows and deep triangular shadows under the eyes. The limpid, lustrous colours on the garments are variegated by decorative motifs with temperant use of gold striations, which add a certain sense of opulence.

In the choice of classical models of fifteenth-century Cretan icons as well as in the flawless nature of the execution, which is combined with the good use of gold, the icon seems to be the work of an outstanding Cretan painter working on Mount Athos, probably a contemporary or a follower of Theophanes.

Chatzidakis N. 2007. Catalogue no. 152, in Skampavias K.—Chatzidakis N. (eds), Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos Museum.Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art, Athens, 246–247.