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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Icon with the Nativity of Christ; egg tempera on wood with linen and gesso. A rocky back- ground occupies the greatest part of the composition with the cave placed in the centre of it. The Virgin is depicted in front of the cave to the left and is kneeling towards the right, where the manger is placed. Inside the manger Christ is lying naked on a white sheet and is looking upwards towards his mother while two animals (an ox and an ass) are standing above the manger and bringing their heads close to Christ. In the middle of the foreground lower than the cave Joseph is seated and converses with an old shepherd standing in front of him. Behind the old shepherd, a young one is seated and plays the flute while flocking his numerous sheep. Above the cave to the left an angel is conversing with a young shepherd, who is standing opposite him. A group of seven flying angels appear from a white cloud to the right of the cave on the golden background. The three Magi on horses are approaching from the right side of the composition and are heading to the cave.


  • Date

    • 17thC
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 440 millimetres
    • Width: 330 millimetres
    • Thickness: 20 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Position

        Upper left
      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Transliteration

        HXV GENN
      • Inscription Translation

        Birth of Christ
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Position

        above Christ's head
      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Transliteration

        IC XC
      • Inscription Translation

        Jesus Christ
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Position

        bottom left
      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Transliteration

      • Inscription Translation

        By the hand of Konstantinos Tzanes
  • Curator's comments

    Published: R. Cormack, Icons, London (British Museum), 2014, 140, no 112. The icon was erroneously submitted for sale to Christie's in 1991 and subsequently withdrawn from sale (Christie's, Icons, South Kensington, Wednesday 4 December 1991, lot 36, 7, ill. on 6).

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Associated events

    • Named in Inscription: Nativity of Christ
  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    The icon was bequeathed to the British Museum by the painter John Craxton RA (1922-2009), to whom it was bequeathed by Lady Norton, wife of Sir Clifford Norton, British ambassador in Athens (1946-1951). She died in 1972, and Sir Clifford Norton died in 1990. According to John Craxton, Lady Norton had bought the icon in Athens. Any exhibition label should say “Bequeathed by John Craxton RA in memory of Lady Norton”.

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number



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Object reference number: MCB35060

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