- Museum number
- Object: Triptych with the Dormition of the Virgin with Saints
Icon painted in egg tempera with gold leaf on three wood panels surfaced with gesso and canvas. The central panel of the triptych has a depressed triple arch with a double moulding into which the two wings fit when the triptych is closed. The Dormition of the Virgin occupies the central panel with the inscription Η ΚΟΙΜΗCΙC ΤΗC Θ(ΕΟΤΟ)ΚΟΥ ('the Dormition of the Virgin') written in red capital letters on the golden background. Mary lies on a bier surrounded by apostles and two bishops. Christ holds her spirit. Above him are an angel and a seraph. In the background two buildings. On the spandrels above the Dormition, St Kosmas the Poet and St John of Damascus are shown in bust facing each other and holding open inscribed scrolls. Their names Ο ΑΓ(ΙΟ)C KOCMAC and Ο ΑΓ(ΙΟ)C IΩ(ΑΝΝΗ)C Ο ΔΑΜΑCΚΗΝΟC are written next to them on the gold background. The scroll of St Kosmas has the inscription ΝΕΝΙΚΗCΕΝ ΤΗΝ ΦΥCΙΝ ('outplayed the nature') while that of St John of Damascus is inscribed: ΠΑΝΗΓΥΡΙCΑΤΕ ΠΑΝΤΕC CΥΝ…('celebrate everyone with ..'). The left wing shows St John Chrysostom and St John the Baptist, full length, while St George is depicted in bust above St John Chrysostom. The right wing shows St Gregory the Theologian and St Basil, full length, and a bust of St Demetrios above St Basil. The back of the triptych is not painted.
- Production date
- 1550-1600 (circa)
Height: 175 millimetres (centre panel)
Height: 138 millimetres (left-hand panel)
Height: 140 millimetres (right-hand panel)
Weight: 319.50 grains
Width: 130 millimetres (centre panel)
Width: 64 millimetres (left-hand panel)
Width: 65 millimetres (right-hand panel)
Width: 260 millimetres (when open)
Depth: 40 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Triptychs were liturgical objects for private cult and this is clearly reflected in their shape and subject matter. They could play the role of a domestic iconostasis inside the house of an individual, but could also be easily transported in order to escort and protect its owner in his travels. Not only individuals but also monasteries became serious commissioners of triptychs as the surviving examples indicate.
The Dormition of the Virgin has followed the iconography of the scene as it appears from the 15th century onwards in Cretan icons as, for instance, on two icons in the Museum of the Hellenic Institute in Venice (Kazanaki-Lappa 2005), which adopted and elaborated a well-known Constantinopolitan prototype used in key monuments of the 14th century, such as the Chora monastery built around 1320 (Underwood 1966). The representation of single saints either full length or in bust has also followed Cretan prototypes, such as, for example, those found in the work of Andreas Ritzos (c. 1421-1492) and his son Nikolaos (documented 1482-1503). In a series of composite icons either signed or attributed to them we find the miniature-like quality that is also apparent in the British Museum triptych. For example, on the frame of the icon with the Ascension, the Preparation of the Throne, the Hospitality of Abraham and saints in the Tokyo National Museum of Western Art (Vassilaki 2010, 205-07, no 51), which is signed by Andreas Ritzos, we find the prototype for the figure of St John the Baptist of the British Museum triptych. The busts of Sts George and Demetrios on the triptych are identical with those on the frame of an icon with the Virgin and Child between Angels, Saints and Christological Scenes in the Benaki Museum, Athens (Vassilaki 2010, 210-211, no 53), which is attributed to Andreas Ritzos.
The British Museum triptych, however, though it follows the established Cretan iconography in its subject matter may not have been executed in Crete but on Mt Athos, as its woodwork indicates. The depressed triple arch with the double moulding is to be found in a series of triptychs, which are associated with Mt Athos. The closest to the British Museum example is one in the Museum of the City of Athens (Acheimastou-Potamianou 1987) dated to the end of the 16th century. A direct association with Mt Athos is implied by a 17th-century triptych in the Benaki Museum, Athens ( Acheimastou-Potamianou 1988), as it includes two Athonite subjects - the Virgin Portaitissa on the central panel and St Paul Xiropotaminos on the left wing together with St Eleutherios on the right. As is well-known, Cretan painting had reached Mt Athos not only through commissions but more importantly through the presence of native Cretan painters who were commissioned by major Athonite monasteries to execute fresco decorations and icons, such as the case of Theophanes the Cretan active on Mt Athos from 1535 till at least 1545/46 (Chatzidakis and Drakopoulou 1997).
Literature: P. Underwood, The Kariye Djami, New York, 1966, vol. 2, pl. 320; M. Acheimastou-Potamianou (ed.), From Byzantium to El Greco. Greek Frescoes and Icons (exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts), London, 1987, no. 69; M. Acheimastou-Potamianou (ed.), Holy Image, Holy Space. Icons and Frescoes from Greece (exh. cat. The Walters Art Gallery), Baltimore, 1988, no. 79; D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: Treasures of Byzantine Art and Culture from British Collections (exh. cat. The British Museum), London, 1994), no. 237; M. Chatzidakis and E. Drakopoulou, Έλληνες ζωγράφοι μετά την Άλωση (1450-1830), Athens, 1997, 381–97; M. Kazanaki-Lappa, Guide to the Museum, Hellenic Institute of Venice, Venice, 2005, 40-–, nos 9-10; R. Cormack, Icons, London, 2007 (rep. 2014), 98, fig. 61, 117, no. 20; M. Vassilaki (ed.), The Hand of Angelos. An Icon Painter in Venetian Crete (exh. cat. The Benaki Museum), Athens, 2010.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 11 Apr-10 Jul, Seoul Arts Centre, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 25 Jul-8 Oct, Busan Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 27 Oct-2006 31 Jan, Haengso Museum, Keimyung University, Daegu, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2006 18 Mar-4 Jun, Beijing, Capital Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2007 3 Feb-27 May, Taipei, National Palace Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2007 14 Sep-2 Dec, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Treasures of the World's Cultures
- Generally good. The backs of the side panels have either lost their paintings or were never painted on this side.
- Associated events
- Named in Inscription: The Dormition of the Virgin
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: IC 20 (Icon Collection number)