Divine Liturgy Images
second half of the seventeenth century, Crete
125 cm x 97 cm x 4 cm
Gift of Ferdinand Wogel
Having undergone a recent and exacting process of conservation, this panel can now be shown to be an unusual, if not unique, variation on a significant post-Byzantine iconography.
This icon presents an image of the Divine Liturgy. The title is given in Greek in a text that is written in red on either side of the image of Christ's body at the top of the panel. A distinctly different hand has given the same title in Latin (Divina Messa) on the upper left of the panel. The image is constructed around a representation of the Holy Trinity. God the Son is shown as Christ dressed as a bishop. He receives the liturgical gifts brought to him by a procession of the celestial hierarchy. God the Holy Spirit is shown as a dove. God the Father is represented as the Ancient of Days. God the Father and God the Son are carried by the fiery cherubim. They are positioned in front of an altar. A processional representation of the choirs of angels surrounds the Holy Trinity. These are labelled and differentiated by costume:Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim, Authorities, Dominions, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. The moment that is represented is that of the Great Entrance. This is the liturgical procession that brings the gifts of the bread and wine to the altar. The bread is here represented by the body of Christ carried at the top of the icon, the wine by the chalice that is being presented to Christ. The liturgical moment is signalled by the two texts held by the six-winged angels below the Trinity. These are both hymns that were used in the course of this procession. The first of these is the more common one, being the Cherubikon hymn used for almost all liturgies. The second is an alternative to the Cherubikon found in the Liturgy of James. This was sung during the liturgy of Holy Sunday. The angels that carry these books are labelled as the six-winged. They carry censers and and incense burners in their hands. In form they comply with our expectations of the Seraphim. But this label is given to the small angels, consisting of a head and wings (these are more customarily thought of as Cherubim) that surround the Holy Trinity. To the right are two archangels dressed in military costume and carrying a candelabrum and tapers. The next four angels are labelled Thrones. Above them, are four Authorities who carry the body of Christ. With them are four Principalities, dressed in military costume and carrying long candles. Three Dominions accompany the chalice, and finally two Angels bear the liturgical fans and a tall candelabra. A male and a female are bowed down beneath this vision. In an icon of this type dating to 1704, they are labelled Adam and Eve. (1)
This icon was cleaned in 2001 by Liisa Merz-Le of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The panel consists of two pieces of hardwood. These have a significant number of knots, suggesting the makers of this icon did not have the best wood available to them. Two horizontal braces attached to the icon provide support. The upper one of these is a replacement. The panel has no canvas beneath its gesso layer. Unusually, a small area of paper has been found below the paint surface. The medium is egg tempera. Vertical cracks have caused some losses, but most of the painted surface remains in good condition. The most significant losses are along the lower border. This is the area that might have rendered a signature or some other evidence for dating. (2)
This panel presents an unusual and significant variation upon an iconography attributed to Michael Damaskinos (reproduced in the gallery), perhaps the most important Cretan painter of the later 16th century. (3) A number of other examples were produced throughout the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Each of these later panels offers a close variation on the Michael Damaskinos original. This iconography succeeeds in linking theological and liturgical expression together. The key to the image lies in the representation of the Holy Trinity. (4) In particular it is the role of the dove that is noteworthy. This flies towards God the Father and at the same time turns its head towards God the Son. Fleischer has argued that this icon is influenced by Maximos Margounios who wrote his Three Books on the Procession of the Holy Spirit at the Monastery of St. Catherine in Candia (Irakleion) on Crete in 1583. This text offered a compromise on the filioque question that had divided Catholic and Orthodox theologians. For Latin Catholics the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son (hence the term filioque). This conception of the Trinity was inserted into the Latin Creed from the sixth century. From the ninth century the inclusion of this phrase became a defining point of distinction between the Latin and Greek churches. For the Greek Orthodox the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. A compromise formula was accepted by the Greek delegates at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-39), in which the procession was defined as being from the Father and through the Son. The compromise proposed by Margounios emphasised a temporal interpretation of the procession. He argued that both the Latin and Greek definitions were legitimate as the Greek formulation addressed the eternal nature of the Trinity, while the Latin addressed its temporal manifestation. As such, both were correct and both could be acceptedable as formulations.
This distinction is perhaps manifest in Michael Damaskinos's icon in the treatment of three elements in the iconography of the Holy Trinity. First, God the Father's halo and that which surrounds the Holy Spirit touch. Christ's halo would touch that of the Holy Spirit, but he is bowed forwards in the act of receiving the eucharistic gifts. Fleischer interprets this contact (although not repeated in other published icons) as a sign of the eternal unity of the Trinity, interrupted only by the temporal aspect of Christ shown here as the High Priest. The dove is thus given origins in both the Father and the Son. This double origin is then underlined by the dual direction in which the dove of the Holy Spirit is presented. It flies towards the Son and looks back towards the Father. By these means, one can suggest that Michael Damaskinos's icon was an attempt to represent the compromise proposed by Margounios.(5)
A "Latin" or Uniate reading of this iconography is advanced by an icon presently in the Collection of the Byzantine Museum in Athens. This is a version of the Divine Liturgypainted by Ioannis and dated to the late seventeenth century (reproduced in the gallery). In its exclusive use of Latin inscriptions and in its display of a Greek Catholic donor, it suggests that this iconography was acceptable to a Catholic audience. (6)
The Snite's icon of the Divine Liturgyis remarkable for having re-worked in significant ways the iconography defined by Michael Damaskinos's painting. Among numerous slight variations, there are key changes to be found in the presentation of the Holy Trinity. First, God the Father's whole body is turned towards Christ. In the original iconography God the Father is seated behind the altar and his lower body is turned towards the right. In order to gesture towards Christ, his upper body has to turn to the left. In the Snite icon, his whole body is turned towards Christ. This emphatic sense of direction is reiterated in the dove. The Holy Spirit in the Snite icon has its head and body both turned from the Father and directed towards the Son. In formal terms the icon would appear to resist the complex directions of the Damaskinos icon in order to give a singular direction from the Father to the Holy Spirit to the Son. This would imply a more traditional Greek interpretation of the procession of the Holy Sprit and a rejection of the compromise found in Michael Damaskinos's work.
This formal point was confirmed, when, in the course of the conservation of the Snite panel a series of texts were found between the figures in the Trinity. These were written in gold on the white ground. The text above God the Father's right hand is from Matthew 3:17: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." These were the words uttered by God the Father at Christ's baptism. The text beneath the Holy Spirit is from the Creed: "The Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified." This text contains the crucial passage in the dispute between the Orthodox and Catholic traditions. The inscription quotes the Orthodox creed without the Latin addition "who proceeds from the Father and the Son." The third text is above Christ's right hand and is also from the Creed: "He ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father." This passage reiterates the return of Christ to the eternal Trinity. It is the text beneath the Holy Spirit that confirms the Orthodox reading of the Snite iconography. The absence of the filioque here reiterates the point that the changes made to the iconography of the Divine Liturgy by the Snite icon's artist have been made in order to define an unambiguously orthodox representation of the Trinity within this icon.
1. This icon is published in ~ Eiko/nev thv Krhtikh/v Te/xnhv, ed. Manoles Borboudakes (Irakleion: Vikelaia, 1993), 465. The fourteenth-century liturgical commentary of Nicholas Cabasilas insists upon the importance of prostration before the gifts: Nicholas Cabasilas, A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, tr. Joan Hussey and Peter McNulty (London: SPCK, 1977), 65-66.
2. The original icon by Michael Damaskinos measured 109 cm x 87 cm. It formed part of a cycle of six panels (ca. 1580-1591) that were made for the Monastery of St. Catherine in Iraklion. The cycle consisted of: The Last Supper, the Adoration of the Magi, the Theotokos as the Burning Bush, the Divine Liturgy, the Noli Me Tangere, and the First Oecumenical Council. The program is very theological, underlining the divinity of Christ. For a discussion of these icons: Eiko/nev thv Krhtikh/v Te/xnhv, ed. Manoles Borboudakes (Irakleion: Vikelaia, 1993), 449-461.
3. Published examples include:
Athens, Byzantine Museum, T.1659: signed Ioannis, dated late 17th century, 71 x 57 cm; Venice, Hellenic Institute, 103: signed John Moskos, 1657-1721, 67 x 54 cm; Thera, Panagia Theotokaki, Pyrgos: signed Emmanuel Skordiles, 1671; Milos, Koimesis of the Theotokos, Zefyria: signed Emmanuel Skordiles, 1647; Zakynthos, Museum: signed Philotheos Skouphos, 1664
Crete, Monastery of St. John: 1704, 93 x 64; Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, cat. no. 979, eighteenth century (?), 61 cm x 50.5 cm.
4. Jens Fleisher, "The Role of Icon Painting in Theological Controversies. Michael Damaskinos's Trinity Concept." XVI Internationaler Byzantinistenkongress. Akten, II/6 (=Jahrbuch der Osterreichischen Byzantinistik 32/6), 291-296.
5. Constantoudaki-Kitromilides has argued that the image can be read in an Orthodox manner: Maria Constantoudaki-Kitromilides, Mixah/l Damaskhnov (1530/35 -1592/93). Sumbolh/ sth/ mele/th th=v zwgrafikh=v tou, unpublished PhD, University of Athens, 1988, vol. 1, 225-29. As we shall see below, the evidence of the Snite icon challanges an orthodox reading of the Michael Damaskinos original.
6. The icon is published in Myrtali Acheimastou-Potamianou, Icons of the Byzantine Museum of Athens (Athens: Archaeological Receipts Fund, 1998), 264-65