3 3/4 x 1 15/16 x 1/16 in. (9.5 x 4.9 x 0.2 cm)
Weight: 2.4 oz. (68.5 g)
Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020
Purchased by David P. Harris from Richard Temple (Temple Gallery) in London on October 25, 1991.
This icon depicts a standing frontal figure. The religious significance is indicated by the presence of the halo around the head and the orant pose, a gesture of prayer and intercession. Typical icons of the Byzantine Empire would depict a specific figure, such as Christ or the Mother of God. On this icon, however, the lack of distinguishing features makes the saint unrecognizable. Due to its simplicity, this icon is likely one of many mass-produced icons, made using stone molds. Being that this icon was mass-produced, it is easily comparable with other objects of the Byzantine Empire, one such being the Pendant Cross with John the Baptist in the Blick-Harris Study Collection (no. 2020.135). Art connoisseur Giovanni Morelli (1816–1891) argued the importance of comparing anatomical details as a tool for attributing and dating a work of art; Morelli emphasized that a figure's pose, hands, and costume are the strongest indicators of a work of art's date of creation. When comparing this icon to the pendant cross, we notice that the figures' poses are identical, with both figures facing forward and gesturing toward the viewer. Their anatomical features are etched with simple lines; both have oval faces, a rounded torso, and long fingers. Due to these similarities, we can speculate that this icon and the pendant cross were produced in similar periods of the Byzantine Empire.
Byzantine icons served as conduits of personal prayer, a window through which one could approach sanctity. They were also believed to have healing capabilities and the ability to protect the soul from demons. The owner would pray to the figure on this icon as a way of approaching God; they were able to carry their icon, due to its small size, as a means of personal protection. The indistinctness of the saint on this icon meant the owner could ascribe their own identity to the figure. The owner could pray to their preferred saint, giving this icon personal value because the owner could dictate the icon’s identity.
Helen C. Evans, and William D. Wixom, eds., The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997).
Melinda K. Hartwig, “Style,” in A Companion to Ancient Egyptian Art, ed. Melinda K. Hartwig (Malden, MA: Wiley, 2015), 39–59.
Anna Kartsonis, “Protection against All Evil: Function, Use and Operation of Byzantine Historiated Phylacteries,” Byzantinische Forschungen 20 (1994): 73-102.
Alexander P. Kazhdan, ed, Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Asen Kirin, ed. Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC (Athens, GA: Georgia Museum of Art, 2005).
Eunice Dauterman Maguire, Henry Maguire, and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House (Urbana: Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989).
Gary Vikan, “Sacred Image, Sacred Power,” in Late Antique and Medieval Art of the Mediterranean World, ed. Eva R. Hoffman (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 135–146.
Mia Snow ('24) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).