By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on
Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. About 1400. Constantinople. Egg tempera, gesso, wood, linen, gold-lead. British Museum. PE 1988.0411.1. Purchased with the aid of The Art Fund. Image by L. M. Clancy, 2009/09/13.
In AD 730 the Byzantine Emperor Leo III forbade the use of icons within the empire. The judgment was not universally popular and Empress Theodora restored their use in 843. This icon celebrates the 'Triumph of the Orthodoxy' over iconoclasm. It shows the empress (top left) and her son, Emperor Michael III, with saints and religious leaders. On an altar is an image of the Virgin Hodegetria ('she who knows the way') which was believed to have been painted by St. Luke from life. The notion of St. Luke as a painter was crucial to the argument that icons had existed since the birth of Christ.
Icon of St. John the Baptist. About 1300. Constantinople. Wood, linen, gold-leaf, gesso, paint. British Museum. PE 1986.0708.1; purchased with the aid of The Art Fund, British Museum Publications Ltd and S. Niarchos. Image by L. M. Clancy, 2009/09/13.
St. John, the cousin of Jesus, was seen as the last of the prophets. This depiction of the saint shows him in a prophet's robes holding a scroll. His unkempt hair and the hint of a camel hair skirt under his red tunic are an allusion to his life as a hermit. St. John's intense gaze invites a certain intimacy which, combined with the small scale of this icon, indicates it was probably used for a private devotion.
Icon of St. Peter. About 1320. Constantinople. Cedar, linen, gold-leaf, gesso, paint. British Museum. PE 1983.0401.1. Image by L. M. Clancy, 2009/09/13.
This icon is of the highest quality. It depicts St. Peter as an elderly man carrying a scroll. The scroll bares a Greek inscription which is a plea for celibacy. This subjects indicates that the icon may have been painted for a community of monks. The icon was originally much larger and it was probably designed to be viewed at a distance as a prominent piece of public devotional art.