|The Virgin Hodegetria
14th c., first two decades
Wood, egg tempera, 135 x 99 c
This icon of the Virgin Hodegetria and the icon of Christ (no. 2.17) occupied the intercolumnar spaces in the templon in the new katholikon built in 1293 by the Serb ruler Milutin in Chelandari Monastery.
The Virgin is depicted from the waist up turning slightly towards Christ, whom she holds in her left arm, her right hand raised, as the iconography requires, before her breast. She wears an aubergine mantle with an orange border embellished with gold striations. Christ sits erect in her embrace, holding a closed scroll in his left hand and making a gesture of blessing with his right. He wears a bluish tunic and an orange himation covered with gold striation. The Virgin is qualified as the Eleoussa (Our Lady of Mercy), an appellation that was particularly common in Cretan painting (Vocotopoulos 1995, pp. 13-14).
Facially, both the Virgin and Christ bear a close resemblance to works of the first quarter of the fourteenth century. The iconic type and fine facial features of the Virgin in particular attest direct links with the icon of the Virgin and Child (14th c., 1st quarter) in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki (Vocotopoulos 1995, no. 100) and particularly with the icons of the Virgin and Child from the Church of St Nicholas Orphanos in Thessaloniki (Xyngopoulos 1964, pl. 144) and the Church of Joachim and Anne (1315) at Studenica in Serbia (Babic, pl. XXXIII). Christ too, with his high forehead, snub nose, and receding chin, reflects a facial type that was in vogue in the early period of Palaeologan art, as we can see in the full-length Virgin and Child in Vatopedi Monastery (Tsigaridas 1996 (1), p. 373, fig. 317).
Although the paint film has flaked slightly, in the rendering of the faces the Virgin and Christ are distinguished by the delicacy of the painting, and their slender build and noble air, features which link this icon with that of the Virgin and Child in the Museum of Byzantine Culture and the Virgin Psychosostria (Our Lady the Saviour of Souls) in Ochrid (Weitzmann et al. 1966, fig. 159), both of which date to the early fourteenth century. Her gentle oblique gaze, however, recalls the Virgin in the Studenica church and in the Church of St Nicholas Orphanos in Thessaloniki.
The Chelandari icon's direct links with icons and frescoes connected with Thessaloniki workshops suggest that it should be dated to the first two decades of the fourteenth century and that it belongs to the artistic environment of Thessaloniki.