EAST MEETS WEST IN ICONS

Yesterday we looked at an interesting icon by the Crete-born iconographer Emmanuel Tzanes.  Today we will look at a surprising image by one of his contemporaries, Theodoros Poulakes (Θεόδωρος Πουλάκης, 1622–1692) ), who settled in Venice and worked there, and later also worked on Corfu.

As you already know, because of the political and trade relations between Venice and Crete, there was a strong Western influence on icons produced by Cretan iconographers, who could paint both in the Byzantine manner for Eastern customers, and in the Italian manner for Western customers.  But as we shall see, it was not just Italy that influenced icon painting of this period; it was also Northern Europe — including Flanders.

Here is the work by Theodoros Poulakes:

You can easily guess at the subject, given the large ark in the background and all the animals and birds moving toward and into it.  This image bears a title in Greek:

ΝΩΕ ΤΟΥC ΙΔΙΟΥC ΣΥΓΓΕΝΕΙC Κ[ΑΙ] ΤΑ ΖΩΑ ΕΙC Τ[ΗΝ] ΚΙΒΩΤΟΝ ΕΙΣΑΓΩΝ”
NOE TOUS IDIOUS SYNGENEIS KAI TA ZOA EIS TEN KIBOTON EISAGON
NOAH AND HIS RELATIVES AND THE CREATURES BROUGHT INTO THE ARK.”

As you will recall, the word κῑβωτός/kibotos, given in the inscription in the form kivoton, and meaning “ark” and “box/coffer,”  is the source of the Russian word for an icon case, kiot.

Notice how the two letters ΓΓ are joined in the word syngeneis,

and remember that the combination gg  is pronounced as “ng.”  Notice also the joining of the letters E and I in the words syngeneis (“relatives) and eis (“into”)

and eisagon (“into-brought”); this ligature should not be mistaken for the letter α.  In the image above the ligature is followed by the letter C — s in English.

Now let’s look again at the whole image:

The clothing and even the buildings certainly look more Western European than Byzantine, and here is the reason why:  look at this engraving:

It is not difficult to see that the image by Theodoros Poulakes is based on the copper engraving, which was done by the Flemish engraver Jan Sadeler, after a work by Maerten de Vos ((1532 –1603) ).  Jan Sadeler was born in Brussels in 1550, worked in Antwerp from 1568, then Germany where he worked in Cologne and Frankfurt and Munich, and in 1593 he moved to Italy, where he is said to have died in Venice.

It is interesting to see how Poulakes modified the Sadeler engraving, changing or omitting details here and there to make it look less “Northern.”  Note, for example, how he transformed the leafless tree behind the building at right:

Poulakis makes it into a palm tree!

Here’s a closer look at the left side of the Poulakes version:

And here is the right side:

It is amusing to see how sumptuously Noah and his family are dressed.

Though it is too faint to be seen in the image, there is a signature in the lower right corner:

ΧΕΙΡ ΘΕΟΔΩΡΟΥ ΠΟΥΛΑΚΗ
KHEIR THEODOROU POULAKI
“[The] Hand of Theodoros Poulakes.”

I keep emphasizing how important it is to realize that Eastern Orthodox iconography was strongly influenced by Western European Catholic and Protestant art, and that such influence reached even into the monastic community of Mount Athos in Greece, into the Balkans, and into the icon painting workshops of Russia, including the region of the icon-painting village of Palekh.

Advertisements