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.

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IN YOU REJOICES: THE BASIC RUSSIAN TYPE

In Russian Marian iconography, the type “In You Rejoices” appeared in the late 15-early 16th century.  It takes its name from, and illustrates, a well-known liturgical hymn attributed to John of Damascus and found in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and in the matins service.

О Тебе радуется, Благодатная, всякая тварь,
In you rejoices, Blessed One, every creature,
Ангельский собор и человеческий род,
The assembly of angels and the race of man.
Освященный Храме и Раю Словесный,
Sanctified Temple and Spiritual Paradise,
Девственная похвало. из Неяже Бог воплотися
Praise of virgins.  From whom God was incarnate
И Младенец бысть, прежде век Сый Бог наш.
And became a child, our God before ages.
Ложесна бо Твоя Престол сотвори.
Your body he made a throne,
И чрево Твое пространнее небес содела.
And your womb wider than the heavens.
О Тебе радуется, Благодатная, всякая тварь, слава Тебе.
In you rejoices, Blessed One, every creature, glory to you.

In icon inscriptions you may also find the text worded in the older form (with basically the same meaning) beginning like this:

О Тебе радуется, обрадованная, вся тварь,
O tebe raduetsya obradovannaya, vsya tvar’

Here is an example of the basic type from the 16th century:

Mary is seated on the throne (“Your body he made a throne”) in the central circle with Jesus as Immanuel on her lap (“and became a child”).  Above her is the Ангельский соборangelskiy sobor — “the assembly of angels.”  And below here is the человеческий родchelovecheskiy rod — “the race of man.”  the number and type of “man” figures varies somewhat from example to example, generally including Old Testament prophets and kings, the apostles, monks, nuns, and other saints. Some examples add so many saints that that the type becomes quite detailed

Standard elements of the Russian “In You Rejoices” type are the domed church (“Sanctified temple”) and Paradise trees (“Spiritual Paradise”), as well as the image of John of Damascus, seen here just below the central circle at lower left, holding out his scroll with the hymn to Mary on it

Here is another example:

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

And a more elaborate version:

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

And yet another:

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

Icons under this name are more common in Russian than Greek iconography.   Greek examples may vary considerably from the Russian type.  Here is a version from the late 1600s by Theodoros Poulakis (Θεόδωρος Πουλάκης, 1622–1692), a Cretan painter and student of Elias Moschos who went to live in Venice, then in the Venetian-ruled Ionian isles, dying in Corfu.  It includes a great many details.

(Benaki Museum, Athens)

If we look closely, we can see that it even includes the signs of the zodiac around Mary:

The icon bears an interesting signature:

Κόπος και σπουδή Θεοδώρου Πουλάκη εκ Κυδωνίας της περιφήμου νήσου Κρήτης.

“The toil and diligence of Theodore Poulakis from Kydonia of the renowned Island of Crete.”

Just so you will recognize the hymn if you encounter it in Greek, here it is:

Ἐπὶ σοὶ χαίρει, Κεχαριτωμένη, πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις, Ἀγγέλων τὸ σύστημα, καὶ ἀνθρώπων τὸ γένος, ἡγιασμένε ναέ, καὶ Παράδεισε λογικέ, παρθενικὸν καύχημα, ἐξ ἧς Θεός ἐσαρκώθη, καὶ παιδίον γέγονεν, ὁ πρὸ αἰώνων ὑπάρχων Θεὸς ἡμῶν∙ τὴν γὰρ σὴν μήτραν, θρόνον ἐποίησε, καὶ τὴν σὴν γαστέρα, πλατυτέραν οὐρανῶν ἀπειργάσατο. Ἐπὶ σοὶ χαίρει Κεχαριτωμένη, πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις, δόξα σοι..