"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Icons in Venetian Crete

Ashgate has just sent me a wonderful new book on icons. As I have often noted before, we are seeing a steady stream of books emerging on icons and iconography today. But this text is one that no serious student of iconography will want to be without:

Maria Vassilaki, ed., The Hand of Angelos: An Icon Painter in Venetian Crete (Ashgate, 2010), 255pp.

This is a massive hardback book (a true "coffee table" book, though that should not deter people: it's not mindless picture-gazing while you wait in the dentist's office, but a volume of serious historical and iconographical scholarship) that does not stint on the colour plates, and for that we can be very grateful indeed. (Is there anything more dispiriting or illogical than a book devoted to iconography that has few or no plates, or only black and white plates?) This is a lavishly, handsomely illustrated volume of scholarship, with more than eighty illustrations. This belongs in every serious collection devoted to iconography.

About this book, the publisher provides a nicely detailed overview:
A tumultuous period in history, the late Byzantine era bore witness to bloody power struggles that dramatically changed the geographical, political and social landscape of a region and its people. Among the many shifts during this time of flux was the switch of major artistic production from Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, to Candia, the capital of Venetian-occupied Crete.
Exploring the life and work of Angelos Akotantos, the most significant artist active in Venetian Crete, The Hand of Angelos provides new insight into a key figure and the period in which he worked. Offering contextual discussion, the authors, all experts in their fields, cover a range of themes, including the contrasting economic and political fortunes of Constantinople and Candia, and the enduring cultural influence of the Byzantine Empire's capital within Crete.

Within this contextual framework, Angelos Akotantos provides the focus for this unique book. Due to the large number of first-class icons that can be accurately, and reliably, attributed to him, plus the existence of his will (reproduced in full here) and other documents which shed light on his personality, the scholars writing here successfully demonstrate, through both essays and catalogue entries, the high artistic quality of the works created by the 'Hand of Angelos' - pieces which demonstrate preoccupations with both Constantinopolitan painting and elements adopted from western art. At the same time these works are of great interest iconographically, as they established and crystallised motifs which are repeatedly seen in the work of artists from later generations.
We also get a sense of the scholarship included here by perusing the table of contents:
  • Preface, Introduction: Professor Angelos Delivorrias, Director of the Benaki Museum; 
  • Part 1: Historical and Artistic Context Before the Fall: 
    • Political and economic conditions in Constantinople in the fifteenth century: Angeliki Laiou; 
    • The history of Crete in the fifteenth century on the basis of archival documents: Chryssa Maltezou; 
    • Candia between Venice, Byzantium and the Levant: The rise of a major emporium to the mid-fifteenth century: David Jacoby; 
    • The Icon in Constantinople around 1400, Robin Cormack; From Constantinople to Candia: Icon painting around 1400: Maria Vassilaki.
  • Part II: The Painting of Angelos:
    • The Will of Angelos Akotantos: Maria Kazanaki-Lappa; 
    • The Art of Angelos: Maria Vassilaki; 
    • The legacy of Angelos: Nano Chatzidaki; 

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