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Purchase of an icon at auction in Christie’s

The Museum of Folk Art of the Society of Cypriot Studies has recently repatriated a double-figured post-Byzantine icon, 37x26x3 cm. in size, which was bought at auction in Christie’s of London. On the reverse side, which is also the oldest, a semi-destroyed half-bodied figure of an unknown saint has been preserved, which appears to have formed part of a series in the Great Supplication (Apostolic) perhaps of the 17th century. During subsequent use, the other side was painted, one that is now the the work’s main aspect, the scene of touching by ‘doubting’ Thomas, and forms part of a ‘Dodekaortou’ series.

The scene takes place in the inner room, whose double-panelled arched window is closed, as described by John the Evangelist. Christ in a red tunic is standing in the middle, dividing the group of disciples into two. With his right hand raised in blessing, he is holding with the other a scroll with his command to Thomas: “place your finger here and see my hand and bring….” (John 20.27). The young and fearful Thomas is depicted to the left placing the finger of his right hand in the pierced side of his master, while in his other hand he is holding a scroll with the words of faith written on it: “My Lord and my God” (John, 20.28). Although unsigned, the work can easily be attributed to the iconographer Parthenios, who was active at the end of the 18th and during the first decades of the 19th centuries. He was a painter with a particularly populist style whose work was abundant, especially in rural churches. Basic features of his style are simplicity, naïveté, vivid colours and rapidity in sketching. Parthenios can be considered the very opposite to the reputed Cretan painter Ioannis Kornarou, who was active in Cyprus in the same period. The former is the painter of the lower class poor; the latter that of the urban rich of Cyprus at the beginning of the 19th century.

The icon probably derives from a pillaged church in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus. The Society of Cypriot Studies obtained it through financial donations from the Archbishopric, and wishes to express warm thanks to his Beatitude the Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II. The work is on display already at the Cyprus Folk Art Museum (premises of the old Archbishopric).