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St Alypius the Stylite
Cretan icon, late 17th century

Recently the Museum acquired a fascinating small late 17th century Cretan icon depicting the pillar-saint Alypius. Pillar-saints, or “stylites,” lived an ascetic life of prayer and fasting on top of tall pillars at a distance from earthly concerns. Painted against a gold background, we see the illustrious monk-saint looking at us from the top of a white marble pillar which is crowned with a Corinthian capital. Alypius raises both hands in a gesture of prayer and acceptance. Interestingly enough, St Alypius is venerated on the same day, November 26th, in the Orthodox Church, the Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, and the Roman Catholic Church.

The iconography and style of our newly acquired icon is reminiscent of two icons with the same subject painted by the Cretan master Emmanuel Tzanes (1610-1690). This famous icon painter created and donated one icon of St Alypius in 1660 to the San Giorgio dei Greci church in Venice. Another one, with the same subject, and signed by Tzanes is now in the collection of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva. Our icon without doubt is based on Tzanes’ examples and must have been painted within his close circles. A small but highly interesting addition to our steadily growing collection of Greek and Cretan icons!

Virgin of the Life-Giving Source
Greek icon (possibly Crete), 17th century
Gift of Dr. Emilio Bizzi

This intriguing and high-quality 17th-century icon depicts the Mother of God of the Life-Giving Source painted in the Veneto-Cretan style. Here, the Mother of God is depicted with the Christ Child seated in a chalice-shaped fountain from which water flows into a trough below. In the upper left and right corners are angels, each holding a scroll. The half-naked figure to the lower left side looks up in astonishment at a small demon that has just left the man’s body through his mouth, while a woman carrying a child approaches the healing waters. To the lower right, a crippled man with crutch is depicted with another figure, who is drinking from the life-giving source. This beautiful icon however holds a secret: who was its painter? Of course, most icons were painted by monks who did not sign their work, but from the 15th century onward on the island of Crete signing icons became more popular. This icon is signed as well. I challenge you to find the (partly worn) signature which is written in Greek. Will you be the one who “cracks the code” and identifies the master behind this icon?

We are immensely grateful to Dr Emilio Bizzi who donated this rare and important work of art to the Museum.

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