Μαρμάρινη εικόνα δεόμενης Παναγίας άλλοτε στο Βυζαντινό ΜουσείοPart of : Δελτίον της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας ; Vol.36, 1995, pages 9-14
Marble Icon of the Virgin Orant once in the Byzantine Museum
The Orant MH(TH)P Θ(ΕΟ)Υ in the large marble iconfrom Thessaloniki, T. 148 of the Byzantine Museum andnow in the Museum of Byzantine Civilisation in Thessaloniki, was identified in a recent study with the myrrhproducing depiction of Hosia Theodora (C h. Β a k i r t ζ i s,Marble icon of St. Theodora from Thessaloniki [in Greek],Ellinika 39 (1988), 158-63). Indeed, it is suggested thatthis is the icon mentioned by Theodora's biographer,Gregory, as being at her tomb in Thessaloniki (d. 892), andthus a possible date of 893 is given. It is also suggested,based in part on an earlier theory, that the incisions MPΘΥ (Mother of God) were incised in post-Byzantinetimes and that the icon can thus be dated to around 900.Gregory informs us that the icon at the tomb of Theodorawas painted; the myrrh flowed "like a river" from thepalm of her right hand and washed away the colours,necessitating the placement of a lead vessel at the icon'sbase. None of these clearly stated features are compatiblewith the marble icon T. 148, which preserves no trace ofpaint. Holes have been opened through the palms of theraised hands of the Virgin, and two on each arm furtherdown, towards the waist, for the possible attachment of avessel made of lead or some other material. The disparitybetween the written and archaeological evidence isattributed to the "disinterest" of the Byzantines when itcame to providing accurate descriptions, in this case to thebiographer of Theodora. The exact description, however,provided by Gregory, a contemporary of the Saint, of themanner in which the myrrh was produced would havebeen absolutely necessary in order to establish theauthority of the icon and the miraculous production ofmyrrh. An undoubted example of exactitude in a similarcircumstance, closely related chronologically, comes fromthe description by Constantine VII Porphyrogennitos ofthe marble icon of the Virgin in the Blachernae monasteryin Constantinopole, "from whose holy hands the hagiasmapours forth". This exactitude is controlled by the extantmarble icons of the Virgin Orant with the holes in bothhands, which must be considered as having had theBlachernae icon as their model, such as T. 148.Depictions of Hosia Theodora orant are not preserved.In her earliest known depiction, in a wall-painting in thechurch of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki from the middleof the 11th century, and in those on the 12th to 15thcentury phials containing her hagiasma, Theodora isrendered with hand gestures typical of saints: holding across in front of her breast and raising her other hand ina sign of intercession, with the palm open to the viewer.This iconographical type in all probability depicts theoriginal icon of the 9th century.A work possibly of the 11th century, the marble icon T.148 certainly depicts the Virgin, as is generally accepted.This is indicated by the known iconographical type of theBlachernitissa Orant, from which the hagiasma poursfrom the holes in both her hands, from the garmentstypically associated with her with the five-pointed stars atthe forehead and the arms, as we find in other icons of her.The maphorion is ornately lined with a fringe on its hem;schematically rendered hanging from the middle of thebelt of her dress is her characteristic mandylion, themappula of a Byzantine lady.Finally, careful examination of the marble icon showedthat the incisions M-P ΘΥ, palaeographically consistentwith the middle Byzantine period, are contemporarywith the icon and worked in the same manner as therelief of the figure. But even were this to have been alater addition, would it not be reasonable to ask whethera later craftsman carving the letters (possibly in Thessaloniki) as well as the person who commissioned thechange would have speculated over the figure's identity?It is clear that for them there was no dilemma over "Virginor Hosia Theodora". The figure was certainly that of theVirgin and her name M-P ΘΥ. But, as already noted, theinscription must be contemporary with the figure.