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Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th

Centuries. Themes and Meanings

Elisabeta NEGRU

The iconographic composition named Desis, having pre-iconoclastic origins,
was developed in Byzantium after the Triumph of Orthodoxy in 843. Most commonly,
it represents the Holy Virgins and St. John the Baptists acts of intercession for people
to Christ Pantocrator. Desis in which Christ is clothed as bishop and bears the imperial
crown, appeared around the year 1330 in the area of Ohrid and exalted Christ as the true
author and actor of the Liturgy, sometimes being accompanied by the Virgin intercessor
as Empress (illustrating the liturgical Psalms 92:1and 44:11, respectively). The image
reveals both the divine and human reigning nature of Christ, who is often named in the
inscriptions Emperor of emperors and Lord of lords. This Desis formula proliferated
also in Romanian post-Byzantine art, being found in mural painting of church naves, in
Moldavian exterior painting and in iconostasis icon ensembles. In Wallachia, it entered
as iconostasis theme after mid-17th century, introduced by Moldavian painters. The
overall conclusion of the study points out that the theme Desis displaying Christ as
Archbishop reveals Gods giving and receiving within the office of the Liturgy, which
is accomplished for the Eschatological salvation of man.
Key-words: theology of the icon, Liturgy, Desis, iconography, painting, Byz-
antine and post-Byzantine art.

The Byzantine Church adopted, after the final triumph of Orthodoxy over
iconoclasm in the mid 9th century, an imperial concept in iconography, due to the
aspiration to exalt the glory of God through image and make it more visible to
people. Also, since the emperors have had a decisive role in restoring back the
veneration of icons, the adoption of the imperial concept in Christian iconography
was achieved to exalt the imperial institution as the main protector of the Church.
The Byzantine imperial quasi-priestly ritual1 provided the appearance of the

See Gilbert Dagron, Emperor and Priest. The Imperial Office in Byzantium, Cambridge
University Press, 2003.

RT 93:2 (2011) 64-81

Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th Centuries.

Churchs ceremonies, the structure of the Virgins hymnography and litanies to the

saints2. In iconography, the heavenly hierarchy began to be presented as conceptu-
ally corresponding to the imperial court hierarchy. The wave of imperial themes
which entered Christian iconography after the triumph of Orthodoxy, developed
new hypostases and images, two most important of them being Deesis (i.e. prayer
[to Christ]) and Christ Pantocrator (i.e. the Almighty)3.
In Deesis scene, Christ is formally presented similar to an emperor who re-
ceives petition requests from his subjects. The images theme is one of prayer
(): Christ the Emperor, source of law and judgement, but also of mercy,
receives the intercession prayers of the greatest two saints: His Mother and St.
John the Baptist4.
The structure of the icon Deesis shows the privileged place of Virgin Mary
and St. John the Baptist around the Savior, as the first direct witnesses of His In-
carnation: His Mother and the one who rejoiced in his mothers womb5 when
met God incarnated. Deesis is, thus, not only the icon of intercession but also of
Christs theophany. It summarizes the full characteristics of Christs Pantocrator,
Man and God incarnated, resurrected and ascended to Heaven6.
The scene Deesis reveals the dual nature of Christ and His double ruling fea-
tures: as man, master (lord) and crown of Creation, and as God almighty. The
Apostle Thomas recognized the risen Christ as my Lord and my God7. In the
14th century, Christ will be named in the inscriptions on Deesis icons as Emperor
of the emperors, Lord of lords, and High Priest, iconographic hypostasis which
fully reveals the royal priesthood of Christ, Man and God. Christ had sacrificed
himself as the atonement offering, had passed into Heaven, the true Holy of ho-
lies, and would emerge again to complete the atonement8. St. John the Evangelist
learned in his Book of Revelations about the returning of the High Priest of the
Church. For this reason, Deesis scene was included in the center of Last Judge-
ment compositions. Deesis was also a favorite liturgical scene for the altar, proth-

Ernst Hardwig Kantorowicz, Laudes Regiae. A Study in Liturgical Acclamations and
Mediaeval Ruler Worship, University of California Press, 1946, p. 31, 56, 146.
Jane Timken Matthews, The Byzantine Use of the Title Pantokrator, in Orientalia
Christiana Periodica, XLIV (1978), 2, pp. 442-462.
See Luke 7:28.
Luke 1: 44.
See Otto Demus thesis that monumental representations of the Ascension have given rise
to the Pantocrator scheme; O. Demus, Byzantine Mosaic Decoration. Aspects of Monumental Art in
Byzantium, London, 1953, p. 19 sq.
John 20:28.
Margaret Barker, The Great High Priest. The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy, London
2003, p.57.

Elisabeta Negru

esis and templon iconography from the 7th to 14th centuries9, and for iconostasis in
the post-Byzantine period (register of Great Deesis with the 12 apostles)10.
The scholars opinions regarding the significance of Deesis are partially di-
vided: it may represent both an illustration of the divine glory, as shown by the
usual inscriptions11, but also of a prayer for humans salvation, as the themes
common denomination reveals12. It indicates the eschatological time when is part
of the Last Judgement scene, but also the liturgical time, especially starting with
the Palaeologan period, when accompanied by the inscriptions from the Psalms of
Vespers service and the Prothesis (92: 1 and 44: 11).
The Deesis scene formula in which Christ is depicted wearing sticharion,
saccos, omophorion and an imperial crown or a bishop miter was developed in
the Palaeologan period (14th cent.)13. However, the structure and essence of this
image dates back in the pre-iconoclastic period. In the 7th century painting of the
north apse of the church of Panagia Drosiani, Naxos, in a composition that brings
together Christ holding the Gospel and wearing golden hiton and himation, Virgin
Mary, John the Baptist, King Solomon14 and a royal personification of the Church
(Ecclesia)15 (fig. 1). The presence of the two royal figures of Solomon and Eccle-

Victor Lazarev, History of the Byzantine Painting (Romanian ed.), Bucharest, 1980, vol.
II, p. 75; Andr Grabar, La peinture religieuse en Bulgarie, p. 88; Catherine Jolivet-Levy, Peintures
byzatines indites Xanthos (Lycie), in Jahrbuch der sterreichischen Bizantinistik (JB), Vienna,
vol. 32/5 (1982), p. 78.
See, for example, Maria Ileana Sabados, Iconografia temei Deisis n pictura pe lemn din
Moldova secolului XVI, in Studii i Cercetri de Istoria Artei- Seria Art Plastic, vol. 40 (1993),
Carmen-Laura Dumitrescu, Fondateurs et iconographie au XVIe sicle en Valachie, in
Revue Roumanie dHistoire de lArt- Srie Beaux Arts, vol. XIV (1977), pp. 21-48.
Christopher Walter, Two Notes on the Deesis, in Revue des tudes Byzantines, vol. 26
(1968), pp. 311-316 and idem, Further Notes on the Deesis, ibidem, 28 (1970), p. 177.
Titos Papamastorakis The Representation of Christ as the Great Arch-Priest (in Greek),
in Deltion tes Christianikes Archaiologikes Hetaireias (E), vol. 17 (1993/94), pp. 67-68; Sercan
Yandm, The Italo-Cretan Religious Painting and The Byzantine-Palaeologan Legacy, in Journal
of Faculty of Letters, Hacettepe University, Ankara, vol. 25 (2008), nr. 1, pp. 267-268.
Nikos Drandakis, Panagia Drosiani, in Manolis Chatzidakis et. al., Byzantine Art in
Greece. Naxos, Athens, 1989, p. 19. The christological program of the frescoes from the Panagia
Drosiani church of Naxos seems to concentrate on revealing the divine and human nature of Christ,
pointing to the end of time and the Last Judgement; Per Olav Folger, The Vision in Dan 7, 9-13
and the Ascension of Christ: On the Analepsis and the Last Judgment Scene in the Development of
the Cupola-Pantocrator System, in 21 International Byzantine Congress, London, 2006, VI.8 Art
and Orthodoxy, pp. 4-5.
Identified as such at Alexei Lidov, The Priesthood of the Virgin. An Image Paradigm of the
Byzantine Iconography, in Hierotopy. Spatial Icons and Image. Paradigms in Byzantine Culture (in
Russian), Moscow, 2006, pp. 227-256.

Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th Centuries.

sia, which mean also the Old Testament Temple and the New Testament Church,

praying to Christ, signify implicitly that Christ is their Great Lord and High Priest,
as show the Book of Revelation chapters 11 and 12.
The first Palaeologan representations of the imperial-hierarchical Deesis in
the mural paintings were preserved almost exclusively in the Serbian Macedonian
area, from the reign of tefan Duan16. Christ Emperor appears in the mural paint-
ing of Treskavac monastery church (1343), featured in the narthex dome, along
with Virgin Empress near the throne of Hetoimasia, accompanied by military
synaxes of angels and saints. Then, Christ Emperor is preserving in the Markov
monastery church (1377) in a Deesis scene from the lower register of the north
wall of the nave, where Christ is sitting on throne, flanked by angels and joined
by the crowned Virgin, by the kings David and Solomon and by other kings of
the Old Testament (fig. 2), procession which continues in the narthex, with the
saints Constantine and Helena and other saints in royal vestments17. The great
Deesis from Markov represents an illustration inspired from the liturgical hymns
of the Holy Week which have as subject the establishing of the Divine Liturgy of
Eucharistic Sacrifice18. Similar compositions are figured in the churches St. Clem-
ent of Ohrid, Zaim and St. Athanasius of Kastoria19, all in the diocese of Ohrid
This imperial-hierarchical Deesis, with preiconoclastic roots (7th cent.),
reappeared in the area of Ohrid by 1330, in the context of theological debates
regarding liturgical sacrifice and Christs kingdom of New Jerusalem21 and repre-
sented a new iconographic formula displaying a similar state and signification to
Hetoimasia22. The imperial-hierarchical Deesis is not a Hesychastic theme, as
considered earlier23, because its recurrence precedes with few decades the theo-
logical work of Gregory Palamas.

Pavlo Mijovi, Liconographie impriale dans la peinture serbe et bulgare (in Serbian),
in Starinar, vol. XVIII (1967), p. 118.
Lazar Mirkovi, Peut-on interprter les fresques du monastre de Marko par la biographie
de St. Basile le Nouveau? (in Serbian), in Starinar, vol. XII (1961), p. 89.
Ibidem, p. 90.
Tania Velmans, La peinture murale byzantine dinspiration constantinopolitaine du XIVe
sicle (1330-1370). Son rayonnement en Georgie, in Deani et lart byzantin au milieu du XIVe
sicle. Colloque organis loccasion de la clbration de 650 ans du monastre de Deani, sept.
1985, Acadmie des Sciences et des Arts, Belgrad, 1985, pp 77-78.
Cvetan Grozdanov, tudes sur la peinture dOhrid, Skopje, 1990, p. 216.
See Svetan Radoji, in Zbornik Radova. Vizantolokog Instituta (ZRVI), vol. 4, pp. 215-227.
C. Grozdanov, ibidem.
Carmen Laura Dumitrescu, O reconsiderare a picturii din Stneti-Vlcea, in Pagini de
veche art romneasc Romanian Academy Editions, Bucharest, 1972, vol. II, p. 197; Evanghelia

Elisabeta Negru

In the early 16th century, Christ Emperor appears in the painting of St. George
church in Vranenica, bearing the inscription The Lord reigned from the Vespers
and Prothesis Psalm 92:1. From 15th- 17th centuries icons have been preserved
from the Macedonian and Greek area which represent Christ in imperial and hier-
archical vestments, bearing a tsar crown with prependulia and holding the Gospel
on which is written: My Kingdom is not of this world24 (fig. 3-4), sometimes
being joined by Mother of God clothed as a Queen (fig. 5). The iconographic for-
mula of Deesis which becomes most frequent in Wallachian painting by the 16th
century, presents Christ on the throne, wearing liturgical vestments and a bishop
miter, being named in inscriptions Emperor of all emperors, Lord of Lords and
High Priest. Generally, the iconographical distinction between the representa-
tions of Christ as Emperor and Archbishop or simply as Archbishop is difficult,
being the fact that, in many situations, the bishop miter and the imperial crown are
depicted similarly. It may be asumed, however, that in Romanian post-Byzantine
painting is more probably represented the Archbishop hypostasis.
The purpose of imperial-hierarchical Deesis images and particularly of
Christ as Emperor and Archbishop appears to be purely liturgical: having connec-
tions with the image named King of glory25 (Christ in the tomb) introduced in
the iconography of prothesis apse/ niche in the 13th century26, they evolve, in the
14th century, in close correlation with the liturgical and hymnographical themes
of the Holy Week, summarized by the Great Entrance in Liturgy and the Celestial
Liturgy theme in iconography27, and exported to the nave and narthex28. The Dee-
sis in which Virgin Mary appears as Empress and Church is, therefore, an image
of her intercession for Christians in the Eucharistic Liturgy performed by Christ
Archbishop, significance evoked by the presence of Ecclesia as a personification
of a royal lady in the early Deesis scene from the church nave in Naxos.
Christ as High Priest, wearing saccos, appears in the naves always in icono-
graphic contexts which have liturgical connotations, in Celestial liturgy repre-
sented on the domes or accompanying scenes like the Communion of Mary of
Egypt and the Three young men in the fiery furnace, themes that are often figured
in doors or windows arches. Christ the High Priest is represented above passing

Georgitsoyanni, Les peintures murales du vieux catholicon du monastere de la Transfiguration aux

Meteores, Athens, 1983, p. 279.
John 18: 36.
Derived from Psalm 20:10 and I Corinthians, 2:8.
Suzy Dufrenne, Images du dcor de la prothse, in RB, vol. 26 (1968), p. 299, notes 10
and 11 (bibliography), pp. 301-302.
Gabriel Millet, Recherches sur liconographie de lvangile, Paris, 1960, pp. 486-488.
L. Mirkovi, Peut-on interpreter, p. 90.

Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th Centuries.

areas, with funeral significance, indicating, thus, the eschatological orientation of

the Liturgy. The theme Deesis with a eschatological significance was represented,
above the entrace, at Vatopedi (end of 11th cent.)29, at St Nicholas of Arge, Ro-
mania (above the entry into the nave), at St. Paraskevi-Brajino in Macedonia
(imperial Deesis, part of the Last Judgement composition, 1486-1493)30 at Zrze
(imperial Deesis, 1535, fig. 6) and also in Moldavia, at Vorone (exonartex),
Ptrui (narthex), Hlincea (nave), Secu (hierarchical Deesis above the southern
entrance, 1602, fig. 7)31.
Specific to Moldavia is the theme of the Great Deesis, which appears in the
funeral niche from the narthex of Dolheti church (1481), then as the Great Deesis
with synaxes of saints the Prayer of All Saints- in the icon of the painter Am-
filohie (1514)32 and, later, in the Moldavian exterior painting, on church apses (by
1530s). The meaning of the scene would be eschatological, assumption sustained
by the afore presence of the theme in the tomb niche of Dolheti. The funeral con-
notation of Deesis scene is evident at Bakovo (beginning of 12th cent.), where the
image is painted in the semi-dome of the ossuary, as also in Moldavian funeral
chambers of the churches: Humor and Moldovia (hierarchical Deesis)33.
In the Moldavian exterior painting, Christ also appears as Emperor and High
Priest in the illustrations of the 11th kontakion of the Akathistos Hymn: Every
hymn is defeated that trieth to encompass the multitude of Thy many compas-
sions; for if we offer to Thee, O Holy King... (fig. 8).
One of the main functions of the iconographic theme Deesis in Byzantium
was to accompany a large variety of ex-voto images34. A particular case is repre-
sented by the votive painting from the Moldavian monastery of Sucevia, where
an interference occurs between the votive and liturgical connotations of the Dee-
sis. The votive Deesis was present in the Moldavian votive compositions, influ-
enced by Serbian models, in which the founder of the church bring his donation
to Christ sitting on throne, being interceded in his prayer by the Holy Virgin and
the patron saint. Or at Sucevia, the founder, Prince Jeremiah Moghila, brings his

V. Lazarev, History of the Byzantine painting (cit. ed. ), II, p. 49.
Viktorija Popovska-Korobar, Wall Paintings from the Late 15th Century in the Monastery
Church of St. Paraskeve - Brajino (in Serbian), in ZRVI, vol. XLIV (2007), pp. 553-554, 565.
Cornelia Pillat, Quelques notes sur la thme de la Deisis et son emplacement dans la
peinture murale roumaine du Moyen ge, in Revue des tudes Sud-Est Europeens, t. XIX (1981),
p. 523.
Marina Ileana Sabados, Une icne moldave inconnue du commencement du XVIe sicle,
Revue Roumaine dHistoire, vol. XXVIII (1991), pp. 3-10; eadem, Iconografia temei Deisis n
pictura pe lemn din Moldova secolului XVI, in SCIA-AP, vol. 40 (1993), p. 38, fig. 24.
C. Pillat, Quelques notes sur la thme de la Deisis, p. 522.
C. Walter, Further Notes on the Deesis, p. 161.

Elisabeta Negru

church donation to Christ Great Archbishop on the throne (fig. 9), an unicum in
the Byzantine and post-Byzantine iconography, due to the highly cultivated theo-
logians from this monastery35.
The eschatologic orientation of the Liturgy determined the theme of Last
Judgement to enter the iconographic program of the naves in the western area, and
be placed then, in the church narthex and exonartex (or porch). Moreover, icons
presenting abbreviated images of the Last Judgement having in their center the
imperial-hierarchical Deesis were apparently put on the altar tables, leastways
in the Serbian Macedonia. A portable icon preserved from Ohrid area (Struga, ap-
prox. 1500), displays an abbreviated variant of the Judgement, which introduces
verses from Psalms 44, 10 and 92 of the Vespers and the Prothesis in the zone
of the imperial-hierarchical Deesis (fig. 10). In the icon, The Mother of God
is named Queen of Christians, like also in the mural paintings illustrating the
imperial Deesis, from Vevi (Banica, 1460) and Leskoec (1462) 36. Imperial
Deesis as part of the Judgement scene, an iconographic rarity, is preserving in
mural paintings only at Brajino37.
Ultimately, the liturgical significance and the votive implications of theme
Deesis led it to be represented on the painted votive diptychs. The dyptich from
the Moldavian hermitage at Vleni (16th century) was decorated with a Great Dee-
sis scene with the Mamre Trinity in the center and various categories of saints38,
A Deesis scene having in its center Christ Archbishop bust, blessing, adorned
the votive dyptic of the hermitage from Brdet, Arge (1645/6), made by painter

The votive Deesis occurs early in Wallachian painting, in the narthex of the
St. Nicholas Princely Court church of Arge (14th cent.). It is placed in the center of
the Last Judgement scene on the eastern wall, above the entrance to the nave, and
includes a representation of the prince founder of the church at the feet of Christ
on throne, flanked by the Virgin and St. Nicholas, the churchs patron, instead of

Constana Costea, La sfritul unui secol de erudiie: pictura de icoane din Moldova n
timpul lui Ieremia Movil. Ambiana Suceviei, in Ars Transsilvaniae, vol. III (1993), pp. 88-90.
V. Popovska-Korobar, Icon Painting Traces from Ohrid and Struga from the Second Half
of the 15th Century (in Serbian), in Patrimonium.Mk. Periodical for Cultural Heritage. Monuments,
Restoration, Museums, Skopje, vol. III (2010), nr. 7-8, pp. 300-302, 304.
Eadem, Wall Paintings, p. 554.
M.I.Sabados, Iconografia temei Deisis, p. 40.
Victor Brtulescu, Pomelnicul schitului Brdet de pe apa Vlsanului, in Mitropolia
Olteniei, vol. XI (1959), nr. 5-6, p. 365.

Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th Centuries.

John the Baptist, thus fulfilling also the role of church icon (fig. 11). Beyond the

eschatological meaning that emerges from the iconographical context, the entire
program of the narthex from Arge may be interpreted as a confession of faith of
the ruler who acomplished and sanctified the Princely church40. Flanked by the
representations of the Judgement, Deesis is in dialogue with the Virgins entrance
into the temple scene, painted of the western wall. In addition to the seven Ecu-
menical Councils painted on the walls and vault, Deesis suggests the affiliation to
the Eastern Church of the founder of Wallachian Metropolitan, Prince Nicholas
Alexander. The Deesis icons controversial votive/ funeral status falls within the
general topic of the iconographic program from Arge, representing an evocation
of the Second Coming and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven, in which
the founders aspire to enter41.
Deesis appears also in Transylvania, at the Orthodox monastery of Rmei
(1377), accompanied by riding military saints, Deesis type which may reveal a
military function, a prayer for forgiveness of the founders for the Transylvanian
Romanian warriors who fought as vassals of the kings of Hungary in the crusades,
but also against Moldavians42.
The Deesis scene in the southern apse of the nave at Cozia was considered
previously to be the latter repainting of the original paintings iconography from
the 14th century43. The painting from 1706 at Cozia kept a series of iconographic
structures of the original 1390s painting, including the particular scene of Amnos
from the altar44, faithfully copied by the painter Preda. However, the scene Deesis
is, probably, a Brancovan period iconographic addition and does not reiterates an
original composition, because at the end of the 14th century, the typical hierarchi-
cal Deesis was not yet settled in the mural painting.
The first hierarchical Deesis representation in the Romanian mural paint-
ing comes from the fresco of Arge monastery church, 1526 (today, at the National
Art Museum of Romania, fig. 12). The first imperial Deesis (with Mother of

For other interpretations, see Carmen Laura Dumitrescu, Anciennes et nouvelles
hypothses sur un monument roumain de XIVe sicle; Lglise Saint Nicolae Domnesc de Curtea de
Arge, in RRHA, vol. XIV (1979) p. 15 and Corina Popa, Arta cretin n Romnia. 3. Secolul al
XIV-lea, Bucureti, 1983, p. 9, 72.
Ecaterina Cincheza- Buculei, mpria lui Dumnezeu-o propunere iconografic (biserica
Sf. Nicolae Domnesc din Curtea de Arge), in In memoriam Radu Popa. Temeiuri ale civilizaiei
romneti n context european, Cluj-Napoca, 2003, p. 423.
Eadem, Implicaii sociale i politice n iconografia picturii medievale romneti din
Transilvania, n SCIA-AP, vol.28 (1981), pp. 7, 30-31.
C.L.Dumitrescu, Pictura mural, p. 98, n. 5.
Ioana Iancovescu, Hypothses sur la peinture inconnue du XIVe sicle Cozia, in RRHA-
BA, vol. XLVI (2009), pp. 3-5.

Elisabeta Negru

God as Empress) is preserved in the mural painting of the church from Stneti-
Vlcea (1536; fig. 13)45. Deesis theme appears in all the Wallachian churches from
the 16th century preserved, except Bistria infirmary chapel. The absence of Deesis
in the iconography of the infirmary chapels confirms that hierarchical Deesis had
mainly a liturgical respect in Wallachia and was not used as a Maiestas Domini
scene, with a funeral-eschatological significance46.
Particularly in Muntenia, the placement site of the hierarchical Deesis scene
is the south-eastern part of the nave, topos with a specific connotation. By some
interpretations, East cardinal point in the church symbolizes the Incarnation and
the South Christs resting in the Church47: at Kurbinovo (1191), on the south
wall in the nave, near the the iconostasis, a large size picture of Christ blessing is
represented. West point symbolizes the sunset, the end of the day, era or time48.
This is why scenes like Crucifixion, Dormition of the Mother of God and the Last
Judgement, as moments marking an end and also a new beginning, are represented
on the western wall of the churches, like another theme that is a foreshadow of
the Second Coming, the Transfiguration, which in the Byzantine tradition was
represented on the upper west wall of the nave (Kurbinovo, St. Nicholas of Arge,
Bistria infirmary church, etc.). Also the votive pictures are placed on the western
walls, due to their funeral-eschatological purpose.
Deesis is also often represented in Romanian icons, as Pantocrator bust icon
accompanied by the mis-corps miniature figures of Virgin Mary and John the
Baptist praying49. The iconographic type of Christ depicted as Emperor and High
Priest on throne, which already circulated in the Balkan icon painting by the 15th
and 16th centuries, is illustrated in Wallachia only by the second half of 17th cen-
tury. The first icon preserved comes from the Metropolitan Church of Trgovite
and was made by a Moldavian painter, Nicola (today, at the National Art Museum
of Romania, fig. 14)50. The intercessors, the Mother of God and St John the Bap-
tist, figurate behind the throne, assisting the Great Judge, as illustrated earlier in
the Wallachian mural painting.
From the Wallachian Bishop Stephens church foundation at Blneti-
Rmeti (1658/9) are preserving four royal icons, from which Christs icon pres-
ents a Deesis scene: Christ the Great Archbishop, on throne, is accompanied by

Carmen Laura Dumitrescu, O reconsiderare a picturii din Stneti-Vlcea, pp. 153-256.
As states C. L. Dumitrescu , ibidem, pp. 28-30.
Wilhelm Nyssen, Pmnt cntnd n imagini, Romanian Orthodox Church Biblical
Institute Publishings, Bucharest, 1978, p. 32.
M. I. Sabados, Iconografia temei Deisis, pp. 26-31.
Alexandru Efremov, Bucharest, 2003, pp. 51-52.

Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th Centuries.

Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist, fully represented flanking the Great Judges

throne (today, in the museum of Hurezi monastery)51.
Another Deesis formula in the royal icon painting of the late 17th century and
early 18th century, presents the Pantocrator on throne, flanked by the Virgin Mary
and John the Baptist as intercessors. A first icon of this type in Wallachia is the one
of the Romanian painter from Bjeti, Tudoran (1668/9). This iconography evokes
the Maiestas Domini theme, by the presence of the Tetramorph at the feet of the
throne. It is reproduced later by the painter Prvu Mutu in the royal icon of Christ
from Filipetii de Pdure (fig. 15). The Pantocrator on throne in the center of a
Deesis composition was also used in Moldavia in the 16th century icon painting, in
the center of the Great Deesis register of the iconostases of Humor and Moldovia
and in the royal icons from Vizantea and Coneti52.
The hierarchical Deesis icon theme reappears at the end of erban Canta-
cuzinos reign, in the royal icon from St. George church of Turnu-Severin (today,
at the National Art Museum of Romania) painted in 1687/8 by the painter Neacu,
in the royal icon from St. George church from Costetii de Vale (Dmbovia)53,
and, at the end of the century, in the royal icon of Hurezi monastery church.
The royal icons of Christ as High Priest sitting on throne and assisted or not
by the intercessors presents some features of the typical Pantocrator icon: the text
of the open Gospel book holded by Christ in the image often reproduces the peri-
cope from John 8, 12: I am the light of the world, text which accompanied the
Byzantine Pantocrator image since the 19th century. Its recurrent imperial con-
notations are revealed in the icon of the painter Athanasie (1699), from the Met-
ropolitan Church of Trgovite (today, at the National Art Museum of Romania,
fig. 16), through the two-headed eagles represented on Christ the Archbishops
Entered in the iconography of the Church, the theme Deesis has a pure theo-
logical value. It is true, however, that their recurrence in especially in large aulic
church foundations, Byzantine and post-Byzantine (in the Romanian Principali-
ties, Russia) may have a subsidiary significance, adressed especially to the faithful
princes who, by their protectorate over the Church, aspired to present themselves
as good Christian rulers at the Last Judgement, in front of Christ the Great Em-

Idem, Portrete de donatori n pictura de icoane din ara Romneasc, in Buletinul
Monumentelor Istorice, t. XL (1971), nr.1, p. 45.
M. I. Sabados, Iconografia temei Deisis, p. 32 and fig. 11-12.
Ana Dobjanschi, Maria Georgescu, Icoane din Trgovite. Secolele XVI-XIX, Bucharest,
1998, catalogue nr. 32.
Constana Costea, Constantinopolul n iconografia trzie din ara Romneasc, SCIA -
AP, vol. L (1993), p. 53 sqq.

Elisabeta Negru

peror and Priest. The conceiving and the illustration of the Christian ruler cult
does not belong only to princes but also to theologians, who prescribed teachings
of political theology in parenetic purposes, to the rulers. The epicenter of this
parenetic message regarding the Christian faithful rulership is, in the iconographic
programs, the imperial-hierarchical Deesis theme. Christ is exalted as the leader
par excellence, Emperor and Priest, who receives the offerings and prayers of the
believers in His heavenly altar. He gives people the power of ruling but also judg-
es the unfaithful administration of this power, as the Book of Revelations shows55.
The Deesis theme adress monarchs a parenetic message which exalts Christ as the
absolute model of all Christian kings and lords.

Revelations, 13-14.

Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th Centuries.


Fig. 1. Panagia Drosiani (7th
cent.). Nave, north apse. The Vir-
gin Nikopoios with Sts. Anargyroi
(above) and the Deesis (below) dis-
playing Christ in center, Virgin Mary
with King Solomon (left), Ecclesia
and St. John the Prodrome (right).

Fig. 2. Markov monastery church (Macedonia), naves northern wall (cca. 1376/77)
Elisabeta Negru

Fig. 3 Christ Emperor and Priest, the

central panel of Deesis triptych, Ohrid, 15th

Fig. 4 Christ Emperor and High Priest,

the painter John of Crete, 1644 (today, at the
National Art Museum of Romania)
Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th Centuries.

Fig. 5. Imperial-hierarchical Deesis, 15th century (today, in
Andrei Rublev Museum, Moscow)

Fig. 6. Imperial-
hierarchical Deesis, Zrze
(Macedonia), entry into
the nave, 1535

Fig. 7. Imperial-hierarchi-
cal Deesis, Secu, the southern
entrance of the church, 1602
Elisabeta Negru

Fig. 8. Akathistos Hymn, kontakion 11, Voronet

(outside southern wall, 1547)

Fig. 9. Sucevia, votive compo-

sition, nave (1595-1606).

Fig. 10. Struga, triptych, ca. 1500, Last

Judgement. Upper panel: Imperial Deesis.
Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th Centuries.

Fig. 11. St.
Nicholas Princely
church, Arges, Deesis
entry into the nave (ca.

Fig. 12. Deesis, painting from

Arges monastery church nave, ca.
1526 (today, at the National Art Mu-
seum of Romania)

Fig. 13. Church of

Stneti-Valcea (1536). South-
ern apse of the nave: Deesis
with Virgin Mary Empress.
Elisabeta Negru

Fig. 14. Christ High Priest, painter

Nicola, Targoviste, the second half of
17th century.

Fig. 15. Christ Pantocrator on the

throne, painter Prvu Mutu, Filipestii de
Pdure, ca. 1685.
Desis in the Romanian Painting of the 14th-18th Centuries.

Fig. 16. Christ High Priest, painter
Athanasie, Targoviste, 1699.