Among the media used to make Byzantine icons, stone carving is one of the least common. Icons were typically painted wooden panels, (see BZ.1982.2) and, less frequently, small-scale reliefs in precious materials such as ivory or steatite (see BZ.1952.12). While in the eleventh and twelfth centuries western Europe experienced a great upsurge in architectural sculpture, Byzantium produced only a few tentative examples. This phenomenon should be understood in the light of Byzantine iconoclasm, the divisive controversy over religious images in the eighth and ninth centuries. An icon of God or the Saints was only permissible by understanding it not as the true presence of the holy person depicted, but as a sign pointing to him or her. In other words, an icon was a portal that allowed the worshiper to convey prayers to the distant, spiritual realm, just as two-dimensional painted images created an illusion of the living figure of the saint. Sculptures, because they entered the real three-dimensional space of the viewer, behaved more like concrete materializations of the Holy. Relief sculptures, straddling the second and third dimensions, were acceptable as icons, though they never really caught on in Byzantium. Stone reliefs of the Virgin normally show her facing front with arms raised in prayer, but in this case, she is shown facing right with her hands extended in an attitude of intercession, a type given the name Hagiosoritissa (see BZ.1936.31). This relief was probably originally placed inside a church, on a pillar, to the left of the bema, or sanctuary, while an image of John the Baptist occupied the pillar on the right. Together, they would have expressed the common belief in the place of the Virgin and St. John as the first among those authorized to intercede with God.
M. C. Ross, Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum 9.4 (1941), esp. 75-76.
The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University, Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 25, no. 41, fig. p. 35.
The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 18, no. 48, fig. p. 32.
S. der Nersessian, "Two Images of the Virgin in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 14 (1960): 69-86.
R. Lange, Die byzantinische Reliefikone, Beitrüge zur Kunst des christlichen Ostens (Recklinghausen, 1964), 77-78, pl. p. 74.
Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 8, no. 26.
G.-H. Zuchold, "Byzanz in Berlin: der Klosterhof im Schlosspark Glienicke," Berliner Forum 4 (1984): 1-86, esp. 24, fig. 25.
———, Der "Klosterhof" des Prinzen Karl von Preussen im Park von Schloss Glienicke in Berlin, Bauwerke und Kunstdenkmäler von Berlin 20-21 (Berlin, 1993), no. 12.
G. Vikan, Catalogue of the Sculpture in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection from the Ptolemaic Period to the Renaissance, Dumbarton Oaks Catalogues (Washington, D.C., 1995), 100-103, no. 39, pl. 39A-C.
H. C. Evans and W. D. Wixom, The Glory of Byzantium : Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 11-July 6, 1997 (New York, 1997), 44-45, no. 11.
Mother of God : Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art, ed. M. Vasilake, exhibition catalogue, Mouseio Benake, 20th October 2000-20th January 2001 (Milan, New York, 2000), 356, no. 38, pl. p. 357.
G. B. Guest, "Authorizing the Toledo Moralized Bible: Exegesis and the Gothic Matrix," Word & Image 18 (2002), esp. 240-241.
G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 154, pl. p. 155.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843 - 1261," March 11 - July 6, 1997, no. 11.
Athens, Benaki Museum, "Mother of God: Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art," Oct. 20, 2000 - Jan. 20, 2001.
Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, "Byzantine Art from the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," April 2005 - Nov. 2007.
Collection of Prince Friedrich Leopold of Prussia;
Purchased from H. Fiedler, Lugano, Switzerland, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, June 13, 1938;
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, June 1938-November 1940;
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.