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LOT 1180

Sold for (Inc. bp): £11,160

20 3/4 x 34 1/4" (10.5 kg, 53 x 87cm).

A carved wooden icon of St John the Theologian; ornate high-relief frame with flanking columns, scrolled acanthus leaves and palmettes, gilded on a black field; central figure of John standing robed on a gilt background, diaper pattern floor, delicately tooled halo and inner border; two blocks of ornate Greek text; two transverse wooden blocks to the reverse and a substantial iron suspension ring.

Property of an Oxfordshire gentleman; formerly with Sotheby's, L08114, lot 524 (£30,000-£50,000); by inheritance, 2001.

An icon is an image not of the earthly world, but of a spiritual one. This idea goes back to the cosmological views that Christianity inherited from Greek philosophy in the third and fourth centuries AD which believed that the upper spheres of the universe were more spiritual, with matter becoming more predominant the lower down. Thus in the material world of humans the icon was an image in matter of an event or person whose actual reality is in a higher, invisible and spiritual world. In this concept lies the mystery of the Incarnation and the icon celebrates the fact that matter is spiritualised as a result of the divine descent. It is through contemplating icons that the worshipper transcends what is normal human experience and enters the realm of the divine.

After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 many of the most celebrated icon painters, along with academics, theologians, scientists and many others, fled to the Greek islands, Italy or territories under the control of the Italian city states and there flourished. The icons of the Greek islands are considered to be some of the most pure as they are direct descendants of the Byzantine types that graced the churches of the capital. The majority of the Greek islands came under the control of Venice and later in the history of icon painting Western styles are seen to mix with those of the Greek, most notably the Veneto-Cretan icons that were popular across western Christendom, and Greek styles influenced such artists as Giotto in Italy.

St John the Apostle, also known as the Theologian, was known as the 'disciple whom Jesus loved', and was the author of the fourth Gospel, known as the 'Gospel of Love', as well as three of the Catholic Epistles and the Book of Revelations. The great vision that he had in a cave on the island of Patmos occurred during his exile there by the emperor Trajan. It was in this cave that he dictated the terrible vision of the last days to his companion, the deacon Prochorus. John published his Gospel in Ephesus, where he spent the last years of his life from 98 to 117 AD.