This Veneto-Cretan icon stands as an extraordinary record of the continuing religious and artistic dialogue between Greek and Italian artists and patrons in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Painted by a hand trained in the Byzantine iconographic tradition, it depicts three theologians of the Western church--Saints Anselm and Augustine and, exceptionally in a Greek icon, the Blessed John Duns Scotus in Franciscan habit--with the Prophets David and Solomon. The style is a striking hybridisation of Byzantine elements--such as the landscape, typical of Cretan examples--and Western ones, such as the 'soft' drapery of the figures, fastened below the neck with brooch-like clasps unknown in Eastern examples, and the array of angels in the upper register. The inscriptions on the banderoles, while Latin, are written in a hand which seems more accustomed to writing in Greek, occasionally substituting Greek letter forms for the standard Latin ones. The inscription held by the Angel can be transcribed '[Enim] p[ro] te [sed] p[ro] omnib[us] hec lex /co[n]stituta est.' (Esther 15:13--the gesture of Christ blessing with a sceptre draws a typological parallel to Ahasuerus in the story of Esther); the Virgin, 'Euristi a framea Deus a nima mea' (Psalm 21:21); Augustine, 'I[n] celo qualis e[st]· P[ater] talis e[st] filius· interis qualis e[st]· Mat[er]· ·talis e[st] filius s[ecundu]m carne[m]', (Sermon XX, Ad Fratres); Anselm, 'Non puto esse veru[m] amator[em] virginis q[ui] celebrare respuit festw[m] sue conceptionis', (Pseudo-Anselm, Sermo de Conceptionis Beatae Virginis Mariae); John Duns Scotus, 'videt p[ro]babile q[u]o[d] e[st] excellentius attribuere marie [in?]fidi' (Opera Omnia, Paris, 1894, III Sententia, Distinctio 3, Quaestio 1); David, 'in sole posuit tabernaculu[m] suu[m]' (Psalm 19:6); and Solomon, 'Tota pwlcra es amica mea' (Song of Solomon 4:7). These lines have all been interpreted as relating to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, one of the key doctrinal differences in the teachings of the Eastern and the Western Church and a subject unknown in Greek painting.
The unusual iconography reappears in an altarpiece by Vincenzo Frediani (Lucca, Museo di Villa Guingi), which is documented as having been commissioned for the Franciscan establishment in Lucca in 1502 following an iconography provided by a certain monastic called Francisco Chroia, 'greco', and which itself influenced Francesco Francia's celebrated altarpiece in San Frediano, Lucca, commissioned in 1511. Yanni Petsopoulos has suggested that the handling in the present picture bears affinities to the work of the Cretan painter Nikolaos Ritzos (before 1482-1507), noting that in strict accordance to the Greek canon, the figure kneeling before Christ cannot be the Mother of God, who is never depicted with her head bare, but possibly Saint Mary Magdalene. We are grateful to Petsopoulos for his help in cataloguing this lot.