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January 15, 2022

A Rare Icon of Christ and John the Baptist Playing at the Jordan River as Children

This icon is attributed to Theodoros Poulakis, from the first half of the 17th century, from the Ionian Islands.

It depicts Christ wearing a luminous white chiton and a circular golden halo, represented in a contrapostal posture, his right hand raised in astonishment, his left hand pointing in negation as if trying to prevent John from looking into the bowl he is holding, the latter wrapped in a blue himation, a golden ring floating above his head, a lamb and a cross appearing between the two boys, a genre scene in the foreground with ducks swimming in the river, a deer watering itself and a bucket hanging from the tree-branch behind, in the immediate background the buildings of a settlement, including a church, amidst a variety of trees, in the far background at the right a domed structure depicted in grisaille, above God the Father portrayed as the Ancient of the Days, emerging from the clouds in blessing, accompanied by three cherubs, the subject rendered realistically, painted mostly with pastel colours, the saturated green tones of the foliage naturally dividing the composition in the celestial and earthly worlds.

It was the property of the last descendant of the Matessi Family. The latter is recorded in the Libro d' Oro (Book of the Italian Nobility) of the Ionian Islands. The family roots are traced back to Lazzaro Matessi who was in the Service of Venice in the Peloponnese and subsequently the Head of the Noble House of Zakynthos, one of the Ionian Islands which were under Venetian rule. Until the early 17th century the family was probably Catholic since the names encountered are Italian. However, the marriage of Giovanni Matessi (b. 1645) to a Greek lady, Assimina Calofonou, led to their children receiving Greek names. This might suggest the conversion of the family to Orthodoxy, the latter having been adopted by the successive descendants to the present day. Giovanni Matessi was a contemporary of the artist Theodore Poulakis. It would make sense to assume that this panel, which prefigures the Baptism of Christ, was produced on the occasion of a family baptism or even a possible conversion of the family to Orthodoxy.