Father Loukas of Xenophontos, Anastasis (Resurrection)
This is the primary icon for the festival for Easter. It depicts Jesus Christ liberating Adam and Eve from confinement in Hell, along with John the Baptist at left and King David at right. Christ’s shifting pose reflects the burden of lifting all the virtuous dead who preceded him towards the light. Even mountain peaks bend towards his central position, reinforcing the idea of convergence or assembly that will occur in the Kingdom of Heaven. Dark-skinned Hades lies among broken locks and keys, bound and trampled beneath the gates of hell at Christ’s feet. Instead of showing the women coming to the empty tomb, this icon depicts a scene not described in the Bible: Christ descends into Hell, marking his human death, and through his divine nature, he triumphs over Hades and resurrects the dead.
The almond shaped aureole behind Christ, or mandorla (meaning almond nut in Italian), appears to be a form of portal into Heaven, and it can be found in other pictorial narratives of Christianity such as the Transfiguration and the Dormition of the Virgin. Its edges are white and it grows darker towards the center, reflecting the inability of terrestrial beings to see or depict divine light.
The origins of the Anastasis icon have been traced by Anna Kartsonis to the late 7th century in the context of theological debates over the status of the two energies, wills and natures of Christ within the context of Christ’s death and resurrection.1 The active image of Christ, radiating divine light, and trampling upon Hades as symbol of death, indicates the fully active divine nature of Christ, working through divine wills and energies even when Christ’s human body lies dead in the tomb.
While the first surviving examples of the Anastasis iconography date from the 8th century, this Athonite icon is based directly on a specific fourteenth-century example. Converging mountains peaks and hand gestures reflect the curved surface of the apse of the funerary chapel of the Chora Monastery in Istanbul, built and decorated under the patronage of Theodore Metochites (1315-21).2 The artist faithfully transfers the image from three to two-dimensional space, but excludes two large crowds who stood next to King David and John the Baptist. Due to the curve of the apse and the three quarter oblique poses of the figures, John the Baptist and King David physically face one another, without the viewer losing sight of their frontality.
Kartsonis, Anna. Anastasis: The Making of an Image. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.
Underwood, Paul. The Kariye Djami, 4 vols. New York: Pantheon Books, 1966–75.
2Underwood, Kariye Djami, vol. III: The Frescoes.