Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Christ Bearing the Cross

Nicolaos Tzafouris (Greek, ca. 1455–1500/1501)
Oil and tempera on wood, gold ground
27 1/4 x 21 1/2 in. (69.2 x 54.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Bashford Dean Memorial Collection, Funds from various donors, 1929
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 303
Nicholaos Tzafouris was one of the many icon painters working in the city of Candia (now Iraklion) in Crete at the time when Crete was under the control of Venice. The combination of Byzantine and Latin elements seen in many Cretan icons was well received locally and in Italy. The Greek inscription on this icon describes a Byzantine icon type in which soldiers drag Christ to Golgotha. The image here, however, is western in type, showing Christ carrying the cross to Golgotha. The soldier before Christ wears contemporary Italian armor, and those behind him wear Byzantine or Cretan armor.
Inscription: Signed and inscribed: (lower center) NICOLAVS·ZAFVRI·PINXIT·; (top, in Greek) [Christ] being dragged to the cross; (beside Christ's head, in Greek) Jesus Christ; (right, on banner) SPQR
private collection, Barcelona (sold to Drey); [Drey, Munich; sold to Dean]; Bashford Dean, Riverdale, N.Y. (by 1920/25–d. 1928; his estate, 1928–29; sold with his collection to MMA)
Baltimore. Walters Art Gallery. "Holy Image, Holy Space: Icons and Frescoes from Greece," August 21–October 16, 1988, no. 52.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557)," March 23–July 4, 2004, no. 308.

New York. Onassis Cultural Center. "The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete," November 17, 2009–February 27, 2010, no. 15.

Jean Jacques Reubell. Letter to Bashford Dean. March 24, 1910, judging from a photograph, suggests it is a 15th-century Greco-Venetian work and notes that the armor is Italian.

Charles Buttin. Letter to Bashford Dean. March 25, 1910, discusses the peculiar armor in this painting.

Bashford Dean. Manuscript catalogue of his arms and armor collection. 1920–25 [original in Kienbusch library, Philadelphia Museum of Art] paintings, no. 10, attributes this panel to a Sicialian painter, perhaps because another panel from the same retable was said to be in the museum of Palermo [Museo Nazionale]; notes that when our picture was obtained from Drey (in Munich) "it was so discolored, the figures could hardly be seen. It had been varnished several times and the face of Christ had been painted over."; remarks that it came to Drey from a collector in Barcelona.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 1, records the signature and identifies the painter as Nicolaus Zafuri [Nicolaos Tzafouris].

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 212, 286, 607.

G. Kalas in Holy Image, Holy Space: Icons and Frescoes from Greece. Ed. [Myrtali Acheimastou-Potamianou]. Exh. cat., Walters Art Gallery. Athens, 1988, pp. 49, 134–35, 211, no. 52, ill. in color (overall and detail), dates it 1489–1500, noting that it is one of five signed icons by the artist; transcribes the Latin and Greek inscriptions and discusses the juxtaposition of Byzantine and Italian elements in the composition.

Maria Georgopoulou in Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557). Ed. Helen C. Evans. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2004, pp. 505–6, no. 308, ill. (color), discusses the conflation of Italian and Byzantine motifs; suggests that the difference in Byzantine and Western types of armor may have been intended to distinguish the Jews from the Roman soldiers.

Maria Constantoudaki-Kitromilides. "Tradition and Diversity: Icon Painting in Crete, Venice, and the Ionian Islands." The Greek World under Ottoman and Western Domination: 15th–19th Centuries. Ed. Paschalis Kitromilides and Dimitris Arvanitakis. New York, 2008, pp. 55, 71 n. 7.

Maria Constantoudaki-Kitromilides et al. in The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete. Ed. Anastasia Drandaki. Exh. cat., Onassis Cultural Center. New York, 2009, pp. 15, 56, 60, 62, 68, no. 15, ill. (color).

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