Christ Bearing the Cross

Artist: Nicolaos Tzafouris (Greek, ca. 1455–1500/1501)

Medium: Oil and tempera on wood, gold ground

Dimensions: 27 1/4 x 21 1/2 in. (69.2 x 54.6 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Bashford Dean Memorial Collection, Funds from various donors, 1929

Accession Number: 29.158.746


After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, much of the coastal territory of the empire, including certain islands, was annexed by the Italian merchant states. This occurrence fostered the interaction of Western and Byzantine artistic traditions. Crete, which came under Venetian control in 1204, developed a style of icon painting intended to appeal to both Orthodox and Latin patrons. Nicolaos Tzafouris was one of many Cretan artists working in the city of Candia (modern Iraklion) immediately after the fall of Constantinople. He wrote "Nicolaus Zafuri painted it" in large letters, in Latin, across the bottom of this image and perhaps also "[Christ] Being Dragged to the Cross," which is inscribed above the scene in Greek. The use of Greek for the title implies that the image will follow the Byzantine iconographic formula, with Christ shown beside the cross, being carried to Golgotha by Simon of Cyrene, as described in Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, and Luke 23:26. Instead, the icon follows the Western tradition that shows Christ bearing the cross himself, as stated in John 19:17. Since Tzafouris produced works for export as well as for local use, it is possible that this painting was destined for the Italian market.