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A cavalry soldier in an icon of
Saint George and the boy from Mytilene,
Byzantine, 13th Century, British Museum 1984,0601.1
A larger image of a cavalry soldier in an icon of Saint George and the boy from Mytilene, Byzantine, 13th Century, British Museum 1984,0601.1
Two legends inspired the iconography of the boy with the cup. In the first the young boy was captured by the Bulgarians.
He was so handsome that their ruler made him a steward and kept the boy in his residence.
On the same evening Saint George rescued him, the ruler had asked him to bring water for hand-washing during the supper in the palace.
In the second the boy was taken into captivity by the Saracens and was made the personal cupbearer of the Emir of Crete;
he was in the act of offering a glass of wine to the Emir when Saint George appeared and rescued him.
The first representations of this iconography, in which the boy holds either a cup or a ewer, appeared in the twelfth century and then spread in the Eastern Mediterranean,
where they promoted the role of Saint George as defender of Christians in areas threatened by foreign invasion.
Source: Modernizing Medieval Iconography-Or, What Wouldn't We Do For A Cup Of Coffee
Title: Icon with St George and the youth of Mytilene
Description: Icon painted in egg tempera on gesso over linen on a pine panel. The background gesso is worked in relief, originally silvered.
On the reverse is a patriarchal cross painted in red. The icon represents a young beardless saint on horseback.
He is identified by an abraded, but just readable, Greek inscription in red letters which identifies him as St George.
He is shown on a white horse with a red harness. He is not alone on the horse but sitting behind him is a much smaller figure holding a glass of red wine.
St George wears a diadem and a red cloak flies out from his shoulders. He wears a ribbed cuirass over a blue tunic, and red hose. He carries a red lance.
The small figure wears a pale blue tunic and black hose. Below the white horse is a mountainous landscape and the sea.
The rest of the background and the saint’s halo are of gesso modelled into a three dimensional scroll pattern on which there are traces of silver.
Date: 13thC (mid)
Production place: Made in: Lod (?) (Asia, Middle East, Levant, Israel, Lod)
Materials: silver, pine, parchment, linen, gesso
Technique: tempera, silvered, painted
Dimensions: Height: 268 millimetres Width: 188 millimetres
Inscription Script: Greek
Inscription Position: at top
Inscription Language: Greek
Inscription Translation: St George
The subject of the icon can be identified from the Greek text of the posthumous miracles of St George.
The small figure is a young Christian from Mytilene, in captivity on the island of Crete.
According to the text the boy had been snatched from his family and forced to serve his Saracen masters with food and drink but,
in the very act of offering a glass of wine to his captors, he was rescued by St George and carried home across the Aegean Sea.
The three-dimensional scroll work, originally silvered, imitates the precious metal revetments found on some icons.
The date of the middle of the 13th century suggested for this icon depends primarily on a comparison with the wall paintings in the Kalenderhane Camii in Istanbul,
which include representations of St Francis and belong to the Latin period of Constantinople from 1204 to 1261,
and also with the miniatures of the Arsenal Bible (Paris, Arsenal, 5211).
Both these paintings belong to the middle of the 13th century, and were painted by artists who came with the Crusaders to the East.
The artist of the British Museum icon also shows some characteristics of style derived from the West,
and for this reason it is suggested that either he or his master had been trained in Paris.
But the artist was well versed in Byzantine iconography and for this reason it can be assumed that he was working in the Byzantine East.
Various suggestions have been made about the provenance of this icon, including Cyprus, Acre, Lydda and even the monastery of St Catherine at Sinai.
Cormack (2007)1 has suggested that the same painter produced a number of icons which are now in the collection at Sinai,
and that he did indeed work in the monastery, perhaps producing icons for Western pilgrims or for other Christians in the monastery.
These connections with other icons have been based not only on style but on similarities of techniques of working.
The technical features (such as the use of parchment in building up the gesso frame around the panel) are discussed most fully in the paper of Harrison et al (2008)2.
Mouriki3 reversed the stylistic arguments and argued for a Cypriote artist influenced by western art of the period.
This is an important argument as it exposes the problems of art in the Crusader period,
when eastern and western artists (and their work) impinged on each other, and each “side” took ideas from the other (Robin Cormack).
1R. Cormack, Icons, London, 2007 (repr. 2014), 70-83, 116, no. 13
2L. Harrison, R. Cormack, C.R. Cartwright and J. Ambers, ‘An Icon of St. George: preparation for a portrait of a saint’, in J.H. Townsend, T. Doherty, G. Heydenreich and J. Ridge (eds), Preparation for Painting: The Artist's Choice and its Consequences, London, 2008, 14–-21.
3D. Mouriki, ‘Thirteenth-Century Icon Painting in Cyprus’, The Griffon, n.s., 1-2 (1985-6), 9–112
Condition: Much of the gesso has been lost from the edges of the panel, and parts of the red paint are abraded. Some damage in the horse, but generally in good condition.
Named in inscription & portrayed: St George
Purchased from: Stavros Mihalarias
Acquisition date: 1984
Acquisition notes: Sold as a 19th century Russian icon at Christies on 31 March 1968, and described as from an English collection; purchased by BM in 1984 from Fine Art Conservation Ltd.
Registration number: 1984,0601.1
Additional IDs: IC 13 (Icon Collection number)
Referenced on p.33, Byzantine Cavalryman c.900-1204 by Timothy Dawson (Author), Giuseppe Rava (Illustrator)
The thirteenth-century date of this magnificent icon held in the British Museum is indicated by the stylized form of Saint George's armour.
It does illustrate how Western influences, such as the high knightly saddle, began to percolate Roman practice from the late twelfth century.
Referenced on pp.46-47, WAR – 018 – Knight of Outremer AD 1187-1344 (Warrior) by David Nicolle (Author), Christa Hook (Illustrator)
Icon of St George and the Young Man of Mitylene, possibly made at Lydda in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, mid 13th century. Although the saint wears unrealistic pseudo-Roman armour he rides a horse with a realistic 13th-century saddle. (National Icon Collection, no. 13, British Museum, London)
See also Byzantine Fresco of the Centurion at the Crucifixion, Katholikon at the monastery of Panagia Mavriotissa, Kastoria, Greece, c.1260AD
Bible of St. John of Acre, 1250-1254AD, Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms-5211 réserve
Other Byzantine Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers
Other 13th Century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers