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by Archaeology Newsroom

Iconostasis Closure Panels and Ex-votos in the Ionian Islands (17th-18th cent.). From the Devotional Icon to the Religious Panel Painting: Ideological and Social Implications

The history of devotional icons in the Ionian islands during the second half of the seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth century is marked by a gradual departure from Byzantine traditions. The painters of the Heptanesian school will finally abandon post-Byzantine styles as a whole in favour of the oil-paint technique and naturalism. In order to examine the evolution from devotional icon to panel painting, this article focuses on iconostasis closure panels (thorakia) from Zakynthos – reproducing en masse western engravings – and ex-votos, two representative categories of religious artwork, pertaining to the public and private worship respectively. By contrast to the austere character of the traditional iconostasis, the closure panels of Zakynthos exhibit a rich iconographic repertoire which reflects a new system of values. At the same time, ex-votos include now features from the commissioner’s environment, quite often rendered in naturalistic precision. Following the Ottoman conquest of Crete, Greek-speaking populations in the Ionian islands ceased to be self-defined in juxtaposition to the Venetians – as was largely the case in Crete – or on the basis of a common religious dogma. A new bourgeois class was emerging, which considered Venice and its public image as a major model, independently of the ethnic origin or the religious beliefs of its members. The consequences of such changes were immediately felt in aesthetics and art; as a result, bourgeois soon turned to naturalism in order to express their religious feelings.