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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Restoration of a Byzantine Icon of the Virgin Hodegetria from Arta

In the summer of 1998 I undertook the task of restoring a litanic icon of the Virgin Hodegetria (140×80 cm) from the church of Hagios Nikolaos in Arta. It bore a representation of the Virgin and Child, painted on walnut wood with oil colors, and was dated from the first half of the twentieth century. The restoration process revealed an earlier layer of painting of the same subject that can be dated from the end of the seventeenth century. However, the most interesting find was another representation of the Virgin Hodegetria, which was concealed under the thick brown oil overpaint of the reverse and could be probably attributed to the fourteenth century. Thus, the icon proved to be two-sided with the Mother and Child subject decorating both sides. a. Front side: We X-rayed the faces of the twentieth-century Mother and Child, and, estimating the extension and condition of the earlier layer of painting, we removed the later representation. The icon thus revealed, although bears the inscription Hodegetria, belongs to the iconographic type of the Virgin Madre della Consolazione and on stylistic grounds can be dated at the end of the seventeenth century. b. Back side: The thick brown oil overpaint and the layer of varnish underneath were carefully removed and an earlier representation of the Virgin Hodegetria emerged. It is masterfully painted with egg-tempera on linen and gesso and skillfully gilded with gold; its varnish has obtained a reddish shade due to oxidation. The stylistic similarity of the representation to religious paintings from the workshops of Thessaloniki leads us to date the Virgin Hodegetria icon from the first half of the fourteenth century and to attribute it to the artistic environment of the capital of Northern Greece.