The Large Crucifix from the Icon Museum of Korčula
The Large Crucifix from the Icon Museum of Korčula

By Maria Vavva | National and Kapodistrian University of Athens


The large Crucifix (Crux Magna), as it is known in the literature, is a large painted cross that was used to top an iconostasis. Today, this example is preserved in the Icon Museum of Korčula, which belongs to the fraternity of All Saints in the city.

It survives only in a fragment of the vertical section. The horizontal limbs, the top and bottom parts, and the frame decoration are missing. According to Francesco Radić, who saw it almost complete (1892), the limbs had four-leaf medallions with the symbols of the evangelists on the end. Each horizontal limb measured 100 cm in length.

The part of the icon that is preserved measures 2.34 x 51 cm and is executed in tempera on wood. The body of Christ is painted on a wooden cross against a golden background, following the conventional post-Byzantine manner. He is depicted dead with his head tilted toward his shoulder. The lifeless body hangs from its shoulders with the crossed feet nailed to the arm of the cross. A short girdle wraps his waist tightly. On the upper end of the painted board is attached the Greek titulus ΙΝΒΙ, an abbreviation for the words ΙΗCOΥC ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟC ΒΑCΙΛΕΥC ΙΟΥΔΑΙΩΝ (John 19:19) [Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews].

According to local tradition, it was brought to Korčula from Crete with the galley of a Korčulan nobleman in 1668, a year before the surrender of Candia to the Turks. This information has been recorded by the chronographer Petar Dimitri Dimitrije: “dalli muri di questa chiesa stavano appesi molti quadri di pittura greca che con due croci che pure erano colocatein essa chiesa fatte di tavola con cornici all'estremita indorate sono stati transportati da Candia, nell' anno in cui i Veneti si ritiravano da colla, da una galera curzolana commandata in qualita di sopracomito da un nobile di Curzola e donati in detta chiesa” / “on the walls of this church hung many paintings in the Greek style, which with two crosses that were also placed in this church, made of wood panel with gilded frames, have been transported from Candia, in the year in which the Venetians withdrew from there, on a Korčulan galley commanded by a noble from Korčula, and were offered to the aforementioned church.”

The Crucifix had been mentioned before in the contemporary report of the local bishop Nikola Spanić (1673–1707), who during his visit to the church of All Saints (1699) mentioned that the “Great Crucifix” on the altar of Stss Rocco and Anthony had arrived from Candia (“In ecclesia Omnium Sanctorum. In dicta Ecclesia ad altare S. Rochi e S. Antonii Abb. ubi est crux Magna translate de Candiae Regno 1668” / “In the church of All Saints. In the aforementioned church at the altar of St Rocco and St Anthony the Abba wherein a large Cross is located, transported from the Realm of Candia in 1668.”) The reason these icons had been transferred to Korčula instead of Venice or the Ionian Islands, as was the case with the majority of the artworks recovered from Cretan churches, remains unclear. It is possible that Venice was intended as their final destination.


This Crucifix offers one of the very few surviving examples of post-Byzantine iconostasis crownings, produced in the early 17th century Venetian Crete. The iconography of Christ reproduces the typical Venetian Trecento style. The whole synthesis, in terms of the classical figure of Christ and his serene expression, relies more on the paintings of Paolo Veneziano (1333–died 1358/62). For that reason, the artwork was considered, in the past, as an Italo-Cretan painting of the 14th or the 15th century, but at the same time, the linear design with the use of subtle vivid highlights, the color palette, and some iconographic details like the inscription in Greek lettering instead of Latin, link it to the Cretan icon-painting style of the 16th century.

This skilful combination of elements of Italian and late Byzantine painting traditions undoubtedly reveals the work of a high-standing Cretan workshop. The comparison to the Crucifix at St. Catherine’s monastery at Sinai, in terms of the body posture and form, the gentle facial features and the typology of the girdle, points directly to the manner of the Cretan painter Ieremias Palladas (1608–45).

Ieremias, a Sinaitic monk in the dependency of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Candia (modern Heraklion), was a renowned teacher and painter, specializing in painted crosses and icons for iconostasis/templon. It appears that his precise design technique and the unique way in which he adopted iconographic themes, in-vogue during the 15th and 16th centuries, established him as a painter among the official ecclesiastical circles and led to a whole generation of painters that repeated his work.

The greater part of his work on crucifixes for iconostasis has come down to us mainly from notarial documents in the archives of the Duca di Candia and Notai di Candia (State Archive of Venice). According to the written sources, he painted the cross and icons for some of the greatest pilgrimage churches of the Holy Land, such as the church of the Holy Sepulchre (1608), the monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai (1612), the patriarchal church in Cairo (before 1631), and the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (1639). In Candia, he executed the crucifixes for the iconostasis of the church of Panagia Trimartyre (before 1631) and for the dependency of St. Catherine of Sinai (before 1633).

Given that these are the only painted crosses of Ieremias Palladas known to us from his works in Candia, it would not be entirely out of place to assume that the large Crucifix of Korčula adorned the iconostasis of one of these two churches. In accordance with the relevant documents, as well as the artistic maturity in terms of technique, compared to other works of the painter, the icon should be dated between the second and third decades of the 17th century, with the year 1633 serving as a terminus ante quem for its creation.


Further Reading

Radić, F. “Tri nadoltarska gotička križa sa naslikanijem propecém u riznici starodavne bratovštine Svijeh Svetijeh u Korčuli”, Vjesnik Arheološkog muzeja u Zagrebu 44:1 (1892), 111-118.

This is the first publication of the large Crucifix with reference to the parts that are missing.

Gamulin, Ggro. “Italokrećani na Našoj Obali”, Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji 16 (1966): 265-270.

The article contains a detailed review of the Crucifix which is examined with a group of post-byzantine icons from the same region.

Gamulin, Ggro. The Painted Crucifixes in Croatia, Monumenta Artis Croatiae: First series, Zagreb 1983: 36-39, 124, cat. XII.

This extensive study links the Korčulan Crucifix with the one on the iconostasis of St Catherine’s monastery at Sinai as works of an unknown Cretan painter.

Kazanaki-Lappa Maria. "Ο ξυλόγλυπτος σταυρός της Ευαγγελίστριας του Λιβόρνου (1643) και οι σταυροί στα κρητικά τέμπλα", Ευφρόσυνον. Αφιέρωμα στον Μανόλη Χατζηδάκη, vol. 1, Athens 1991: 219-237, pl. 115.

The article discusses the systematic production and export of Cretan Crucifixes in the eastern Mediterranean and the Adriatic.

This contribution was sponsored by the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture at Hellenic College Holy Cross.

Maria Vavva, "The Large Crucifix from the Icon Museum of Korčula," Mapping Eastern Europe, eds. M. A. Rossi and A. I. Sullivan, accessed June 3, 2023,