Progress report on my Pantocrator icon

My Pantocrator icon is progressing slowly but surely, but before I launch into that, here is a bit of background information on what it is all about:

Christ Pantocrator or Pantokrator ( from the Greek  Παντοκράτωρ) is one of the many names applied to God.  It means 'Almighty' or 'All-powerful', 'Ruler of All' or 'Sustainer of the World' and refers to God's omnipotence. It was the word used for Jesus Christ, when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek as the Septaugint in the late 2nd century BCE. The term Pantocrator is widely understood in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic tradition, but is relatively unknown to Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Christ Pantocrator icon at St Catherine's monastery, Sinai
The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator survives to this day at St Catherine's monastery in Sinai, Egypt. It was painted in the sixth or seventh century using encaustic (ie a process that used hot bees wax mixed with coloured pigments applied to canvas coated wood, using special metal tools). For a short explanation of the significance of this icon see Legacy Icons explanation of Christ Pantocrator for even more information see Trisagionfilms clip

The image of Christ shows him up to waist level. He has a melancholy, stern expression and his right hand is raised in blessing, though it could also be interpreted to be shown in a teaching gesture.  His left hand holds a gem-studded closed book representing the Gospels. A variant of the Pantocrator shows Jesus with an open book. In this version he is known as Christ the Teacher.
The Pantocrator figure of Christ is bearded, with centrally parted brown-hair and a halo.  Traditionally the background is gold, as mosaics of Christian emperors had been prepared against gilded backgrounds. On either side of the halo are the Greek letters IC and XC (which make up the Christogram which is an abbreviation for Jesus Christ).

Comparative mythology theories trace many Christian symbols to myths that originated in earlier civilizations. Christ Pantocrator has not escaped this type of scrutiny. Some scholars in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, suggested that Christ Pantocrator is a Christian adaptation of images of Zeus such as the great statue of Zeus enthroned in Olympia, or that it was informed by Roman imperial imagery. (1,2)

My Pantocrator icon progresses...

After application of the gold leaf halo and base layer on the tunic

Second coat completed on the tunic and under-painting completed on the hair

Blue base coat completed on the cloak

Colours used in the Christ Pantocrator icon have a specific meaning and cannot be changed. Red represents His divinity and blue his humanity. His tunic or inner garment is red indicating that his inherent nature is divine. His sash and cloak or outer garments are blue (or sometimes green) suggesting that he took on human form so that humanity could identify with him. (3)

First shading layers completed on the tunic and coat. Sankir applied to the face and hands

Sankir is a Russian word used to refer to the green tinged colour used in under painting flesh tones in an icon. The equivalent Greek word is protoplasmos. The exact proportion of pigments used varies depending on the icon school (and of course the pigments available). (4)

Icons are usually painted starting with the darkest colours as the 'ground' or base and progressing to the lighter colours and finally the highlights. Since I am still in the process of applying the 'ground' or base coats, look forward to a number of future posts...


1) Early Christian Art, Syndicus, Eduard, (1962) pp 96-99, Burns & Oates, London
2) A History of Ideas and Images in Italian Art, Hall, James (1983) pp. 78-80 and 91-97, John Murray, London


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