Jesus Christ Pantokrator
The icon of Jesus Christ Pantokrator is one of the most common religious images of Orthodox Christianity. Generally speaking, in Medieval eastern roman church art and architecture, an iconic mosaic or fresco of Christ Pantokrator occupies the space in the central dome of the church, in the half-dome of the apse, or on the nave vault. Some scholars (Latourette 1975: 572) consider the Pantocrator a Christian adaptation of images of Zeus, such as the great statue of Zeus enthroned at Olympia. The development of the earliest stages of the icon from Roman Imperial imagery is easier to trace.
The image of Jesus Christ Pantokrator was one of the first images of Jesus Christ developed in the Early Christian Church and remains a central icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the half-length image, Christ holds the New Testament in his left hand and makes the gesture of teaching or of blessing with his right. The typical Western Christ in Majesty is a full-length icon. In the early Middle Ages, it usually presented Christ in a mandorla or other geometric frame, surrounded by the Four Evangelists or their symbols.
The oldest known surviving example of the icon of Christ Pantocrator was painted in encaustic on panel in the sixth or seventh century, and survived the period of destruction of images during the Iconoclastic disputes that twice racked the Eastern church, 726 to 787 and 814 to 842. It was preserved in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, in the remote desert of the Sinai. The gessoed panel, finely painted using a wax medium on a wooden panel, had been coarsely overpainted around the face and hands at some time around the thirteenth century. When the overpainting was cleaned in 1962, the ancient image was revealed to be a very high-quality icon, probably produced in Constantinople.
The icon, traditionally half-length when in a semi-dome, which became adopted for panel icons also, depicts Jesus Christ fully frontal with a somewhat melancholy and stern aspect, with the right hand raised in blessing or, in the early encaustic panel at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, the conventional rhetorical gesture that represents teaching. The left hand holds a closed book with a richly decorated cover featuring the Cross, representing the Gospels. An icon where Christ has an open book is called “Christ the Teacher”, a variant of the Pantocrator. Christ is bearded, his brown hair centrally parted, and his head is surrounded by a halo. The icon is usually shown against a gold background comparable to the gilded grounds of mosaic depictions of the Christian emperors.
Often, the name of Christ is written on each side of the halo, as IC and XC. Christ’s fingers are depicted in a pose that represents the letters IC, X and C, thereby making the Christogram ICXC (for “Jesus Christ”). The IC is composed of the Greek characters iota (Ι) and lunate sigma (C; instead of Σ, ς)—the first and last letters of ‘Jesus’ in Greek (Ἰησοῦς); in XC the letters are chi (Χ) and again the lunate sigma—the first and last letters of ‘Christ’ in Greek (Χριστός). An example of the early pre-400 AD Greek “IC XC” shorthand is available at | Here | and scrolling down to Matt. 1:16.
In many cases, Christ has a cruciform halo inscribed with the letters Ο Ω Ν, i.e. ὁ ὢν “He Who Is”.