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Essay Analysisi of Martyrdom of Saint Demetrios

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Martyrdom of Saint Demetrios is a Cretan icon of the Byzantine period (figure 1). It is dated to the late fifteenth century CE. The icon consists of a tempera painting adorned with gold foil on a wooden board measuring seventeen inches tall by fourteen and one quarter inches wide by five eighths of an inch thick. Though Martyrdom of Saint Demetrios originally hung on the wall of a church or cathedral, it now resides in the Menil Collection. As the title suggests, the scene is that of Saint Demetrios’ Martyrdom. The fourth century emperor Galerius ordered Saint Demetrios’ death after the emperor lost his favorite gladiator to a Christian whom Saint Demetrios had blessed before the fight.
The artist of this icon composed the scene in a dynamical and condensed manner. Six soldiers stand to the left of the scene, each contorted in motion as they stab Saint Demetrios. These figures overlap each other quite a lot, which makes this portion of the scene the most chaotic. The crowding and commotion gives this area greater visual weight. The long, thin spears these assassins wield form sharp diagonals as they cross the violent scene and impale the saint. Saint Demetrios slumps to the right, having fallen, it seems, onto some kind of platform. A stone entranceway or niche directly behind Saint Demetrios frames him and visually breaks up the scene. As the six men murder him, Saint Demetrios receives the crown of martyrdom from an angel above him, depicted as a small winged figure. St. Loupos looks onward from the right as his friend bleeds from his many wounds, although he is mostly unseen thanks to the icon’s less-than-ideal condition.
Despite the artwork’s age, it still conveys the same narrative as it did in its original setting. Howev...


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...rtyrdom for the strength of his faith and his ultimate sacrifice. This suggests to the viewer that he as well should be willing to give his life for his faith.
The icon also fulfills a second task—that of educating worshipers of church traditions and of the lives of the saints. In an easy to understand visual language this icon clearly depicts a holy figure being killed and simultaneously rewarded, presumably for his sacrifice. The artist even went so far as to label the most important character in the story, Saint Demetrios, for the viewer.
This artwork not only visually engages the viewer as a beautiful example of Byzantine tempera painting but also elicits a spiritual response from its audience. Martyrdom of Saint Demetrios venerates Saint Demetrios and his sacrifice in order to imbue its audience with the same strength of faith seen in the martyrs last moments.



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