Christ Pantocrator

The iconic image of Christ Pantocrator ("Christ, Ruler of All") was one of the first images of 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. 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.Christ Pantocrator

The oldest known surviving example of the icon of Christ Pantocrator (illustration, right) 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 racked the Eastern church, 726 to 815 and 813 to 843, by being preserved in the remote desert of the Sinai, in Saint Catherine's Monastery. 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. It was only when the overpainting was cleaned in 1962 that the ancient image was revealed to be a very high quality icon, probably produced in Constantinople.

The subtlety, immediacy and realism of the image are immediately apparent, when the image is compared to any of the more familiar stiffened and hieratic icons— following the same model (illustration, top right)— that were painted after iconoclasm had been decisively rejected. Christ here is Christ the Teacher: the gesture of Christ's right hand is not the gesture of blessing, but the orator's gesture; the identical gesture is to be seen in a panel from an ivory diptych of an enthroned vice-prefect, a Rufius Probianus, ca 400, of which Peter Brown remarks, "With his hand he makes the 'orator's gesture' which indicates that he is speaking, or that he has the right to speak."