Gallery Christ on the Throne

10. february 2021

Among the oldest preserved sights, where we find a certain analogy with icons like Christ on the throne, in Church Slavonic Спас на престоле, is a mosaic with the scene “Adoration of the Magi” in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (432 - 440), with the baby Christ Emanuel sitting on the throne. Another sight is the mosaic with the scene “Procession of the Martyrs” in the temple of Saint Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (fifth - sixth centuries). A procession of martyrs with wreaths in hand approaches Christ on this mosaic, who is depicted in the traditional way as a man sitting on a throne with pillows and a footstool. The composition Christ on the Throne reached its final form after the end of the iconoclast period (iconoclasm). From the tenth century, this type of depiction of Christ was used in a monumental area. This is partly confirmed by the mosaics in the Church of St. Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία/Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople, today‘s Istanbul, where Christ is sitting on a throne, on the sides of which there are medallions in which the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Archangel Michael with a sword are depicted. Another mosaic in the Church of St. Sophia is Christ sitting on a throne, to the right of which stands the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomach (1042 - 1055) and to the left Empress Zoë (1042). Similar mosaics with Christ on the throne can also be found in Palermo from the twelfth century.

This iconographic type depicts Christ – Pantocrator in full figure, dressed in traditional robes, sitting on a throne with a pillow, with a blessing right hand. He has a book on his left knee, holding it from above with his hand, which, as in the iconography of Christ Pantocrator, can be open or closed. There is a footstool under the feet of Christ. As concerns the content of the texts mentioned in the Gospel in the icons of “Christ on the throne”, in addition to those encountered in the iconography of Christ Pantocrator, the following are generally given: Mark 8:34-35; John 3:16 and John 7:24.

The basic content of the iconography of “Christ on the throne” is the eschatological expectation of God‘s judgment of the world, with this idea being concentrated in the image of Christ – the Judge. The key to this clarification is the throne itself, which is used as an attribute of royal dignity to symbolically express the idea of a kingdom, which is very closely connected with the idea of a court, because each king was also the supreme judge. It is appropriate to mention at this point the words of David: “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19) “You sat on the throne judging in righteousness... But the LORD shall endure forever; He has prepared His throne for judgment.” (Psalm 9: 4, 7) It is important to remember that in this case it is not a material throne. The heavenly throne is the throne of the glory of the Deity, so even the throne depicted on the icon is only a symbol that helps human thinking to understand spiritual objects. 

The Lord also appeared in the Old Testament to the prophets in the form of a king ruling over the earthly nations. Christ‘s New Testament promises about things to come are equally important: “So Jesus said to them, ... when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, ... judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28) “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world... prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:32-34, 41) 

In the context of the theme of the icon “Christ on the throne” and on the basis of what has been said, the symbolism of the individual elements of the icon is revealed to us. The gesture of Christ‘s blessing right hand is a sign of God‘s final judgment of mankind. The book, with the text of the Gospel in the usual sense understood as the eternal word of God, instructing us on the way to salvation, in this case has the meaning of the criterion of justice, on the basis of which the spiritual - moral state of man is assessed. It is a book of court, of law. The throne with pillows and the footstool are symbols of the highest dignity and attributes of the Deity.

Description of the icon

Christ depicted in the icon, although sitting on a throne, does not have a sceptre or a sovereign crown, because his kingdom is not of this world, which he confirmed before Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36) The words of Christ are also confirmed by the Archangel Gabriel in the Annunciation of the Mother of God: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:33) The footstool under Christ‘s feet is a symbol of the earth, where Christ incarnated, was born, lived and taught, and finally offered sacrifice and salvation for the human race. In the Apostles we read: “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool.” (Acts 7:49) By sitting on the heavenly throne and touching the footstool (earth) with his feet, it is symbolically expressed that God the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ, connected heaven with the earth, and that Christ is, for all of us travelling to the heavenly Jerusalem, the only “way, truth and life” because “No one comes to the Father except through Me (Christ).” (John 14:6)

The background of the icon is gilded at the top, where the monogram of Jesus Christ IC XC is in red circles. The rest of the background of the icon is dominated by a mighty throne, shown in an inverted perspective. Christ is sitting on two pillows, a red and a blue one, which, like the garment, symbolize the two natures of Christ – the Divine and the human. The composition of the icon also includes the presence of the evangelists, in the form of symbolic representations. To the right of Christ, on the edge of the back of the throne, is a winged lion – the symbol of St. Mark, and on the opposite side of the back is a winged bull – the symbol of St. Luke. On the column on the left, from the viewer‘s point of view, is the eagle – the symbol of St. John and on the column on the right a winged man – the symbol of St. Matthew. Between the pillars is Christ‘s nimbus with a cross and the Greek letters Ο Ω Ν. The Saviour is dressed in the traditional attire we encounter in the icons of Christ Pantocrator – the Omni-ruler: a red chiton with a clavus and a dark blue himation. He is giving blessings with his right hand and holding the Gospel leaning on his left leg with his left hand. The text in the book is: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11).