Instituto Ellenico Di Studi Bizantini Di Venezia

A poem in paint. Boasting a cast of thousands, this 28- by 18.5-inch 16th-century icon now housed in Venice depicts scenes from the Akathistos Hymn, a monumental Kontakion in honor of Mary credited by some to Romanos. Akathistos means “standing up”; this particular hymn was sung during the 626 C.E. attack on Constantinople by Persians and Avars from the eastern borders of the Byzantine empire. After the attack was repulsed, the hymn was accorded the rare honor of being sung standing. It is the only complete kontakion still sung in the Greek Orthodox Church.

The icon’s circular bands portray events from the life of Mary celebrated in the hymn. The two horizontal rows at bottom depict biblical figures and saints. Among them are Moses (holding the Tablets of the Law at bottom, left of center), Jacob and his ladder (fourth to the left of Moses), Daniel with a lion at his feet (left of Jacob) and Jonah with a gourd growing in front of him (second to the left of Daniel). Directly above Moses, in the top horizontal row, stands David with his lyre. At center of that row is a highly stylized Temple of Jerusalem.