The icons carrying this title depict a miracle performed by St. Demetreus during the siege of Thessaloniki. The earliest mention of this miracle was found in the Collection of Miracles of the second half of the 13th century, compiled by John Stavrakis, a deacon of the Church of Great Martyr Demetreus of Thessaloniki.
This manuscript tells a story of tsar Ivan Kaloyan (Ivan Asen I) of Bulgaria who led a successful war with Byzantine between 1197 and 1207 and its successor the Latin Empire resulting in the recognition of Bulgaria’s independence. He managed to conquer Northern Bulgaria, Pomoravia and the greater part of Macedonia. Ivan Kaloyan was nicknamed by his contemporaries as “Romeoktena” (killer of the Romans, i.e. Byzantines). In 1207 tsar Kaloyan besieged Thessaloniki but suddenly died or got killed. The siege of the city was lifted. Tsar Kaloyan’s death arose many rumors, one of which alleging that Great Martyr Demetreus went inside tsar Kaloyan’s tent and pierced him with his lance.
The images of this miracle first appeared in the second half of the 13th century. They feature St. Demetreus dressed as a warrior, on foot or on horseback, killing tsar Kaloyan with a spear. The earliest image of this scene survived in the 1286 temple wall-paintings in Krokees, Laconia (Greece). The images of the miracle of tsar Kaloyan became widespread in post-Byzantine art in the Balkans as St. Demetreus was especially venerated by the Slavs.
In Russian medieval art this scene is encountered since the 15th century in border scenes of the hagiographic icons, and on the central panels of the hagiographic icons and individual icons since the 16th century. This iconographic version shows St. Demetreus riding a dark horse, usually, with a conditional depiction of Thessaloniki in the background. The flying angel crowns him with a martyr’s wreath as the saint is killing Kaloyan riding a galloping horse. A similar composition can be seen on the icon of Great Martyr Demetreus of Thessaloniki Killing Tsar Kaloyan dating back to the first half of the 14th century from the collection of the Cherepovets Museum Association. Some of the icons feature two women against an urban background, who, according to legend, were taken prionsers but were taken back home after they had embroidered the image of St. Demetreus of Thessaloniki. These compositions are reminiscent of the iconography of the Great Martyr George Killing the Dragon. On some icons tsar Kaloyan is named Maximian or even Mamai, possibly in memory of Dimitri Donskoi’s victory on the Kulikov field, whose patron saint was Demetreus of Thessaloniki.
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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