The Laboratory for the conservation and restoration of Icons of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian holds an overpainted icon of the Virgin Katafigi painted on wood. The initial layer is dated in the 16th century. Over it, there has is an overpainted depiction of the Virgin Hodegetria, dated in the 19th century. In other words, there are two different iconographic subjects.
The term overpainting refers to the re-painting of an icon's surface. This could be due to various reasons:
1. The icon was worn and blackened. Back in those times the concept of conservation was absent, thus it was common to simply overpaint the icon, frequently with a different subject.
2. The icon was damaged in some small or large parts. This was the most common scenario, as the the work was repainted instead of repaired.
3. The initial theme was not likeable. Since wood was hard to find, and usually processed by the artists themselves, it was easier for them to overpaint existing icons, thus saving time.
In this last case, the procedure of conservation is more complicated than usual. Concerning our icon, since there were evidence of another layer of painted surface underneath the visible one, the conservator had to see the primary layer and to what extent it was preserved. The process of radiography was used, which allows us to confirm the above on a satisfying level. After the x-ray it was obvious that the older layer bore a representation of the Virgin Katafigi, without the figure of Christ and with relatively little damage. Unfortunately, there is no way to preserve both surfaces of the painted layers, so the overpainting of the Virgin Hodegetria would have to be destroyed. Thus, the conservator proceeded to a sample removal of a part of the background of the overpainted layer, which revealed the original one.
Project Conservator: Ioannis Sotiriou.