(active c. 1500 in Crete)

St Menas of Egypt on Horseback

c. 1500
Egg tempera on wood, 27 x 22 cm
Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen

St Menas is Egypt's most important saint. He is said to have been born there, served as a soldier in the Roman army, and to have acknowledged his faith in Phrygia during the persecution of Christians under Diocletian, being beheaded in consequence. But the numerous witnesses to his life, martyrdom and miracles, which have been handed down in many languages, are contradictory.

In the early iconography Menas is not depicted and venerated as a warrior saint, but as a martyr, to whom healing powers were ascribed. The first representations of the saint armed and in soldier's armour can be found at the end of the thirteenth century. Depictions of St Menas on horseback were however unusual throughout the whole Byzantine era, and even in post-Byzantine times, i.e. from the 15th century he is only very seldom depicted thus.

This very high-quality picture of a saint was probably painted for an aristocratic patron, as an icon of his own patron saint, by one of the best Cretan icon-painters of his day.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.