King of Kings is an iconographic type of a Jesus Christ image representing Him as the King and Great Pontiff. The Savior is depicted seated on a throne. He is dressed in royal vestments – a dalmatic and a tippet. Dalmatic is a garment of Byzantine emperors made of expensive red fabric and decorated with gold and precious stones; such exactly was the purple robe Jesus Christ was dressed in when being mocked of. On the Savior’s head is the kamilavka crown with pendants. Atop the royal vestment is an omophorion – a long wide band with embroidered crosses, worn by a pontiff during a liturgy. The Christ image is accompanied by inscriptions “King of Kings”, “The Righteous Judge”, “The Awesome Judge”, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”. The images of Jesus Christ are encountered both individually (King of Kings) and as part of “Upon thy right hand did stand the Queen.” The “King of Kings” iconography is akin to “Christ the Great Pontiff” type.
The composition is based on the relevant fragment of the Book of Revelation “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems… He is clothed in a robe dipped in a blood… On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19: 11–17). Below is a quotation from Psalm 109: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’” and its interpretation in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him ‘You are my Son… You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek… Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5: 5–10).
These compositions have been known in Byzantine art since the 14th century. The earliest Russian example of this iconography is a late 14th century icon of “Upon thy right hand did stand the Queen” from the Assumption Cathederal of the Moscow Kremlin. In the 17th century, it was sometimes placed in the center of the Deesis row (e.g. in the Church of the Intercession in Fili, Moscow).
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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