Origin of the Vinica Icons by Physico-Chemical Analyses

Stanka Pavlovska, Pere Tosev, Metodija Dimeski

Presented at the XI Meeting of the Chemists and Technologists of Macedonia, Skopje, October 5-7, 1989

In the 1985-86 excavations near Vinica, Macedonia, an exceptional discovery was made: 26 whole, 20 fragmentary and more than 100 smaller and larger fragments of terra-cotta icons, unique in the Christian world were found. After many efforts, from the fragments another 14 whole icons were formed, so the collection now consists of 40 icons.

Most of these icons, according to the number of preserved samples, are dedicated to St. Michael, although other saints are also represented either alone or in composition: St. Theodore, St. Christopher & St. George, etc. On other icons compositions illustrating biblical texts (St. Daniel Among the Lions, 42nd Psalm of David, 66th Psalm of David, The Kings Bring Gifts to Newborn Christ, Fruits of the Promised Land ) are represented.

The icons are rectangular in shape (32 cm high, 20 cm wide, 4.5 cm thick or 33 cm high, 20 cm wide, 4 cm thick) or very close to a square (31 cm high, 29 cm wide, 4.5 cm thick or 30cm high, 28 cm wide and 4 cm thick).

In order to resolve the dilemma about the origin of these extraordinary artifacts, an extensive physico-chemical investigation was undertaken. Ten icon fragments and eight representative clays from the Vinica region were compared. Several analytical methods were applied: emission spectroscopy, x-ray diffraction, fluorescent spectroscopy and atomic spectroscopy. The obtained results for the quantitative ratio of 18 elements were statistically correlated. Based on these findings, it was concluded that the old artists had used clay material from the Vinica region. Consequently, the dilemma about the origin of the oldest icons in Europe was resolved.




Pictures of the icons by

Created by ZZ: March 16, 1996

« Institute of Chemistry »