Scuola Romana
Christ Blessing

Second half of the 12th century
Tempera on canvas glued to wood
Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome

"Christ Blessing" is the name given by the museum label, but this panel is clearly in the tradition of the St. Catherine's Christ Pantocrator (below). Both figures gaze directly at the viewers, blessing them with the right hand (thumb pressed against fourth finger) and holding a closed, bejewelled gospel book in the left (cradled between upturned thumb and horizontal fingers). Both have hair parted in the middle. Also in the shared tradition are the mantle over the himation, the exposing of the heavily modeled neck, and the size and placement of the halo.

The Scuola Romana panel also adopts the device of facial asymmetry that characterizes the St. Catherine's icon and its antecedents in Roman Egypt. (See the mirrored composites below and my page on the St. Catherine's icon and its interpretation.)

The difference between the two is in the Romanesque rejection of the classical naturalism in the St. Catherine's icon. The shadows modeling the face and hands actually flatten them, and a further flatness is achieved by suppressing the inner lining of the sleeve and the original background, a half-wall in front of outdoor greenery. The added jewels on the book and the halo make the figure's other-worldliness even more emphatic.

This image in full resolution
More of Christ in Majesty

The above photographed at the Pinacoteca Vaticana by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.


The Saint Catherine's Christ Pantocrator icon (mid-6th century). Note the facial asymmetry. See this page for a full-size photo and a discussion of the interpretation.
 
To appreciate the facial asymmetry of the portrait, compare this mirrored composite of the hand side of the Scuola Romana Pantocrator with the book-side composite on the right.
 
The book-side composite. Some suggest that the difference between the sides expresses the union of the two natures of Christ. However, see my page on the St. Catherine's icon.