The Deësis

Christ, the Virgin Mary, and John the Baptist
The word deësis is Greek for "supplication." In an Orthodox Deësis Mary and John the Baptist stand in postures of supplication to the left and right of Christ, who holds an open book. John typically wears not his camel-hair garment but an alb or plain cloth tunic under a cloak that hangs from just one shoulder. All these features can be seen in the oldest extant example, a fresco from about 690 in Santa Maria Antiqua, a Greek church in Rome, now in ruins. In some later examples the book is closed; in the West it may be left out entirely. Some Western Deëses follow the Orthodox pattern, as in the first picture at right, but most present the scene in the context of the Last Judgment and/or with angels showing Christ the instruments of his Passion, as in this relief:
North tympanum, Burgos Cathedral, 13th century. Follow this link for details and a larger copy of the photograph.

Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2016-10-25, 2017-02-13.



Roundels in the façade of San Giorgio dei Greci, Venice. Follow this link for a discussion.


Byzantine ivory triptych, 10th century. Christ holds the book closed on his knee. (See the description page,)

In this detail from a 13th-century apse in South Tyrol, the book is open and John wears only an alb. (See the description page.)

Ivory diptych of the Coronation of Mary and of the Last Judgment with the Deësis, 1260-70 – See the description page