In Byzantine art, and in later Eastern Orthodox art generally, the Deësis or Deisis (/deɪˈiːsɪs/, day-EE-siss; Greek: δέησις, “prayer” or “supplication”) is a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty or Christ Pantocrator: enthroned, carrying a book, and flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist, and sometimes other saints and angels. Mary and John, and any other figures, are shown facing towards Christ with their hands raised in supplication on behalf of humanity. 

Early examples often appeared on the templon beam in Orthodox churches or above doors, though icons and devotional ivories also feature the Deesis.

After the development of the full iconostasis screen there was room for a larger “Deesis row” or “Great Deesis” of full-length figures, and the number of figures expanded, both in Byzantium and in Russia. Usually this row is above the level of the doors, and usually below (sometimes above) the row depicting the Twelve Great Feasts. The central Christ is therefore above the main door in the screen. Soon seven figures, usually one to a panel, became standard, in order of proximity to Christ in the centre: on the left (Christ’s right) Mary, the Archangel Michael and Saint Peter, and on the right John the Baptist, the Archangel Gabriel and Saint Paul. Especially in Russian examples, a number of saints of local significance are often included behind these, as space allows.  Andrey Rublev’s row for the Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir was 3.14 metres (over ten feet) high.[1] In the Greek tradition the Apostles are more likely to occupy extra panels.

The presence of Mary and John, and other figures, provides one of the differences with the Western Christ in Majesty, where the Four Evangelists and/or their symbols are more commonly included around Christ. The Deesis composition is also commonly found in the West, especially in those parts of Italy which came under Byzantine influence, but also in the rest of Europe. It often forms part of a scene of the Last Judgement. The use of the image declined slowly throughout the Middle Ages, and it is never as common as the Western forms of Christ in Majesty.

In depictions of the Crucifixion of Jesus, Christ on the cross is also very often flanked by the Virgin standing on one side, but by Saint John the Evangelist on the other, not by John the Baptist.

Deisis was last modified: November 20th, 2023 by Deacon Kirill