Plato in Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art
The depiction of Plato in the Christian Eastern art forms part of the iconography of the scenes of ancient philosophers or sages, that is known from Late Antiquity and survives till the post-Byzantine period. The first depictions of Plato should perhaps be attributed to the Gnostic sect of Karpokratians (2nd century); later depictions found in temples are attested since the 12th century and abound from the 16th to the 18th century. The paintings lie in narthexes or exterior walls of temples or in monastery refectories in various areas: Mount Athos, Epirus, Western Macedonia, Peloponnese, Bulgaria, Romania and Russia.
Plato is depicted alongside other ancient sages (Aristotle, Pythagoras, Solon, Plutarch, Sibyl etc.) usually in the iconographic type of the Root or Tree of Jesse (the family tree of Jesus), a multi-branch tree whose branches end in prophets and at a lower level in ancient Greeks; they all are holding folding rolls with prophecies about the coming of Jesus.
The iconographic type of Plato is not fixed. He is inscribed as “Plato”, “Wise Plato” or “Greek Plato”. He is depicted standing, regularly as an old man with white beard, dressed in period style with religious and secular clothing items (vestments, purple, skirt, ruler’s or officer’s uniform), usually with headdress or crown. In his hands he holds a big open scroll where is legibly written an invented quote that relates him to the prophecies or the eternal nature of God.
The theological justification of the representation is clear but historically and philosophically inaccurate: Plato is portrayed because he is considered one of the "Greeks" (i.e. pagans) who spoke “about Christ’s incarnate economy". The appearance of this pattern was associated with the rebirth of education (Christian with ancient references), with the general interest of the Greeks for their ancient past, and with the attempt to reconciliate figures and symbols of the Christian world with new or recurrent moral and social values