Byzantine and Eastern Christian Art

  • Very few remains of wall decoration have been preserved in situ in the Early Byzantine churchesand synagogues of the Eastern Mediterranean. Writings of Church Fathers contain descriptions of elaborate wall mosaics and paintings in churches of the Holy Land which make up to some extent for the dearth of material evidence. Concerning the synagogues, there is only a laconic allusion to wall decoration in the Jerusalem Talmud which does not give any indication of what may be represented.

    Excavations of Palestinian churches have yielded evidence of both wall mosaics and polychrome wall paintings which represent mostly saints, the Virgin and scenes of the Transfiguration. In synagogues, the few preserved wall paintings consist of simple geometric and stylized plant motifs, as well as texts in Aramaicwhich are dedicatory in nature or connected with the service in the synagogue.

    Despite the scarcity of evidence, it is possible to discern significant differences between wall decorationin churches and in synagogues. One of the reasons is the difference of attitudes of the two religions towards images, the prohibition of treading upon human figures of the Holy Scriptures in Christianity, and the prohibitionof treating images as idols in Judaism. Another reason is the difference in the people who attended the religious services, a mostly local and long-established population in the synagogues whereas, in the churches,the body of worshippers was still in the making and the lavish decoration of the churches was intended to attract new converts and teach the Holy Scriptures to those who were illiterate.

  • Visualization of architecture becomes widespread and gains new meanings in the Late Antiquity. Since the most important category for the architecture is space, its representation in different types of art on plain or slightly curved surfaces could be a problematic artistic task. The most difficult architectural element for the representation is a conch. A space marked with a conch is always connected with an apse or a niche. There presented architecture in the visual arts serves as a frame for narrative scenes or personages. Nevertheless, the spatial value and significance of these forms could be retained. Two certain iconographic motives — shell and canopy — allow us to identify the visualized conch among different other images. They appear in two contexts.The first one is a niche that is more common in sculpture, like sarcophagus of Iunius Bassus and Traditio legis sarcophagus from Arles, or in mosaic decoration, as in the so-called Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

    Another element is a tympanum where motives of shell and canopy are purely symbolic, like in Neon Baptistery, or form a complicated spatial system, like in the Hypogeum of via Dino Compagni in Rome.

    After the analysis of different works of art we can conclude that the visualizing of conches was very importantat that time because they indicated a sacral space and emphasized the importance of characters orobjects disposed beneath.

  • The article is dedicated to the representations of orants in the Rotunda in Thessaloniki. They are usually interpreted as martyrs, but there is another opinion, which claims that the orants depict donators.With the help of the iconographical analogies and hagiographical sources, the article defends the traditional view on the images. A further point of concern are the artistic features of the mosaics with the focus on treatment of faces of the orants. Being highly individualized, they do give an impression of portraits — an uncommontendency in Early Christian representations of saints, where, instead of stressing the individual characteristics of a person that had once lived, the emphasis tends to be on the over individual afterlife. The faces of martyrs in Rotunda look very close to each other, but in the same time, they demonstrate an extraordinary diversity of characteristics that should be understood as variations on the general type of image. The unity ofthe faces is determined by conventional and abstract artistic means, while a broad set of artistic principles are shaping the inner character and enriching the general scheme. The personal attitude in the representation of saints enables us to compare the images of the Rotunda with the contemporary sculpture portraits. However, a similar tendency towards a generalized image can be traced in the true portraiture as well. Through the comparison of the portrayals of saints and of living persons, the article attempts to reveal the attitude towards personality in the period under discussion.

  • The remains of eleven Early Byzantine basilicas were investigated in ancient Chersonesos(Cherson), the main center of Byzantine culture in Crimea. The article presents the results of studying their planned structure using a system of numerical proportions, which was elaborated by Hans Buchwald.  The proportional features of the plans of nine basilicas of Chersonesos suggest that in their design three variants of the proportional system could have been used. They differ in the main proportions that form the plan of the naos (nave and aisles) and the basilica building as a whole.The first variant includes the basilicas with “elongated” proportions (West Basilica and Uvarov Basilica).Width and length of the church including inner narthex and apse are proportioned 1:2, nave and aisles together, 2:3. The distinctive feature of the Uvarov Basilica is the double width of the narthex; therefore, itis proportioned 1:2 including a half of the narthex. The basilicas with “medium” proportions (Basilica 1935,East Basilica and Basilica on the Hill) belong to the second variant. The churches including two narthexes and apse are proportioned 1:2, nave, aisles and apse together and nave, aisles and narthex together — 2:3.The third variant includes the basilicas with “shortened” proportions (Basilica in a Basilica, Basilica 1932,Basilica on Agora, and North Basilica). The whole basilica is proportioned 2:3, nave and aisles together, 1:1. Many proportions of some parts of buildings were common to basilicas of different variants. Most likely some basilicas were built on one project.The proportions and sometimes the dimensions of the Chersonesos basilicas have analogies among the monuments of Constantinople, Asia Minor and Balkan Peninsula. This means that their creators were well acquainted with the construction methods of these regions and applied them in local conditions.

  • During restorations held in Nicaea/İznik and Prusa ad Olympum/Bursa four new churches were discovered. Since restoration work did not aim at excavating the accidentally discovered churches this article intends to shed light by making use of the material available. Three of the churches were from Nicaea, two of which by the main gates of the city walls and the third one in the area next to the museum building of İznik. The church discovered in Bursa is located next to the city walls. Despite its unfinished excavation it has revealed immense material including the ambo with an inscription. The aim of this article is to contribute to the database of Byzantine monuments.

  • The article deals with the results of the research into the architectural decoration of the Abkhazian Kingdom of the last 10 years. Firstly, the objects which were recently found and identified (fragment of the altar barrier from Dranda church, block with the image of Joseph’s dream, fragment of the carving from Kiach church) are mentioned. Secondly, the objects whose date has been reconsidered (lapidary collection from Anacopia mountain, lapidary collection from Bedia, group of reliefs from Mramba village) are analyzed.

    Second part of the article is dedicated to the generalization concerning the stylistic groups of reliefs that could be dated to the period of the Abkhazian Kingdom. The first group (slabs from Dranda, from Oligynskoye village, from Anukhva and the block with the image of Joseph’s dream) shows the influence of the best examples of the art of the Byzantine Empire (close to Constantinople’s ateliers) that originates from the Hellenism art. The representations of the second group (slabs with the images of animals from the Anacopia mountain, from the Sukhum mountain, from the Mramba village) are much more primitive interms of style and composition. They have some parallels in the frescoes of the cave churches from Cappadocia.The third group consists of the two fragments of the altar barrier from the so called Voronov church (Tsibilda valley). The scenes that are represented there have some parallels in the art of the Transcaucasi ainfluenced by Persia.

  • The paper deals with the comparison of building techniques on the churches of the Byzantine emperors and the Kiev Prince in the 1040s and the reconstruction of the chronology of the building crews working for them. Before 1042–1043, on the order of dioiketes John Organotrophos, the Lycian masters rebuilt St. Nicholas in Myra, inaugurated later, under Constantine IX Monomachos. The latter attached these builders to the Constantinopolitan masters for the reconstruction of the Anastasis church in Jerusalem, executed between 1042–1043 and 1047. Constantine sent a similar group of masters no later than 1044 to the island of Chios, where they joined “Helladic” builders working here previously for execution of the katholikon of Nea Mone, finished before 1049; the Anatolian masters could come to Jerusalem and to the Chios independently, or from one site to another. Finally, Constantinopolitan and “Helladic” masters from this crew were given by the same Emperor to Yaroslav of Kiev, probably after the conclusion of the Byzantine-Russian peace in 1046. The chronology of these crews can be reconstructed approximately as follows: 1041–1043 —Myra, 1043–1046 — Jerusalem, 1044–1048 — Nea Mone, from 1047 — Chernigov.

  • The article deals with the murals of the Empire of Nicaea. There were several centres of art production in the Empire. At the time of the Empire’s foundation the murals of Zoodochos Pege in Monagri on Kos and of Tavşan Ada (the 4th layer) were created by the same local artists. The next stage (first third of the13th century) is represented by the paintings in Caria and Ionia: on the Inçekemer Taş rock, in the destroyed church in Punta on Mykale cap, Deesis in the skeuofylakion of St. John church in Ephesos, in the church onTheatre terrace in Pergamon and the frescoes of Latmos (monastic caves outside the Kellibaron gate, cave of Christ above Ancient Latmos, cave of St. Paul of Latmos). Some echoes of the dynamic style of the 12th century are combined in these ensembles with new trends — voluminous characteristic faces, modeled in Kellibaronin live pasty technique. The frescoes of Pergamon and Ephesos look more ordinary.

    Next stage, the reign of John III Vatatzes, is represented by the paintings in Kyriakosellia on Crete (1230–1236) attributed to Nicene masters. These are high quality paintings, with much more plasticity and inspiration, however, with some provincialism. They are characterized by spatial compositions, complicated architecture,dynamic poses of saints with voluminous figures and plastic faces, sometimes grotesque. On the contrary, the third layer of murals of St. Michael at Thari and the first layer in St. Phanourios in the old cityof Rhodes (1226–1234) made by Nicene painters demonstrate more archaic elements. The second layer of the murals in Patmos refectory (1230–1240) must have been created under Nicene influence, while some ensembles on the islands of Crete, Leros and Cos made under the influence of Patmos were painted by Niceneartists themselves, as A. Katsioti suggests. The style of frescoes in the basilica of Anaia and the two pastophoria of St. Sophia in Nicaea continue and develop the trends outlined in Kyriakosellia, demonstrating the third stage in the development of Nicene art at the end of the reign of John III Vatatzes and Theodore III Laskaris(1240–1250s). Their careful consideration reveals high quality of painting, refined colors, monumental scaleof figures of saints and angels, obvious emphasis on volume and lively turns. The faces have beautiful classical types with large features. The monumental classicism of these poorly preserved paintings, dating back mostlikely to around the middle of the 13th century, is impressive. These frescoes should be placed somewhere between the paintings of Mileševa and Sopoćani. To Nicene painters should be also ascribed the frescoes of Bojana(1259), the first layer in the church of Sts. Nicholas and John in Stavropigi, Mesa Mani, and the murals inthe monastery of the Virgin Kyriotissa in Constantinople. Appreciating the role of Nicea in the developmentof art one should consider another important center, Thessaloniki. Yet the art connections between these two centers, Constantinople and The Second Bulgarian Kingdom, were really complex. Poorly preserved and little-known monuments of the Empire of Nicea allow a better understanding of the artistic processes of the13th century, which led to the appearance of the Early Palaeologan style.

  • Byzantine written sources contain vitae of holy women, who disguised as monks lived for along time in monasteries or hermitages. Concealing their gender, they developed exceptional ascetic qualities surpassing their female nature. These legends, probably composed in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, from the 5th to the 7th century, exist in Greek, Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Latin. After the Arabs conquered these regions, Byzantine hagiography focused on other types of female saints, leaving aside holy cross-dressers.

    Several interpretations may be given to monastic disguises adopted by women. Virility has been associatedsince antiquity with positive qualities, while femininity with weakness and spiritual poverty. Transcending femininity was, according to Church Fathers, the only way for women to find soul salvation. On the other hand, several scholars see in the attitude of these women an attempt to imitate the superior sex and acquire equal status within the patriarchal society. The transvestite holy woman is consequently an ambiguous figure, being at the same time admired and disputed.

    This paper addresses issues of gender identity and iconography in Byzantine and Post-Byzantine art (6th–16th centuries), based on the figure of the transvestite female saint. Using as case studies St. Eugenia and St. Athanasia, it explores the visual language adopted by medieval artists to depict them and argues that the role of the Capital Constantinople was crucial in shaping the iconography of these holy cross-dressers. It also examines the symbolic meaning of portraits of St. Athanasia included in the otherwise conservative iconographic programmes of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine churches in Cyprus, tracing the origins of her particular popularity in the island.

    The image of the transvestite female saint in Byzantium challenges the accepted notions of medieval gender identity and invites us to consider an alternative version of the female persona in the Christian East. The examination of medieval depictions of St. Eugenia and St. Athanasia reveals that the iconographic rendering of these holy cross-dressers was by no means established, but rather a field of experimentation for Byzantineand Post-Byzantine painters.

  • Although painted church facades represent long tradition, attested in different regions of the Byzantine world, they have not been recognized as a widespread phenomenon. Scholars, like Slobodan Ćurčić, stressed the necessity to reexamine Byzantine architectural aesthetics in the light of such evidence. Nevertheless, exterior paintings are not yet treated as an integral part of the decorative fabric of buildings. The main problem lies certainly in the scarcity and fragility of the archaeological data that needs to be recordedand collected more systematically.

    The aim of this article is to draw attention to this issue, most particularly for the Late and Post-Byzantineperiods. It discusses several relevant examples of painted facades, the choice of depicted motives (both ornamental and figurative) and their display on particular parts of the building with intention to question the sources and meanings of that artistic practice. Spurred by the growing interest in non-textual aspects of painted inscriptions, this article reconsiders the place of painted decorations in the adornment of exterior walls and the impact such aesthetic had on the appearance of Byzantine churches and their beholders.

  • Armenian medieval architecture of the Crimean peninsula is a phenomenon that has been largely studied in terms of building a factual database, identifying the church typology, and discovering national roots of the local tradition. However, those studies have not actually considered Armenian medieval heritage to be apart of a regional phenomenon that united building traditions of several peoples in the 13th–15th centuries.The very existence of such a cumulative concept as the Crimean medieval architecture forces us to raise the questionof the development of some individual national/confessional traditions within it, as well as the question of boundaries between national styles of architecture on the peninsula. The present historical and theoretical research aims to give a new impetus for the discussion of these interconnected issues basing on comparative analysis of the monuments of Armenian architecture.

    It becomes obvious that the forms of arches and vaults, capitals and cornices, domes and portals of the Armenian churches not only resemble some patterns of the architecture of Armenia itself, but also show similarities with the churches of other confessions, particularly Genoese, as well as with mosques and mausoleums built on the orders of the Golden Horde rulers. Most likely these interconnections existed due to the following factors: 1) common cultural environment on the Crimean peninsula; 2) developing fashion for architectural forms and decor; 3) work of the same masters on buildings of different confessions (the last thesis is not developed in the article). The study deduces that the boundaries between national styles do not lie in the field of architectural forms and ornaments. However, they do exist and they should be identified when exploring the composition of buildings, as it is the composition that determined the originality of architectural images.

  • The present paper aims to examine iconographic and programmatic parallels between the pictorial ensembles of the churches from two distant regions — the Mrnjavčević State in the Balkans (1365‒1395) and Novgorod of the late 14th and 15th centuries. The first part of the paper focuses on the programs in domes of the most important endowments of the Mrnjavčević family members (St. Demetrios at Sušica near Skopje — Markov Manastir, St. Demetrios in Prilep, St. Andrew at River Treska) and six Novgorod churches of the second half of the 14th century (the Assumption in the Volotovo Field, the Saviour-Transfiguration in Iliina Street, St. Theodore Stratelates ‘on the Spring’, the Holy Saviour in Kovaliovo, the Nativity on the Red Field and Archangel Michael Church in Skovorodsky Monastery).

    The second part of the paper is concerned with the painted menologia at Markov Manastir (September through December) and in the church of St. Simeon the God-Receiver at the Zverin monastery (1467) (September through August). There are obvious differences between the two cycles in terms of their date, iconographic and textual sources, spatial layout, and the number of images included. It can be argued, nonetheless, that both cycles follow the same pictorial logic. They both belong to the same tradition of calendrical illustration in East Christian art, which is characterized by the reduction of the visual programme to only one type of image — the portrait of the commemorated saint.

  • The paper deals with the history of research on the ecclesiastic architecture of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. The main stages of this process are described, starting from the first ethnographic expeditions of the 1880s and first archaeological investigations of the 1890s to the modern times. Analyzing the methods of research on Bulgarian monuments the author shows that throughout the 20th century the interpretations of facts and archaeological finds have not always been free from changing ideological concepts.

  • The paper summarizes the data resulting from the study of wall paintings in the cave churches of Cappadocia from the second half of the 9th to the early 11th century in order to reconstruct the process of shaping the classical system of Byzantine church decoration. The author singles out some Cappadocian ensembles showing Metropolitan influence: the churches Kılıçlar, El Nazar, New Tokalı in Göreme, Ala and Direkli in Belisirma, Kubelli and St. Barbara in Soğanlı, Tağar near Ürgüp and others. In the decoration of the domes, the apses, the vaults and the walls, we analyze those iconographic solutions that are different from the old schemes traditional for this region. In this respect, some cave churches imitating the Constantinopolitan cross-in-square churches are more indicative, although in some cases simpler structures also show the influence of Metropolitan iconography. Without going into details in the iconography of single subjects, we try to reveal the principles of shaping of these programs, in comparison with the fragments and descriptions of coeval ensembles in Constantinople and the Balkans.

    This comparative analysis allows us to get a more precise and detailed understanding of the formative process of Byzantine church decoration during the two centuries after Iconoclasm. Our research shows that this was a multistage process influenced by many different factors. The impulses from Constantinople were gradually assimilated and modified in the art of the Byzantine provinces, yet their artistic development went in the same direction as in the capital.