Unidentified Church in Constantinople known today as Vefa Kilise Camii

Unidentified Byzantine Church in Constantinople of the Komnenia Dynasty (11th or 12th century) with an exonarthex of the Palaiologan period (13th century)
Vefa Kilise Camii of Istanbul since the 15th century

“A former Byzantine church, now known by its Turkish name Vefa kilise camii, stands on Tirendaz Caddesi on the neighborhood of Vefa on modern Istanbul, only a few hundred metres away from the aqueduct of Valens. In the Byzantine period this area was located between the 7th and 10th regions of Constantinople. Several proposals have been put forward the dedication and identification of this church. In the 16th century, Pierre Gilles was the first to suggest that it was a church dedicated to St. Theodore. Other identifications have included a church of the Theotokos, the church of St Procopius τηςΧελώνης, and the monastery of Gorgoepekoos. Vefa kilise camii is one of the least documented monuments of the Ottoman period, and so it is not exactly clear when it lost its function as a Christian church. This event must have occurred before 1494, when it was recorded as having a medrese with fifty students… Excavations at Vefa kilise camii and a partial cleaning of the mosaics were carried in 1937 by Hidayet Fuat Tagay and Miltiadis Nomidis, but their work was published only in 1990 by Cyril Mango.” Writes Haluk Çetinkaya… an informative introduction for my new POST on the Unidentified Church in Constantinople known today as Vefa Kilise Camii.     https://www.persee.fr/doc/rebyz_0766-5598_2009_num_67_1_4834     As promised, my goal is to present short POSTs on all Byzantine Churches of Constantinople. This is my second attempt with lots of unanswered questions!

The first question to address is its Byzantine identification… “Frequently visited and recorded by 19th-century scholars and travellers, the building is sometimes identified as the church of St. Theodore (Ἄγιος Θεοδόρος ἑν τὰ Καρβουνάρια), based on the 16th-century account of Pierre Gilles, who noted a church of that dedication somewhere in this area.” The French natural scientist, topographer and translator, Pierre Gilles “In his four books on the topography of Constantinople, …describes initially the geographical location, the natural environment, the water supply and the climate of the region. He then reviews the city’s mythological and historical past, and subsequently, for each one of the seven hills of the city, describes the monuments, walls, gates and towers. He comes back to the most ancient monuments on every hill and ends with the description of Galata and the Ottoman monuments.”     http://rhegium.tripod.com/vefa.html     and     https://eng.travelogues.gr/collection.php?view=153

Identified or not, Vefa Kilise Camii is a Komnenian cross-in-square domed church of moderate size (each side is nine meters long), with an inner narthex and a three-domed exonarthex to the west. Beautifully built in a method described as “recessed brick technique”, the masonry of the building consists of alternate courses of brick and stone. The hidden brick row behind extraordinary thick bedding mortar is the characteristic of this building technique and a dating factor for the church as this construction method was popular from the second half of the 11th century to the end of the 12th century.     https://www.qantara-med.org/public/show_document.php?do_id=838&lang=en     and     https://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/fineart/html/Byzantine/index.htm?https&&&www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/fineart/html/Byzantine/home.htm

In 1937 under the direction of M.I. Nomides and the Ministry of Mosques, mosaics decorating the domes in the exonarthex were revealed, depicting, in the southern dome, the Virgin Theotokos surrounded by prophets and two imperial officers with prophets. Unfortunately, as of 2007, they have disappeared almost completely. Another note to add: Vefa Kilise Camii is one of the least studied Byzantine monuments of present-day Istanbul with the interior of the church proper, never been de-plastered and explored for remnants of its original history and decoration.    https://www.triposo.com/poi/W__110311532     and     http://rhegium.tripod.com/vefa.html     and     https://tarihivefa.blogspot.com/2019/02/vefa-molla-semsettin-gurani-kilise-cami_18.html

For a PowerPoint on the Unidentified Church in Constantinople known today as Vefa Kilise Camii, please… Check HERE!

The Month of October

The Month of October, latest 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy

I’m not sure everyone has understood, October,  /  your great beauty:  /  in those fat vats, as large as a full stomach,  /  you brew must and inebriation, you brew must and inebriation.  /  On my mountains, like mournful birds,  /  mad clouds flee,  /  on my copper-tinged mountains  /  low clouds raise like smoke, low clouds raise like smoke.          –         Oh days, oh months that run away endlessly, /  my life is always similar to you,  /  different every year, yet the same every year,  /  a hand of tarot cards one never learns to play,  /  one never learns to play… writes for The Month of October Francesco Guccini in his Canzone dei dodici mesi.   https://lyricstranslate.com/el/canzone-dei-dodici-mesi-song-twelve-months.html

The Month of October fresco comes from Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy. It is part of an amazing fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room and presents autumn at its best. This exceptional room, 6 x 5,8 x 3 m in size, was commissioned by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, as a quiet, atmospheric retreat, away from the rest of the Castello’s busy and noisy state quarters. Master Wenceslas, a Bohemian painter active in Trento since 1397, creates a rich October scene, full of natural beauty and pastoral activities. There is no doubt that Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, looking at the October scene, was tasting his top-quality Trentino wine as well!

Torre Aquila in Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy and the Month of October fresco to the right of the picture…

October is a busy month for farmers in Trento and Master Wenceslas is documenting it in the best possible way. The scene is rich, dense and joyful… inspired by real-life but immensely beautified. The commissioner of this fresco, Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein wants to present the idea that his territories flourish under his good governance and prudent guidance. The painter, Master Wenceslas, understood this very well, and created an autumn scene of dazzling green colours, verve and dynamism!

The Month of October Torre Aquila scene is dedicated to wine making, from the very beginning of the process, picking up the grapes, to pressing, grape must preparation and tasting…

The sun is bright and shining over the Trentino valleys, and well-tended rows of vines cover the painted scene, touching the colourful mountains at the very top. Trentino was at the time a famous wine-producing territory, and Master Wenceslas presents extensive vineyards, their branches heavy with grapes, ready to be harvested. Everyone must work hard… everywhere you look, there is a zeal for activity.

The first thing you notice are the Trentino peasants, men and women, all dressed in white robes assigned to different harvesting tasks. Some of them pick up clusters of white or red grapes while others carry them on their shoulders in large baskets. On the left side of the composition, a screw-press is in action. What a luxury! Only gentlemen of great wealth could afford such an item, let alone a screw-press large enough to require at least two people to operate it. Master Wenceslas was apparently quite familiar with pastoral activities like that because he renders the process with fine precision! We can only assume that as a European travelling artist, Master Wenceslas had acquired first-hand experiences and visions of such joyful harvest events… where… aristocrats and farmers can, for once, forget the worries of everyday life, and “work” together enjoying the small pleasures of life. 

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Émile Gallé

Victor Prouvé, 1858-1943
Portrait of Emile Gallé, 1892, oil on canvas, Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy

“Our roots are in the depths of the woods-on the banks of streams and among the mosses.” How do you like this phrase as a “Motto” on your studio door? Émile Gallé loved it,  and used it! https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/%C3%89mile_Gall%C3%A9

One of my fondest memories as a child was to “play” with a small Émile Gallé vase. I would take it up in my hands, study the details of the depicted flowers, gaze at it across the sunlight, count the different colours… try to understand how it was made, ask countless questions! My mother was horrified with my Gallé “games”, as at a younger age, I broke a similar vase and she did not want a repetition of my mischief. I was, however, very resourceful and time with my “vase” became my favourite pastime… one day I even hid it in my cupboard so that it will be all mine! This is how my fascination and love started for… GLASS… a humble material like silica, a constituent of sand and fire!

The French designer Émile Gallé, a protagonist of the Art Nouveau movement, was the greatest of Glass aficionados. “His naturalistic designs incorporated with innovative techniques, make him one of the pioneering glassmakers of the late 19th, early 20th centuries. Taking his inspiration from nature and plants along with a heavy Japanese feel it is no wonder the French have been known to describe his work as “poetry in glass” and across the globe, collectors are willing to pay premium prices just to own an example of this talented iconic designers masterpieces.”     http://www.artdecoceramicglasslight.com/makers/galle/gall-emile—biography

Born on the 4th of March 1846, in the city of Nancy, Émile Gallé, was the son of a successful merchant and manufacturer of glassware and ceramics, Charles Gallé, who had settled in Nancy in 1844 where his father-in-law owned a factory which manufactured mirrors. He grew up and studied in Nancy botany, philosophy and art. “The young Gallé studied philosophy and natural science at the Lycée Imperial in Nancy. At the age of sixteen, he went to work for the family business as an assistant to his father, making floral designs and emblems for both faience and glass. In his spare time, he became an accomplished botanist, studying with D.A. Gordon, the director of Nancy’s Botanical Gardens and author of the leading textbooks on French flora.”     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89mile_Gall%C3%A9

Gallé was an avid traveller who visited museums and influential glass designers, improving his glass-making techniques. In London,  at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Oriental Glass Collection, he focused his interest on the art of Glass Enameling and fascinated by Designer Eugene Rousseau, he experimented with the Glass Cameo Techniques. He trained as a glassmaker at Meisenthal before joining his father at the family factory in 1867 where he was given a chance to experiment with his newfound knowledge. When he 1877, Émile Gallé replaced his father as director of the factory… his career as an artist truly took off.

For a PowerPoint on Émile Gallé, please… Check HERE!

“The aim of my work: The study of nature, the love of nature’s art, and the need to express what one feels in one’s heart.” Ecrits pour l’art, ed. Henrietta Galle Paris 1908/Marseille (1980)…     https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/%C3%89mile_Gall%C3%A9

The Monastery of Pantokrator in Constantinople and the Pala d’Oro in Venice

The Pala d’Oro (the altar retable of San Marco in Venice) is an altarpiece with about 250 Cloisonné enamels of different sizes and epochs (10th – 12th century) on sheet gold. It was commissioned in Byzantium by the Venetians. The Archangel Michael is believed to have come from the Monastery of Pantokrator in Constantinople.

“Pala d’Oro (Italian, “Golden Pall” or “Golden Cloth”) is the high altar retable of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. It is universally recognized as one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine enamel, with both front and rear sides decorated.” Have you ever wondered what the connection might be between The Monastery of Pantokrator in Constantinople and the Pala d’Oro in Venice?     https://www.projectexpedition.com/tour-activity/venice/vip-alone-in-st-marks-basilica-after-hours/36173/

The Monastery of Pantokrator, I wrote a few days earlier, consists of three churches: the South Church, the North Church, and the Middle Church or the “Heroon.” The South Church dedicated to Christ the Pantocrator is the oldest and the largest of the three…     https://www.teachercurator.com/art/the-monastery-of-pantokrator-in-constantinople/

The Monastery of Pantokrator of Constantinople, 12th century
Imperial Church of the Komnenian Dynasty
Şeyh Süleyman Mescidi of Istanbul

The amazing Monastic Complex of Pantokrator, however, built by Emperor John II Komnenos, served a dual purpose… to honour the wishes of Empress Piroska-Eirene, tending to the needs of the “poor, sick, and suffering souls…” and be used as a mausoleum for the Komnenos Imperial family.

The Monastery of Pantokrator of Constantinople, 12th century, Les Eglises de Constantinople by Jean Ebersolt, Adolphe Thiers, 1910

As you look at the elegant domes crowning all three Pantokrator Churches, your eyes slowly tumble down to embrace the graceful arches… allow your imagination free to envision the splendour that once graced their interiors, and ponder over the lives of all Byzantine Royals entombed under their stylish vaults.

The North Church, dedicated to Mary Eleousa was built after the death of Empress Piroska-Eirene, between 1124-1136, by Emperor John II Komnenos. The Church, built within the Monastic complex of Pantocrator, was dedicated to services offered by lay clergy but open to a wider congregation and attended by laymen. Smaller in size compared to the South Church, it follows a similar architectural style to the South Church and according to scholars, it was equally resplendent in its interior decoration.     https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/pantokrator-monastery

The smaller Middle Church, the last to be built, bridged and opened to the two original, free-standing, side Churches. Dedicated to Archangel Michael, affectionately called the Heroon, the Middle Church was the smallest of the three Pantokrator Churches and served as an Imperial Mausoleum. The architectural style and use of the Heroon, capped by two elliptical domes, was probably inspired by the roughly contemporary, Crusader Martyrium of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as the arrangement of the Imperial Burials in its interior further testifies. “While several Arcosolia are still evident in the western bay, the identities of their occupants remain unresolved. The only exception is that of Emperor Manuel I (1118-1180), whose black marble sarcophagus was located in the passageway from the South Church to the (middle) Chapel. It is likely that its two domes had two separate functions, the one in the east serving as the liturgical area, and the western one, where the tombs were located, functioning as a funerary space.”     https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/pantokrator-monastery     and     http://constantinople.ehw.gr/Forms/fLemmaBodyExtended.aspx?lemmaID=11770

The Emperors and Empresses buried in the Heroon spared no funds in embellishing the Pantokrator Churches with amazing examples of monumental Art as well as items of luxurious Minor Arts. Visitors to the Monastery of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ the Pantokrator describe it as impressive in importance, resplendent in its decoration and dazzling in luxury! Unfortunately, “…under Latin rule of the city (1204-1261), the region in which the monastery stood belonged to the Venetians, who transported many of the holy utensils, relics and icons of the monastery to Venice.”  It is most probable “that some of the panels of the Pala D’Oro in San Marco originally came from the Pantokrator Monastery. While it was originally ordered from Constantinople by the doge Ordelaffo Falier in 1102, it was reworked following the Fourth Crusade’s sacked Constantinople in 1204.” http://constantinople.ehw.gr/Forms/fLemmaBodyExtended.aspx?lemmaID=11770

Fragments of the original Mosaic decoration of the Middle Church at the Monastery of Pantocrator in Constantinople.

The Treasury of San Marco, Venice, Basilica di San Marco, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1984) is informative and Free to Download ONLINE companion Catalogue of the synonymous Exhibition that took place in New York in 1985. Sergio Bettini’s article Venice, the Pala D’Oro, and Constantinople is “illuminating” to say the least, on how the Palla D’Oro is connected to the Monastery of Pantokrator. (Please read pp. 33-64)     https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/the_treasury_of_san_marco_venice

After Hagia Sofia, present-day Şeyh Süleyman Mescidi or popularly called Zeyrek Camii, is the second-largest religious structure from the Byzantine Empire to survive in Istanbul.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Exterior View of the Monastery of Pantokrator in Constantinople (The South Church to the right, the Middle Church to the left)

Rosa Bonheur

Rosa Bonheur, 1822 – 1899
The Horse Fair, 1835–-55, oil on canvas, 244.5 cm × 506.7 cm, the MET, NY

“Ah! If nations could only agree to employ their resources to perfect agriculture and improve transportation, and to bring all their girl children a good education, what an explosion of happiness there would be on earth!” Rosa Bonheur said and I couldn’t agree more… She was a formidable lady and I like her!     https://www.quotetab.com/quote/by-rosa-bonheur/ah-if-nations-could-only-agree-to-employ-their-resources-to-perfect-agriculture

Anna Klumpke, 1856–1942
Rosa Bonheur, 1898, oil on canvas, 117.2 x 98.1 cm, the MET, NY

Rosa Bonheur was a lucky, talented lady! Her progressive painter father, Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, trained her to become a commercially successful painter and a spirited woman of staunch belief in women’s equality. “To my father’s doctrines, I owe my great and glorious ambition for the sex to which I proudly belong and whose independence I will defend until my dying day.” She was the oldest of four children, two girls and two boys, born to a pianist mother, who patiently and ingeniously taught her reluctant daughter how to read and write. Sophie Bonheur, Rosa’s mother noticed how reluctant her spirited daughter was to do her homework and how enthusiastic she was to draw. As the artist recalled ‘…One day she had a bright idea…She told me to draw an ass opposite the A and a cow opposite the C and so on…’ Rosa not only learnt how to read and write but, but inspired by her mother’s teaching method, she developed a lasting love and deep understanding of animals.   https://www.theartstory.org/artist/bonheur-rosa/life-and-legacy/

Rosa’s formal education started at a boarding school run by Mme. Gilbert, but “…The Gilberts refused to harbour… such a noisy creature as I and sent me back home in disgrace…my tomboy manners had an unfortunate influence on my companions, who soon grew turbulent… ” Her father decided to take charge. She was 13 years old when Rosa started working at her father’s Studio first training to do pencil drawings of plaster casts and engravings, later still life paintings working from nature, landscapes, animals, and birds. Finally, she was sent to study painting and sculpture at the Louvre, the youngest of all students as she was only 14 years old.

Rosa Bonheur, 1822 – 1899
Ploughing in Nevers, 1849, oil on canvas, 1,340×2,600 mm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

In 1841 Bonheur exhibited at the Paris Salon for the first time. By 1843 she was successful and selling her paintings regularly so much so that she was able to travel the country for inspiration and more paintings of French landscapes and animal studies. At the 1848 Salon Rosa Bonheur was awarded a gold medal, and the French government commissioned her to paint Ploughing in Nevers, exhibited at the 1849 Salon, to honour the age-old tradition of field ploughing by animal power.     https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/avant-garde-france/realism/v/rosa-bonheur-plowing-in-the-nivernais-1849     and     https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/painting/commentaire_id/ploughing-in-nevers-2040.html?tx_commentaire_pi1%5BpidLi%5D=509&tx_commentaire_pi1%5Bfrom%5D=841&cHash=60f905d6af

Rosa Bonheur, 1822 – 1899
The Horse Fair, 1855, reduced version, 120 cm × 254.6 cm, National Gallery, London

Bonheur’s most famous painting was accomplished in 1855. Titled The Horse Fair, it is monumental in size and shows the famous horse market in Paris, on the tree-lined Boulevard de l’Hôpital, near the asylum of Salpêtrière, where Rosa Bonheur, dressed as a man by special police permission, sketched, preparing the painting, twice a week, from the summer of 1850 to the end of 1851. Rosalia Shriver writes that “When (the painting) was finally finished and exhibited at the Salon of 1853, its creator was only 31 years old. Yet no other woman had ever achieved a work of such force and brilliance, and no other animal painter had produced a work of such size.” Bonheur herself said that when she paints horses her “…dream is to show the fire which comes out of the horses’ nostrils; the dust which rises from their hooves. I want this to be an infernal waltz.” https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435702      and     Rosalia Shriver, Rosa Bonheur: With a Checklist of Works in American Collections, Art Alliance Press, Philadelphia 1982

Rosa Bonheur, 1822 – 1899
The Horse Fair, ca. 1852, oil on canvas, 26.67 x 63.5 cm, Albright-Knox Art Gallery

The original version of the The Horse Fair is part of the collection, and proudly exhibited, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York along with two small studies of the painting on paper. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has also a small oil on canvas study. Finally, a reduced version of the painting, dating in 1855, is exhibited in the London National Gallery of the United Kingdom, where Bonheur was highly successful , more so than in France. Interestingly, Bonheur’s fame and popularity in Britain led to a meeting with the Queen of England who, along with many of her countrymen appreciated Bonheur’s sentimental approach to landscape and rendering of animals.     https://mymodernmet.com/rosa-bonheur-facts/

Rosa Bonheur, 1822 – 1899
The Horse Fair, 1840–99, black chalk and graphite, 18.4 x 41.1 cm, the MET, NY
The Horse Fair, 19th century, black chalk, grey wash, heightened with white, 13.7 x 33.7 cm, the MET, NY

For a RWAP (RWAP stands for Research-Writing-Art-Project) student Activity, please… check HERE!

“Art is a tyrant. It demands heart, brain, soul, body. The entireness of the votary. Nothing less will win its highest favor. I wed art. It is my husband, my world, my life dream, the air I breathe. I know nothing else, feel nothing else, think nothing else.”     https://www.quotetab.com/quotes/by-rosa-bonheur

The Monastery of Pantokrator in Constantinople

The Monastery of Pantokrator of Constantinople, 12th century
Imperial Church of the Komnenian Dynasty
Şeyh Süleyman Mescidi of Istanbul

“The most important imperial foundation from the Komnene age is the Monastery of Pantokrator, which continues to this day to impress both the scholar and the casual visitor. It is as clear to those who visit its three churches, which despite repeated devastation still inspire admiration for the perfection of their construction and the elegance of their decoration, as to those who read its Typicon that John II Komnenos and his empress Eirene spared no cost to erect a splendid monastery complex, which absorbed a number of smaller foundations, mainly in the environs of Constantinople, and to make generous provision for its upkeep and operation…” writes Sofia Kotzabassi in her preface for the 2013 Volume on The Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople. I couldn’t agree more! https://www.academia.edu/32217856/The_Icon_of_the_Three_Holy_Hierarchs_at_the_Pantokrator_Monastery_and_the_Epigrams_of_Theodore_Prodromos_on_Them

Overlooking the Golden Horn, built on the slopes of the 4th Hill of Constantinople and in the company of such great buildings like the Church of the Holy Apostles and the Aqueduct of Valens, the monastic complex of Pantokrator with its churches, library and hospital, stood formidable and impressive. What an amazing structure… Founded by the Byzantine Emperor Ioannes II Komnenos (1118-1143) and his Hungarian princess-wife Eirene, and built between 1118 and 1137, the Pantokrator Monastery served in various ways the Orthodox Byzantines, the Catholic Venetians during the Latin rule of Constantinople, and since 1491?, converted into a Mosque, it still serves the Moslem Turks, known today as Şeyh Süleyman Mescidi.

The Typikon of the Monastery of Pantokrator (Christ the Almighty), a key document that still survives, helps us understand the importance of the monastic complex, its role in the city’s milieu, and the rites followed by its residents. Reading it, we learned that the Monastery “housed 80 monks, of whom 50 were choir brothers. The monastic complex included a 50-bed hospital with a medical school and a gerokomeion (old-age home) for 24 elderly men.” In addition, the Monastery served a leprosarium constructed at some distance from the main complex. The Monastery of Pantokrator consists of three churches: the South Church, the North Church, and the Middle Church or the “Heroon.” The South Church dedicated to Christ the Pantocrator is the oldest and the largest of the three. This POST will focus on the Pantokrator Church, its architecture and amazing decoration. A second POST, coming up soon, will discuss the “Heroon” and its connection to the Venetian Pala d’Oro.     https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/pantokrator-monastery

A characteristic example of late-12th century architecture, the South Church dedicated to Christ the Pantokrator served as the Katholikon (main church) of the monastic complex. It is the largest cross-in-square church in Constantinople, with a central dome originally supported by four columns of red marble, probably spolia (replaced with piers by the Ottomans), a tripartite bema (triple apse), and a narthex. “The dome is supported by a sixteen-sided drum, each side was pierced by a window.  The side aisles had galleries, from which only the southern survived. The narthex, which projects to either side, also had a gallery. It was covered with five groin-vaults, the middle one of which was later altered to a dome. At the same time, the exonarthex was added. The prothesis and the diakonikon are simple square rooms, each with a projecting apse.”     http://constantinople.ehw.gr/Forms/fLemmaBodyExtended.aspx?lemmaID=11770

The Church was beautifully decorated… sparing no expense. What remains is just a glimpse of its original splendor…

The Monastery of Pantokrator of Constantinople, 12th century
Opus Sectile Floor

Wall revetments of yellow, white, porphyry and verd antique marbles decorated the entire church. Stained glass windows, a medium we associate mostly with Western Medieval Art, covered the windows of the Church presenting geometric patterns and full figures. Was that enough of a decoration? NO! The emperors of the Komnenian dynasty and their spouses were such generous donors, the Church was filled with icons and artefacts in gold and enamels, manuscripts and embroidered silk vestments. As for the upper part of the church walls, they were covered with precious and shining mosaics. Finally, the brilliant Opus Sectile floor decoration which included scenes of hunting, bucolic interludes, mythological creatures, but also a disk with the zodiac cycle and aspects from the story of  Samson… Can you imagine its beauty, eight hundred years ago…

Interesting to Read: Notes on Recent Work of the Byzantine Institute in Istanbul by Arthur H. S. Megaw, from Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 17 (1963), pp. 333-371 Published by: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University.

For a Student Activity, please… check HERE!

The Month of September

The Month of September, latest 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy

And in September, O what keen delight!  /  Falcons and astors astors, merlins, sparrow-hawks;  /  Decoy-birds that shall lure your game in flocks;  /  And hounds with bells: and gauntlets stout and tight;  /  Wide pouches; crossbows shooting out of sight;  /  Arblasts and javelins; balls and ball-cases;  /  All birds the best to fly at; moulting these,  /  Those reared by hand ; with finches mean and slight;  /  And for their chase, all birds the best to fly; /  And each to each of you be lavish still  /  In gifts; and robbery find no gainsaying;  /  And if you meet with travellers going by,  /  Their purses from your purse’s flow shall fill;  /  And Avarice be the only outcast thing. The Month of September is a Sonnet by Folgore Da San Geminiano (c. 1250-1317), is translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his book “Dante and His Circle,” (Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1893).    http://www.sonnets.org/folgore.htm

There is no way for the visitor of the beautiful Italian town of Trento to miss Castello del Buonconsiglio, this imposing, impressive and unique example of secular architecture! It is equally impossible for the Trento visitor not to explore the Castello, where, since the 13th century, the prince bishops of Trento resided and embellished with two Palazzos, an Italianate Park, a Gothic-Venetian Loggia and massive Towers.

Castello del Buonconsiglio

In 1973 the Castello became an Italian regional Museum of Art, known as Castello del Buonconsiglio Museum. This is where the Trento visitor can admire numerous art collections, ranging from paintings and manuscripts to period furniture and local archaeological finds. La piece-de-resistance among the Museum’s treasures is the so-called “Ciclo dei Mesi” in Torre Aquila.     https://www.trentino.com/en/highlights/castles/castello-del-buonconsiglio/

“Ciclo dei Mesi” is a favourite theme in the arts of the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance. Often linked to the signs of the Zodiac, the Cycle of the Months is often perceived as a link between the work of man, the seasons of the year and God’s ordering of the Universe. As a theme, it recurred in the sculptural decorations of cathedrals and churches across Europe, in illuminated manuscripts like the popular Book of Hours, palace frescoes and, rarely, panel paintings.

Trento’s September fresco panel in Torre Aquila is characteristic of Maestro Venceslao’s, the artist who painted the “Ciclo dei Mesi”, creative abilities. It is rich, colourful and informative. It tells us of how hard the Trentino farmers worked and how idle and pleasure-seeking its aristocrats were.

The upper half of September’s composition depicts the typical agricultural activities of the month: the preparation of the land and the harvest of seasonal products.  At the very top, a shepherd watches over his sheltered flock, while three farmers across a bridged river plough a well-tended piece of land. The two men are dressed in short light tunics and lead the plough, pulled by a pair of oxen and a horse. The woman, on the other hand, dressed in a white robe but with bare feet works with the hoe along the perfectly traced lines of the furrows. The middle composition presents another peasant woman busy in collecting turnips. The white turnip was very popular at the time. Peasants cultivated turnips in vegetable gardens or in open fields in abundance as, along with cabbages, turnips were the indispensable food for the long winters of northern European territories.

The Trentino aristocrats, however, in the lower half of the composition, are depicted still interested in their favourite entertainment: hunting with a hawk. The same red castle Maestro Venceslao painted in the August scene seems to be the residence of a group of three young aristocrats, galloping and ready to go hunting. A lady and two knights, surrounded by their dogs, are about to practice falconry with their well-trained hawks. They seem eager to join two more gentlemen, depicted higher up in the composition, who are already energetically hunting among the rocks and low bushes of the Trentino landscape. Who knows… they might of Folgore, the poet from San Gimignano, and his September poem on the pleasures of September hunting with birds of prey… 

A PowerPoint on Torre Aquila’s frescoes for the Months of August and September is… HERE!

Émile Zola by Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet, 1832-1883
Portrait of Émile Zola, 1868, oil on canvas, 146,0 x 114,0 cm., Musée d’Orsay

“My dear Zola, – I am making up my mind to hold a private show. I have at least two score pictures to exhibit. I’ve already been offered a site in a very good location near the Champ de Mars. I am going to stake the lot and seconded by men like yourself, am hopeful of success. See you soon. Cordially, yours ever, All of us here are delighted with your article, and I am instructed to send you thanks.” This is a quote of Manet’s letter to Zola, Wednesday, 2 January 1867. My new POST Émile Zola by Édouard Manet further shows the relationship between the two men.     https://quotepark.com/quotes/1886775-edouard-manet-my-dear-zola-i-am-making-up-my-mind-to-hold-a-p/

It was 1866 and Émile Zola, disappointed with the way the French Academy and critics treated Édouard Manet’s work in the Salon of 1866 wrote an article on Manet in La Revue du XXe siècle and defended him. He did not stop, however, with this first article. The following year, 1867, when Manet organized a private exhibition on the fringes of the Universal Exhibition, Zola was once more present, supporting his friend, writing about Manet’s New Manner in Art, in the January La Revue du XXe siècle. Later in 1867, Zola republished the 1867 article in the form of a separate pamphlet. Zola wrote that he “instinctively loved” Manet’s Art replying to the critics who vilified the painter by saying  “I replied to them [to the crowd and to the art critics] that fate had undoubtedly already marked at the Louvre Museum the future place of the Olympia and of the Luncheon on the Grass.” This pamphlet was distributed on May 22, 1867, the opening day of the Private Exhibition of Edouard Manet, organized at his expense by the painter in a pavilion near the Pont de l’Alma.     https://www.librairie-faustroll.com/librairie-en-ligne/6684-zola-emile-edouard-manet-1867-dentu-edition-originale-de-cette-rare-plaquette-complet-de-l-eau-forte-d-apres-olympia.html     and     https://msu.edu/course/ha/446/zolamanet.htm

According to the Musée d’Orsay presentation “To thank him, Manet offered to paint Zola’s portrait. The sittings took place in Manet’s studio, rue Guyot. The setting was arranged for the occasion with items characteristic of Zola’s personality, tastes and occupation. On the wall is a reproduction of Manet’s Olympia, a painting which sparked a fierce scandal at the 1865 Salon but which Zola held to be Manet’s best work. Behind it is an engraving from Velazquez’s Bacchus indicating the taste for Spanish art shared by the painter and the writer. A Japanese print of a wrestler by Utagawa Kuniaki II completes the décor. The Far East, which revolutionised ideas on perspective and colour in European painting, played a central role in the advent of the new style of painting. A Japanese screen on the left of the picture recalls this. Zola is seated at his work table. He is holding a book, probably Charles Blanc’s L’Histoire des peintres frequently consulted by Manet. An inkwell and a quill on the desk symbolise the writer’s occupation. This portrait sealed the start of a loyal friendship between Manet and Zola, both eager for success.”     https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search/commentaire_id/emile-zola-313.html

The symbolist artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916), known today for the “dreamlike” paintings, observed penetratingly Zola’s Portrait and in his Salon review (La Gironde, 9 June 1868), wrote… “It is rather a still life, so to speak, than the expression of a human being”. Apparently Zola himself was not entirely delighted with his portrait, which Manet presented to him, and Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans (1848-1907) the French novelist and art critic noticed that he had relegated the painting to an antechamber of his home.     http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/paintings-analysis/portrait-of-emile-zola.htm

For a Student Activity, please… check HERE!

Albenga Baptistery

Albenga Baptistery, interior view, early 6th century, Albenga, Italy

“Early Christian Baptisteries were more than simply convenient shelters for liturgical rites. They functioned as symbols in themselves; their shape and decoration reflected and reinforced the theological significance or meaning of the ritual. Whereas the shapes and their furnishings were specially built to accommodate a complex ceremony having regional and indigenous variations, certain details of their design were intended to express the meaning and purpose of the rite…” writes R. Jensen in his 2010 book Living Water. The Albenga Baptistery intends to briefly explore a magnificent example of Early Christian Baptistery Architecture.    https://brill.com/view/book/9789004189089/Bej.9789004188983.i-306_008.xml

Albenga is an old Italian city with a rich history. Built on the Gulf of Genoa, in the province of Savona in Liguria, Albenga is charmingly nicknamed, City of a Hundred Towers. During the Roman period, Albenga was a busy port town called Albium Ingaunum. Interestingly, the city’s ancient Roman structure survived time, and today, the two Roman main streets, the “Cardo” and “Decumanus” intersect at its modern centre. The city is also famous for the wreck of the Roman ship, exhibited in the Naval Museum. This  Marine Archaeology find is the “largest Roman transport vessel known to date in the Mediterranean, with a load exceeding 10,000 amphorae, and therefore with a net capacity of 450/500 tons. The amphorae contained wine from Campania destined for the markets of southern France and Spain. Along with wine, black-glazed ceramics…” and other types of export pottery were discovered as well.  https://www.scoprialbenga.it/en/roman-naval-museum.htm     In addition to Roman ruins, Albenga boasts splendid Early Christian and Medieval monuments like the city’s 12th-century Cathedral, the famous early 6th-century Baptistery we will further discuss, and “hundred” of Medieval Towers.  

The Albenga Baptistery was built during the early sixth century AD, when the city, following a perilous period of unrest, was reconstructed by Emperor Flavio Costanzo in his attempt to rebuild the Roman Empire. The Albenga Baptistery can be described as an octagonal room with a baptismal font in the middle and “inner walls articulated in two arcades, one above the other, and originally covered by a dome.” The lower arcade presents eight arches followed by niches, one of both on each of the eight walls. Each niche has a semicircular or rectangular ground plan and a small window for illumination. “Two of the niches, to the south-west and the south-east, have doors connecting the octagonal room with the outside.” The Baptistery’s upper arcade has sixteen arches, seven of which are large windows, one smaller in size, and the rest of the arches, in between windows, simply closed. Interestingly, “while the octagonal shape dominates the inside of the building and also the outside of the upper part, the thicker, lower part has an irregular, decagonal outer shape, probably in order to adapt to surrounding buildings of which little is known.” Bottom line, this is an ambitious Early Christian architectural project “realized through important economic and architectural efforts.”          https://www.academia.edu/14528427/Photomodelling_as_an_Instrument_for_Stratigraphic_Analysis_of_Standing_Buildings_the_Baptistery_of_Albenga_con_Cristian_Aiello_Federico_Caruso_Chiara_Cecalupo_Elie_Essa_Kas_Hanna_in_Rivista_di_Archeologia_Cristiana_90_2014_pp_259_293    

The Baptistery’s interior was, it is believed, decorated with a bold mosaic pictorial program that covered, most probably, the niches, the walls and the pavement surrounding the baptismal font of the Baptistery. Today, the only part covered with mosaics is the barrel vault over the northeastern interior niche. Reading Nathan S. Denis’s Visualizing Trinitarian space in the Albanga Baptistery, we learn that “the early sixth-century baptistery in Albenga, Italy, contains one of the earliest attempts to render the Christian Trinity in pictorial form.”

This mosaic is made of two parts. The bigger part of the two presents “a tripartite group of interlocking Chi-Rho monograms imprinted upon an equally tripartite gradient-blue nimbus” of golden-yellow and white marble tesserae for the Chi-Rho and a circular field of light-blue glass mosaic for the nimbus. “Surrounding the monogram are twelve white doves; immediately above the monogram is a small orb containing a golden cross; and… eighty-six eight-pointed white stars against a deep, lapis-coloured background…” The smaller of the two is on the lunette above the window and shows two lambs flanking a jewelled cross in a paradisiacal landscape of green and blue background.

Both compositions are framed by a thick rinceaux border on a striking white background. There is a second border, both geometric and floral, on the underside of the window arch flanking a white anchor, and again, over the entrance to the niche, flanking an inscription that reads “NOMINAMVS QVORVM HIC RELIQVIAE SVNT,” or “We call upon [them] whose relics are here.” The inscription is accompanied by the names of  “Sts. Stephen, John the Evangelist, Lawrence, Nabor, Protasius, Felix, and Gervasius, with the two missing names on the lowest register generally believed to have been St. Victor and Sixtus I.”    

On Albenga’s Baptistery, an article worth reading: https://www.academia.edu/37328427/Bodies_in_Motion_Visualizing_Trinitarian_Space_in_the_Albenga_Baptistery

For a Student Activity, please… check HERE!

Blue Glass Amphoriskos from Pompeii

Blue Glass Amphoriskos with cupids gathering grapes from the Villa of the Mosaic Columns in Pompeii, between circa 1 and circa 79 AD, Cameo Glass, Naples Archaeological Museum

“Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed  /   Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;  /  And, happy melodist, unwearied,  /  For ever piping songs for ever new;  /  More happy love! more happy, happy love!  /  For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,  /  For ever panting, and for ever young;  /  All breathing human passion far above,  /  That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,  /  A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.” Wrote John Keats in his famous Ode to a Grecian Urn… What about the Blue Glass Amphoriskos from Pompeii we will discuss todaywho is going to do justice to it?     https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44477/ode-on-a-grecian-urn

Portland Vase, between circa 1 and circa 25 AD, Cameo Glass, H. 24 cm, Diam. 17.7 cm, British Museum
Glass Amphoriskos with cupids gathering grapes from the Villa of the Mosaic Columns in Pompeii, between circa 1 and circa 79 AD, Cameo Glass, Naples Archaeological Museum

The Portland Cameo Vase might be famous for its chic et simple design, but the Pompeiian Cameo Amphorisko is chic but definitely not simple!  It is luxuriously rich, elaborately designed, lavishly ornate, ostentatious, sumptuous… yet elegant in a “Baroque” way! The Classicist I admires the Portland Vase… my Hellenistic psyche, however, is all for the Pompeian Amphorisko!

It was the 29th of December 1837 and the archaeological site of Pompeii was visited by King Ferdinand II of Naples and Sicily. What a lucky day for the excavators and the visiting King… a rare Blue Glass Cameo Vase, regarded today as one of the most important treasures of the Naples National Archaeological Museum, was discovered in the area of the enclosed, small, funerary garden of the Villa of the Mosaic Columns. I do not know how true this story is… but the Romantic me likes it! https://www.interno16holidayhome.com/2019/02/22/discovering-the-blue-vase-of-pompeii/  The correct date for the discovery of the Blue Glass Amphorisko is probably 1834 as sited on the Naples Archaeological Museum site. However hard I searched Internet sources, I found little more…   https://www.museoarcheologiconapoli.it/en/room-and-sections-of-the-exhibition/metal-ivory-and-glass-objects/

The area where the Blue Glass Amphoriskos was discovered.

The Pompeian Blue Glass Amphoriskos is a very rare example of ancient cameo glass. This is a type of luxurious vessel inspired by intricate Hellenistic relief-cut gems, extremely popular during the period of the Augustan and Julio-Claudian periods, from 27 B.C. to 68 AD. Based on lengthy research by David Whitehouse of the Corning Museum of Glass, there are only 15 extant vessels and about 200 fragments of Cameo Glass in Museums and private collections today. The Romans created Cameo vessels, large wall plaques, and small jewellery items, using craftsmen of the finest technical skills, as highly expensive items of luxury for the Roman aristocracy.      https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20130916-mystery-of-a-missing-masterpiece     and     https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rcam/hd_rcam.htm

The Corning Museum of Glass describes a Roman Cameo piece of Glass as “an object with two or more layers of different colours; the top layer is partly cut away to fashion decoration in low relief against a background of contrasting colour. Most Roman examples are made with two layers, usually white over blue. However, fragments of vessels exist with more than two layers, and sometimes as many as five.”     https://www.cmog.org/set/reflecting-antiquity-cameo?id=1376

The Pompeian Blue Glass Amphoriskos is luxuriously decorated with Dionysiac scenes, particularly scenes of grape harvest. “On one side, a cupid is pouring rich grapes into a vat, where another cupid is intent on wine-pressing. The scene is framed by two low wide columns, on which two cupids are sitting while they accompany the grape harvest playing the syringe and the double flute. On the opposite side stands a klinos (bed), where are lying two cupids, one of which is playing the lyre, while on the other two columns a cupid picks grapes, and the other is holding a bunch in the hand and a basket already full on the head.” Between these two scenes, depicted is a Dionysiac “mask” with grapes, tendrils and birds! At the very bottom of the Vase, the artist who created this amazing Blue Glass Amphorisko masterfully presents a series of animals feeding on grass and shrubs, in between white, thin, horizontal, lines. What an accomplishment on a small scale!   https://www.museoarcheologiconapoli.it/en/room-and-sections-of-the-exhibition/metal-ivory-and-glass-objects/

For a PowerPoint on the Villa of the Mosaic Columns, please… click HERE!