“A Work of Art which did not begin in Emotion is not Art” Paul Cezanne said… and I think of him every time I visit Room 3, “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise” in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, to admire the exhibited Early Christian Funerary Paintings. http://mbp.gr/en/room-3-elysian-fields-christian-paradise
Visiting the Thessaloniki Museum of Byzantine Culture is a true cultural experience. For years now, I have visited it with my Pinewood students, trying to instil upon them the fine essence of Byzantine art and culture. The actual Museum building comes to my assistance… every time! In 1989, the Museum’s architect, Kyriakos Krokos, wrote: Iwanted a space within which movement would create a feeling of freedom, stirring up the senses, and where the exhibit would be a surprise within the movement. Walking through the Museum with my students, one surprise surpasses the other. The floor and wall mosaics in the first Early Christian Period Room, attract everybody’s attention, the Byzantine tunics with their fine embroideries are eye-catching, the icons and the intricately illuminated manuscript in the Middle Byzantine Period Room are definitely noticed. Finally, as we are about to leave, one last surprise: a beautiful Post-Byzantine golden eikonostaasi, one last startling work of art to ponder. After each visit, my students, pencils, notebooks and cameras, in hand, surprised and dazzled, come one step closer to understanding our Byzantine heritage! What more can I ask…
When I visit the Museum of Byzantine Culture alone and am in a mood, I cannot fully describe, my steps take me directly to Room 3: “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise.” Dimly lit, usually very quiet, full of elusive treasures to discover, this is my place, the Room, I love…
Room 3: “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise” was the first Exhibition Room in the Museum to open, back on the 29th of March 1997. It was the result of an EU funded Research Program, titled “The Transformation of the Roman World AD 400-900.” As the title of the Exhibition Room connotates, this is an area dedicated to afterlife during Late Antiquity. All exhibited items come from tombs in cemeteries excavated outside the Walls of Thessaloniki. They consist of funerary gifts, inscriptions, and items of worship of the dead. According to the Museum experts “The exhibit is complete with a series of extremely rare and unique funerary paintings. These illustrate in an exceptional way the transition from the Late Antiquity concept of the afterlife into a heavenly place of material prosperity, along with the shift from the funerary customs and decoration of Antiquity that still survives to the final triumph of the Cross with the emergence of the New Religion and the establishment of the belief for the Last Judgment and the Resurrection of the Dead.” http://mbp.gr/en/room-3-elysian-fields-christian-paradise
It is these unique funerary paintings I seek out every time I visit my favourite Museum in Thessaloniki. They carry Hellenistic Naturalism and Roman Verism, traditional Late Antique or novel Christian subject matter, higher or poorer quality craftsmanship… all together, these amazing frescoes transfer me to an exciting world of unwavering changes and exciting cultural developments… the world of the Early Christian period and the artistic milieu of Thessaloniki, a city worth visiting!
Eάλω η Πόλις remembers the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans on the 29th of May 1453. Tabula Peutingeriana, one of the most important Late Roman Itineraries, presents the city of Constantinople in an interesting way.
Modern English dictionaries define the word Itinerary as “a detailed plan for a journey, especially a list of places to visit.” Did you know that an Itinerarium (plural: Itineraria) was an Ancient Roman road map where cities, villages, Mansiones and Mutationes were listed, with the intervening distances marked?
What we know today about Rome’s road system comes from one such Itinerarium, the famous Tabula Peutingeriana, named for its former owner, Conrad Peutinger, a German humanist. Tabula Peutingeriana is a 13th-century copy of an antique world Itinerarium of Roman roads from the British Isles up to India and Central Asia, created sometime around the 4th century A.D. The entire map was originally a long, narrow parchment roll and in its present state measures 6.75 meters long but only 34 centimetres wide. https://www.euratlas.net/cartogra/peutinger/
At first sight, the Tabula Peutingeriana looks very unlike any modern map. It shows the entire Roman world in full colour, including cities, the locations of lighthouses, bridges, inns, tunnels, and most importantly, all the major Roman roads are listed. The distances between various cities and landmarks are marked. But, the landmass and the seas have been stretched and flattened. The Mediterranean has been reduced to a thin strip of water, more like a river than a sea. Instead of being oriented from north to south, the map, which is only 34 cm wide, works from west to east. https://digitalmapsoftheancientworld.com/ancient-maps/tabula-peutingeriana/
The director of the Department of Manuscripts, Autographs and Closed Collections at the Austrian National Library, Andreas Fingernagel, says it is an intensely practical document. “The red lines are the main roads. Every so often there is a little hook along the red lines which represents a rest stop – and the distance between hooks was one day’s travel… Every so often there is a pictogram of a building to show you that there was a hotel or a spa where you could stay, some of the buildings have large courtyards – a sign of more luxurious accommodation,” he said.
For a PowerPoint on Tabula Peutingeriana, please… Click HERE!
“…And so I left her to her prayers, and went To gaze upon the pride of Monza’s shrine Where in the sacristy the light still falls Upon the Iron Crown of Italy On whose crowned heads the day has closed, not yet The daybreak gilds another head to crown…” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A Last Confession
Once upon a time… there was a Bavarian princess named Teodolinda (570 – 627) whose fate was to prudently rule over Lombardy, and bequeath the people of Italy, a great treasure… the Iron Crown of Monza! She was the wife of two Lombard kings, Authari (c. 540 – 590) and Agilulf, (c. 555 – 616) and mother, and regent of king, Adaloaldo (603-629).
She is described as a beautiful and intelligent woman, a follower of the Nicene Creed (the First Council of Nicaea, 325 – adopted to resolve the Arian controversy) and a devoted friend of Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540 – 604). She is also described as a great patroness of the arts, providing Monza, the Lombard summer capital, with its Cathedral, a spectacular basilica dedicated to St. John the Baptist. A local legend describes how Queen Teodolinda while riding alongside the Lambro River in the area of Monza met with a dove which instructed her to build a church in the area…and how, dutifully, she did! Today, gazing upon the Monza Cathedral one can only think of the truth behind the legend!
Queen Teodolinda and Pope Gregory the Great are responsible for bringing to Monza some astonishing Early Christian works of art and relics. The Iron Crown is one such extraordinary relic, an item of veneration and great mastery of Early Christian goldsmithery.
The Crown consists of six golden, rectangular plates beautifully embellished with enamelwork and cabochon gems… garnets, amethysts and blue corundum. Each plate is divided into two uneven in size, parts. The right part is narrow and consists of a vertical row of three cabochon gems, one under the other. The other one is three times bigger in size and rectangular in shape. It is decorated with a central cabochon gem, four gold rosettes, and four amazing enamelled floral motifs. The combination of shining gold, opaque and translucent enamels add to the grace and beauty of the Crown, making it an alluring artefact of the Early Christian period.
The Iron Crown of Monza is one of the most venerated relics in Italy as tradition and legend ties it up with the Passion of Christ and the first Christian emperor, Constantine. According to Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, Saint Helena while visiting Palestine in 326, found the nails used for Christ’s martyrdom. One of these nails was inserted as an inner circle in the creation of the Iron Crown that was first worn by no other than Emperor Constantine himself! That Crown, always according to Ambrose, was brought to Milan by Emperor Theodosius, and after many interesting adventures passed to Queen Teodolinda and finally, the Cathedral of Monza. Historically, the Iron Crown was used for the Coronation of all Italian Kings since the Carolingian Period.
The original Monza oraculum (chapel) built on the Greek Cross plan Teodolinda commissioned back in 595, is long gone… only some walls exist today. On the exact site, however, starting from the 13th century, the Monza Cathedral was built, a Basilica church in the Latin Cross plan with an octagonal tiburium. The famous Teodolinda chapel was built at the same time. Today, the Chapel is famous for the mid-15th century wall paintings, painted by Milanese artists from the Zavattari workshop, that recount 45 episodes from Queen Teodolinda’s life and a consecrated altar, built by Luca Beltrami in 1895-96, that holds this most important of Italy’s relics… the Iron Crown of Monza. https://www.wmf.org/project/duomo-theodelindas-chapel
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that, He was seen of above five thousand brethren at once.” 1 Cor. 15:3-6… Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Churchhttps://www.goarch.org/-/holy-week-in-the-eastern-orthodox-church
Lazarus Saturday… “Six
days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany…” (John 12:1)
According to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, colour RED is the colour of fire, flames, and Devine Energy… It is also the colour of blood, Christ’s blood to be more specific and thus the colour of Salvation for Mankind… https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pseudo-dionysius-areopagite/
The Raising of Lazarus, in this amazing 12th century Icon from Mount Athos, takes place in front of a blazing Byzantine RED background… It is part of the Collection of the Byzantine and Christian Museum at Athens, a Museum that houses over 25,000 artefacts dating from the 3rd century AD to present time. The Byzantine and Christian Museum is housed in Villa Ilissia, one of the loveliest buildings erected in Athens during its early years as the capital of the newly-founded Greek state. Villa Ilissia, designed by the architect Stamatis Kleanthis, was the winter residence of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, Duchess of Plaisance, a formidable lady with a remarkable fortune! https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/ and https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/museum/villa_ilissia/
Palm Sunday… “Rejoice greatly…O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the
King comes unto Thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon
an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zech. 9:9)
The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem Manuscript Illumination in the 6th century Rossano Gospels is yet another blazing RED coloured Byzantine artwork. The fragmentary manuscript presents scenes from the Life of Christ, and sometimes small portraits of Old Testament prophets, prefiguring an event described in the New Testament. It contains the texts of Matthew and Mark written in fine silver and gold uncials on purple vellum. https://www.artesacrarossano.it/eng/codex.php
“The Rossano miniatures are painted with extraordinary refinement and economy. Like the illustrations in the Vienna Genesis, they distil the narrative action in a few convincing gestures. Hellenistic naturalism survives in the soft, highlighted garments, dramatic action, and details of the setting. Christ’s trial, for example, is depicted as an authentic court procedure. Nevertheless, a weakening of classical verisimilitude and vigour is evident throughout the manuscript; in the Mark page, the personification and garden wall appear flattened and show a tendency toward abstract pattern.” https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/rossano-gospels
Great Monday… “May no fruit ever come from you again!”
Monday of Holy Week commemorates the blessed and noble Joseph
and the fig tree which was cursed and withered by the Lord. The story of Joseph
of the Old Testament (Genesis 37-41) serves as a great example of a virtuous
man, a model of propriety and sincere observance of ethical principles. https://www.goarch.org/-/holy-week-in-the-eastern-orthodox-church
The Throne of Maximianus, in the Archiepiscopal Museum of Ravenna, is one of the greatest examples of 6th century Byzantine Art. The wooden core of this monumental Cattedra was covered with panels of ivory carvings wonderfully encased with strips of vine scrolls inhabited by birds and animals. Ivory panels decorating the back of the Throne show scenes from the Life of Christ, while the side panels depict scenes from the Story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis. The panels used in the front of the Throne depict the Four Evangelists left and right of John the Baptist, who is holding a medallion with the Lamb of God and Maximianus’s name above him. Scholars identify two different artists working on this amazing Early Byzantine masterpiece. The explanation can be simple… the Plague of Justinian probably caused the death of the first, maybe of Alexandrian origin, artist, so that a second artist was introduced to finish this amazing imperial commission. https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/maximian-throne
Great Tuesday… “Lord, she who has fallen in many sins, Recognizing Your Divinity, Took up the myrrh-bearer’s office, With tears brought you myrrh before your entombment.”
Great Wednesday… “Let no fear separate you from Me…” this
is the evening of repentance, confession and the remission of sins by Christ,
preparing the faithful to receive Holy Communion…
Walters manuscript W.592
is an illuminated and illustrated Arabic manuscript of the Gospels by Matthew
(Mattá), Mark (Marqus), Luke (Luqa), and John (Yuhanna) and was copied in Egypt
by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, who was most likely a Coptic monk, in Anno
Mundi 7192/AD 1684. The text is written in Naskh in black ink with rubrics in
red. The decoration is comprised of illuminated headpieces, numerous floral
paintings, and approximately fifty illustrations. It is worth browsing through
its pages… https://art.thewalters.org/detail/17922
The Walters Art Gallery Manuscript 592, is becoming one of my favourites… I enjoy the clarity of the compositions, the vibrancy of colours applied, the bold outlines and the pure joy of the floral decorative patterns used by the artist!
Great Thursday… “Take, eat;
this is my Body. Drink of it all of you; for this is my Blood of the New
Covenant” (Matthew 26:26-28)
Scenes of a Byzantine Mystical Supper, usually depict the event in a straight-forward manner, as described in the Gospels: the Twelve Disciples are seated around an oval table, John usually rests on Jesus’ bosom, and Judas dips his hand in the dish, revealing him to be Christ’s traitor. This is not the case in the 6th century Church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. Chris, dressed in purple, along with the 12 Disciples dressed in white, recline around a central table. The bread and fish on the table may refer to the miracle of the loaves and fishes portrayed on the opposite wall of the Church while the Bread explicitly relates that miracle to the Eucharist, which Jesus is believed to have instituted at the Last Supper. This is one of the 13 mosaics of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ along with the upper band of the right wall of the nave. https://www.christianiconography.info/Edited%20in%202013/Italy/sApolNuovoRightNave.lastSupper.html
Oh my sweet
spring, my sweetest child, where does your beauty fade? (Excerpt from the
Lamentations of Good Friday)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has among its many Byzantine Treasures, an Ivory Icon of the Crucifixion I particularly like. It is small in size like all Byzantine Ivory panels, but so rich in quality work… Under a richly textured canopy, the MET Crucifixion emphasizes Christ’s victory over death. Christ’s body lifelessly “suspends” on the Cross while his head gracefully falls forward and leans to his left shoulder. Mary and John stand on the sides of the Cross mourning with dignity, the three soldiers divide Christ’s garment, and at the very bottom, unique to this small ivory piece, the personification of Hades! Panofsky’s Renascence at its best! https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/464428
Great Saturday… “Arise, O God, and judge Thou
the earth…” (Vespers and Divine Liturgy of Saturday evening)
This amazing Icon at the Hellenic Institute in Venice comes from Constantinople and dates from the late 14th century. It is elegant and sophisticated, a fine example of the Late Paleologean style in painting. It depicts the Resurrection of Christ, or in true Byzantine style, the Descent of Christ into Hades, according to the occult gospel of Nicodemus. Christ is depicted in the center of the composition, within a radiant glory, stepping at the gates of Hades and lifting Adam from within an open sarcophagus. Behind Adam are Eve, the prophets and on the opposite side Biblical kings like Solomon, David, and prophets from the Old Testament. In the lower central part, an angel chains Hades, while at the top, against a glorious golden background, two angels fly, holding the symbols of Christ’s Passion… http://eib.xanthi.ilsp.gr/gr/icons.asp
For a PowerPoint on The Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church, please… click HERE!
A church of the utmost quality, unpretentious, beautiful and imposing, the 12th century Panagia Kosmosotira in Feres, is the Katholikon of a grand Monastery, in the Byzantine type of the cross-in-square church with two columns and five domes. The Monastery is built in a magnificent location, the Byzantine city of Bera, modern-day Feres, next to the Delta of Evros River.
Panagia Kosmosotira, the Monastery, and its Katholikon were founded by Sevastokrator Isaakios Komnenos, the third son of Alexios I Komnenos (c. 1048 – 15 August 1118), founder of the Komnenian dynasty. Isaakios was a Porphyrogennetos (born in the purple) prince, a title he was granted as he was born during the reign of his parents. Although the origin of the title Prorphyrogennetos is not clear, it is widely accepted that a special Chamber known as “Porphyra” in the Great Palace of Constantinople was used for the delivery of the imperial newborns. Anna Komnene, a Porphyrogennete herself, describes this special room as “set apart long ago for an Empress’s confinement” located “where the stone oxen and the lions stand” (the Boukoleon Palace), and was in the form of a perfect square from floor to ceiling, with the latter ending in a pyramid. Its walls, floor and ceiling were completely veneered with imperial porphyry, which was “generally of a purple colour throughout, but with white spots like sand sprinkled over it.” https://www.doaks.org/resources/online-exhibits/gods-regents-on-earth-a-thousand-years-of-byzantine-imperial-seals/imperial-titulature/porphyrogennitos and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Born_in_the_purple
Isaakios Komnenos had the title of Sevestokrator as well, granted to him by his brother, Emperor Ioannis II Komnenos (1087 – 1143) with whom he was in constant dispute and rivalry over the Byzantine Throne. He is also known as the author of several treatises and poems, a cultured man of learning and a great patron of the arts. Isaakios is responsible for rebuilding the Chora Church in Constantinople, where on the lower right side of the grand Deesis mosaic, his donor portrait survives to this day.
The Katholikon of Panagia Kosmosotira was Isaakios’s final resting place. A bit after 1150 he was forced to retire to his estate in Thrace, where in 1151/52, he founded the cenobitic monastery of Kosmosoteira (“Theotokos the World-Saviour”) in Bera (modern Feres). “The construction of the monastery, which was meant as his residence and final resting place, was of great emotional importance to Isaac, who invested considerable time and effort in it: although heavily ill at the time, he still went and supervised the monastery’s construction almost daily, and personally authored its typikon (charter) in 1152, making meticulous provisions about its governance and assigning extensive grants to it, including his own estates at Ainos. Possibly in imitation of his brother’s foundation of the Pantokrator Monastery, he also ordered the erection of a hospital outside the monastery walls.”
When visiting Panagia Kosmosotira, please note 1. The “monumental simplicity” of its architecture 2. The curved “contour” lines that characterize the structure of the church 3. The interplay of stone and brick in the construction 4. The interior fresco decoration dates back to the 12th century, an exquisite example of the Constantinopolitan style 5. The four painted military saints depicted between the arched windows of the northern and southern aisles (portraits of members of the Komnenos family?), and 6. the walled-in ceramic depiction of the single-headed eagle, a symbol of the dynasty of the Komnenos family in Trebizond.
For a WAC (stands for Writing Across the Curriculum) Student Activity, please… check HERE!
The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste Ivory Icon at the BODE Museum in Berlin is a favorite of mine for making me think, reflect and compare.
First of all, I like the story of these 40 tough Roman soldiers, devoted to their faith, suffering… in the city of Sevaste, in Armenia, during the reign of Emperor Licinius, and under the presidency of Agricolaus, in the year 320 AD. Their story is beautifully told by MATHEW in http://dignareme.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-40-martyrs-of-sebaste.html
Then, I like Byzantine Ivory Carving! What a magnificent medium in… small-scale. Byzantine Art is not only about monumental, awe-inspiring mosaics and frescoes. The aficionados of Byzantium find equal pleasure even more! in artifacts of smaller scale, like luxurious ivories, silverware, glassware, and jewelry, even humble pottery and woodwork.
I am fascinated by Ivory itself. One only has to imagine the caravans or the galleys bringing to Constantinople African elephant tasks, the anticipation of the artisans ready to put their expertise into practice, and the eagerness of the buyers as they consider one more coveted possession. During the 10th and the 11th centuries, Byzantine Ivories were popular among the City’s aristocrats and highly prized as Imperial gifts to foreign dignitaries.
Meticulously carved, ivory icons, consular diptychs, or pyxides, enchant us today with their beauty. “The allure of this substance is easily understood: its smooth, tactile quality and creamy color made it ideal for the creation of” amazing works of art, just like the Icon of the Forty Martyrs of Sevaste in the BODE Museum.
Known as the “most noble girl, the nobilissima puella” Aelia Galla Placidia is still today, revered for her family lineage, her astonishing life and her magnificent Mausoleum in Ravenna!
The Gold Medallion depicting Galla Placidia, splendidly framed and mounted as a pendant, in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, made me think. She is presented to us in profile, her hair tightly braided, wearing a tiara with three rows of pearls. She is heavily adorned with jewelry. She wears ear pendants and a necklace with more precious pearls. She is depicted as a modest, yet fashionable lady. Her peplum, fastened by a fibula adorned with yet more pearls, covers her embroidered tunic, adorned with a Chi-Rho ornament on her shoulder. What a life she had! Imperial daughter, wife, and mother…
Galla Placidia was born in Constantinople, between 388 and 392, to Emperor
Theodosius I (ruled 379–395) and his second wife Flavia Galla. She grew up in
Constantinople under the care of her cousin Serena, her mother died in
childbirth in 394, wife of magister militum Stilicho. Serena, an
educated woman and a patroness of the arts, is probably responsible for the classical
education Galla Placidia received, as well as her skills in weaving and the art
of embroidery. The Roman princess, summoned by her father, was in Milan, in
395, where Theodosius I died.
It seems that Placidia remained in Italy, and was in Rome, in 408, when the Visigoths of Alaric I attacked. During these turbulent years, Placidia agreed to the execution of her cousin Serena. The following years were not easy for the “nobilissima puella.” By 410, she was a captive of the Goths and taken to Gaul, where, in 414 at Narbonne, with extravagance and pomp, she was married to the Visigoth chieftain Athaulf, King of the Visigoths from 414 to 415. When Athaulf was murdered in 415, she was once more taken captive by her husband’s enemies, “treated with cruel and wanton insult.” She was apparently forced to walk more than twelve miles along with the crowd of captives, suffering with such dignity that raised opposition to her enemies, leading to the assassination of their ruler, Sigeric. The new Visigoth leader was Wallia, Ataulf’s relative, and her supporter.
Ιn 416, Galla Placidia was finally returned to the Romans and soon after, her half-brother Honorius, Emperor of the West, forced her to marry the powerful Roman general Constantius. In 421, as Constantius III, Placidia’s husband became co-emperor in the West and she was proclaimed Augusta (Empress). Constantius’s death in the same year started a new set of unpleasant events for Galla Placidia. Emperor Honorius behaved towards her with “indecent familiarity,” they quarreled openly, and Placidia had no other choice than flee Ravenna with her children, seeking refuge in Constantinople with her nephew, the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II (402-450).
During the final years of her life, Galla Placidia enjoyed the political power she was familiar with. On August 15, 423, Honorius died and on October 23, 425, her son, Valentinian III, was proclaimed Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. For twelve years Placidia served as Valentinian’s regent seeking to balance the power of rival, ambitious generals and thus, protect the well-being of the Empire. Galla Placidia died in Rome on the 27th of November, 450. Her final resting place is unknown. It seems unclear whether the famous Mausoleum in Ravenna was intended for Galla Placidia’s resting place. http://www.roman-emperors.org/galla.htm
Honorius and Galla Placidia are the Protagonists in a “Poem for two Voices” student Activity inspired by the Velp Medallions. The Student Activity Worksheet is… HERE!
The 6th century Church of San Michele in Africisco has an amazing story to tell! It all started in Ravenna… when Giuliano Argentarius, a Byzantine court official and banker of great wealth and devotion, commissioned, as a votive offering to Archangel Michael, a new church in the Ravennate neighborhood known as Frigiselus.
Guliano’s Church in Figiselus, known as San Michele in Africisco, was magnificently adorned with mosaics and marble adornments. Unfortunately, the church as a place of worship no longer exists due to alterations and lootings. Very little of the original wall structures stand, while mosaics and sculptural pieces are scattered among the Bode Museum in Berlin, the National Museum of Ravenna, the Museum of Torcello, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and St. Petersburg. Today, in place of the church there is a Max Mara shop!
The Napoleonic Wars and conquest of Ravenna in 1805 are the beginning of the Church’s end. “San Michele was purchased by Andrea Cicognani and became a fish shop. In 1840 it was sold to antique dealer Giuseppe Buffa, who made a wood store out of it and built a wall to protect its apse mosaic. During those years an envoy of King Frederick William IV of Prussia was sent to visit the church, and he ordered the purchase of the apse mosaic. He obtained Pope Gregory III’s permission to take it to Berlin, but first, it was necessary to remove the mosaic from its wall support. Alessandro Cappi, secretary of the Accademia delle Belle Arti of Ravenna, refused to detach the mosaic… but Vincenzo Pajaro, a Venetian antique dealer, removed the mosaic…and eventually sent it to Berlin.” http://www.mosaicoravenna.it/convegno/la-diaspora-dellarcangelo-san-michele-in-africisco-e-leta-giustinianea/?lang=en
Today, the San Michele Apse Mosaic is the main attraction of the Bode Museum in Berlin. The mosaic’s main composition depicts a rare youthful and beardless Christ, standing between the winged Archangels, Michael and Gabriel, holding a monumental, bejeweled Cross and an open Bible. The apsidal mosaic is placed under a frieze of vines and doves, supposed to represent the Twelve Apostles. Missing today, the Apse mosaic is flanked by standing depictions of Cosmas and Damian, the early Christian medicinal saints. Right above the apse, on a frieze-like wall, the 6th-century mosaicist depicted an older looking, bearded Christ, seated on a throne, flanked, once more by the Archangels and seven angels sounding trumpets.
Very little is known about Giuliano Argentarius, the founder of San Michele in Africisco. However, I did find some information about his extraordinary deeds in an article titled “Banking in Early Byzantine Ravenna” by Salvatore Cosentino. For more… please check: https://journals.openedition.org/crm/13746
Portrait Bust of a Woman with Scroll is a Constantinopolitan in origin portrait of an aristocratic Lady, I find fascinating!
The MET’s portrait presents a woman of high rank, aristocratic, educated, sensitive and demure. She survived, self-possessed, centuries of Constantinopolitan destruction, fire and plunder, alone, to finally arrive at the MET without her companion… She originally stood next to her husband, both holding a scroll, wishing they were remembered as a sophisticated couple of learning and culture…
My imagination, as you can see, runs wild… I see them standing in front of their double portrait admiring the soft carving and the delicate contours of it. They look appreciative of the highly polished, alabaster like, finishing of the carving and approve the young master sculptor’s ability of fine quality workmanship. They are eager to commission a new set of statuettes presenting Mythological Hercules, symbolic Hero of their new Christian faith. They are great patrons of the arts. Their estate in Constantinople is famous for its beauty and treasures. Their library is legendary. As they stand admiring their new acquisition, they are expecting two new manuscripts, a scroll of Joshua’s adventures, and another scroll on the Book of Psalms…
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art “This sensitively carved portrait bust presents a mature woman with a thoughtful expression and piercing gaze; the scroll held in her right hand signals an appreciation for classical learning and marks her as a member of the elite. She wears a mantle, tunic, and head covering, typical dress for an aristocratic woman. Such head coverings did not come into fashion until the fourth century. The bust likely formed part of a commemorative display, perhaps documenting a public donation, or was used in a domestic setting.” https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/468716
For me, art history teacher, this Portrait, a superb example of the Late Antique – Early Christian work in sculpture, is an opportunity to discuss artistic developments of the period. This is the reason why I prepared the attached PowerPoint on Female Portraits of the Late Antique-Early Christian Period… HERE!
The Reliquary in focus is a small rectangular silver box of hammered silver with a hinged lid. The lid has been badly damaged in several places, but its four decorated sides are in relatively good condition. The Traditio Legis, Christ’s passing of the law to Saints Peter and Paul adorns the front side of the reliquary. The other three sides, inspired by the Old Testament, present three very popular and symbolic scenes, the Three Hebrews, Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Moses receiving the Law. The lid is decorated with a Christogram flanked by the Greek letters α (alpha) and ω (omega) defining the omnipresence of God, the beginning and the end, as α is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and ω its last. The sides of the reliquary’s lid are decorated with a vine scroll with leaves, quite beautifully chiseled, and grapes. https://leipsanothiki.blogspot.com/2014/02/245.html
Kurt Weitzman in his “Age of Spirituality” the introductory essay says that “The transition from the dying classical to the rising and finally triumphant Christian culture was a complex process, extending over several centuries, in which the two coexisted and competed with each other.” He is so right! The Nea Herakleia Reliquary, a relatively unfamiliar example of silverwork, is an amazing example of this extraordinary era. An item of the Christian faith, decorated with New and Old Testament scenes, the Reliquary in focus, is an example of a movement in art, scholars often call the “Theodosian Renaissance.” The artist focused his interest in the depiction of the human body, facial expression, and movement. Very little else matters, with probably the exception of the two Lions flanking Daniel. There are restrictions or exaggerations in corporeality, but modeling is plastic in conception, postures are natural, facial expressions emotional and drapery softly modeled. This is indeed an exceptional work of art worth exploring further. http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/4/eh430.jsp?obj_id=4751
Visiting the Thessaloniki Museum for Byzantine Culture is a true cultural experience. In 1989, the Museum’s architect, Kyriakos Krokos, wrote: “I wanted a space within which movement would create a feeling of freedom, stirring up the senses, and where the exhibit would be a surprise within the movement. I believe that as visitors walk through the Museum Halls there are many pleasant surprises. The floor and wall mosaics in the first Early Christian Period Room, attract everybody’s attention. The Byzantine tunics with their fine embroideries, the icons and the intricately illuminated manuscript in the Middle Byzantine Period Room are definitely noticed. Finally, as the visitor is about to leave, one last surprise, a beautiful Post-Byzantine golden eikonostasi, one last startling work of art to ponder about. https://mbp.gr/en/building
For the PowerPoint Teacher Curator prepared, please… Click HERE!
Teacher Curator also prepared a student RWAP (Research – Writing – Art -Project)… presented HERE!