The Iron Crown

The Iron Crown, dated between the IV-V and IX centuries, gold, silver, enamel and cabochons with garnets, blue corundum, amethysts, Teodolinda’s Chapel, Monza Cathedral

“…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.

Ambrogio (active 1441 – 1481) and Gregorio (active 1453 al 1481) Zavattari
Teodolinda, queen of the Lombards, marries Agilulf, duke of Turin (detail), 1444, fresco, Chapel of Queen Teodolinda, Monza Cathedral

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 a Student Activity, please check HERE!

Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church

Harrowing of Hell, 1310-20, Fresco, Church of St. Savior in Chora, Constantinople, present-day Istanbul

“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 Church https://www.goarch.org/-/holy-week-in-the-eastern-orthodox-church

The Raising of Lazarus, 12th century, from an Iconostasis in a Mount Athos Monastery, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens

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/

Rossano Gospels or Codex Purpureus Rossanensis, The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, 6th-century illuminated manuscript Gospel Book, Diocesan Museum, Rossano, Italy

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

Throne of Maximianus, 6th century, carved ivory panels on a wooden frame, height: 1.50 m, Archiepiscopal Museum, Ravenna

Great Monday… “May no fruit ever come from you again!” (Matt. 21:19)

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

Julia Bridget Hayes, St. Kassiani the Hymnographer, 20thcentury hand panted Icon, Egg Tempera and Gold Leaf, private collection of the artist https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-kassiani-the-hymnographer-julia-bridget-hayes.html

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.”

Every Great Tuesday Greek Churches are full of people waiting to hear the bittersweet hymn of Kassiani. Admired, popular and beloved, this hymn is universally acknowledged to be a masterpiece of religious poetry that possesses both beauty and richness of meaning. https://www.academia.edu/11959468/Kassia_A_female_hymnographer_of_9th_century_Byzantium_and_her_hymnographic_poem_on_the_Vesper_of_Holy_Tuesday

Κύριε, ἡ ἐν πολλαῖς ἁμαρτίαις περιπεσοῦσα γυνή… enjoy it as sang by Nektaria Karantzi    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4v2kVmoeB4

Kassiani, born in the early 9th century into a wealthy family of Constantinople, was to become a Byzantine abbess, poet, composer, and hymnographer, known to have written in her own name just like the Porphyrogenita Anna Comnene. https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/09/saint-kassiani-hymnographer.html

Mary of Bethany Anoints Jesus, 1684, Walters manuscript W.592, f. 240B, Illuminated manuscript on paper, 11.0 cm wide by 16.0 cm high, Walters Art Gallery

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!

Last Supper, 6th century, mosaic, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

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

Crucifixion, mid-10th century, ivory, 15.1 × 8.9 × 0.8 cm, the MET, NY

Great Friday… 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

Ω γλυκύ μου έαρ… Enjoy one of the most moving Byzantine Hymns, sung by no other than Flery Dandonaki    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUJwTe5QC7I

Harrowing of Hell, late 14th century Icon from Constantinople, 47,2 x 62 cm, Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies in Venice

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!

Panagia Kosmosotira in Feres

The imposing, the 12th century Panagia Kosmosotira in Feres

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

The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, 10th century AD,  ivory relief panel from Constantinople, Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, BODE Museum, Berlin
https://history2701.fandom.com/wiki/The_Forty_Martyrs_of_Sebaste

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.

Fresco painting by Luca Signorelli (1499) of Paradise, Orvieto Cathedral, Orvieto, Umbria
The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, 10th century AD,  ivory relief panel from Constantinople, Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, BODE Museum, Berlin

Is this amazing carving a case of Byzantine Renascence? The depiction of forty agonizing bodies, winding and twisting, reminds me of Signorelli’s fantasia of Paradise and Hell in Orvioto’s Cathedral, in the Capella of San Brizio.  Are there missing links connecting these two masterpieces I don’t know about? Whatever the answer is, the BODE Ivory Icon is a strategic player in the equation. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ivor/hd_ivor.htm and http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/lucasignorelli/sanbriziochapel.htm

For a “Similarities and Differences” Student Activity, please… check HERE!

Fresco painting by Luca Signorelli (1499) of Paradise, Orvieto Cathedral, Orvieto, Umbria

Aelia Galla Placidia

Velp treasure Medallion of Galla Placidia, c. 425, gold, 5 cm in diameter, Département des Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France
http://medaillesetantiques.bnf.fr/ws/catalogue/app/collection/record/ark:/12148/c33gbq95f

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…

Aelia 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!

San Michele in Africisco has an amazing story to tell!

The San Michele Apse Mosaic is the main attraction of the Bode Museum in Berlin.

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.

Apse mosaic from San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna, partly labeled in Italian, signed Puhl & Wagner, 2nd half of the 19th century, watercolor, 48×61 cm, Berlin, sculpture collection and Museum of Byzantine Art SMB

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

Valuable information about the Church and its Mosaics can be accessed in “Reassembled Art and History: The San Michele in Africisco (Ravenna)Mosaics” by Carla Linville White, 2014, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College Master’s Theses: https://docplayer.net/54185237-Reassembled-art-and-history-the-san-michele-in-africisco-ravenna-mosaics.html

For a 3D Reconstruction of San Michele in Africisco by Lorenzo Mariani, please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FON1E-z5sIU

For a PowerPoint on the Church of San Michele Africisco, please… check HERE!

Portrait Bust of a Woman with Scroll

Portrait Bust of a Woman with Scroll, late 4th-early 5th century, Pentelic marble, 53 x 27.5 x 22.2 cm, the MET, NY
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/468716

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 PeriodHERE!

Nea Herakleia Reliquary

The Nea Herakleia Reliquary is exhibited in the Museum of Byzantine Culture, a favorite museum of mine, in Thessaloniki, Greece. http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/4/eh431.jsp?obj_id=4751&mm_id=983

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!

Grade 6 student project on the Nea Herakleia Reliquary

The Joshua Roll

The Joshua Roll, 10th century, Tempera and gold on vellum, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Pal. gr. 431, Vatican City

When I think of Byzantine Manuscripts, the first one that comes to my mind is the Joshua Roll… unique, luxurious and remarkable in every aspect… Hellenistic in spirit!

Dated in the 10th century, this Macedonian Renaissance illuminated manuscript comes to us in a very rare format, a Roll… 31 cm high and about 10 meters long, one of the most priceless treasures in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. The master artist of the Joshua Roll is unknown, but he definitely belonged to a selected group of Constantinopolitan painters trained in a style much influenced by the classicizing tradition prevailing in the Imperial Court of the time.

The Joshua Roll is dedicated to the Old Testament Book of Joshua. Although incomplete, as it starts with Chapter II and ends with Chapter X, it presents the most important adventures and military accomplishments of the great Israelite figurehead. Joshua was originally Moses’ assistant and after his death, the leader of the Israelite tribes, leading them in conquering the promised land of Canaan. When the Joshua Roll was created, the Byzantines were, after a long period of defence, able to successfully campaign in the Holy Land, enjoying decisive victories. Scholars believe that the illuminated manuscript was meant to glorify the military success of the Byzantine army, and exalt their Emperor.

The Joshua Roll is a very unique Codex, unparalleled and unrivalled in the whole world… yet enigmatic! The Bibliography of the Joshua Roll is extensive and challenging. In 2012 another volume was added – Wander, Steven H. The Joshua Roll. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2012. pp. 224. ISBN: 978-389-5008-542 – where information of interest and controversy was added to the already extensive arguments. Wander “dates the manuscript to 961 and connects it to the patronage of the powerful middle Byzantine eunuch, courtier, and illegitimate son of Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), Basil the Parakoimomenos (chamberlain) (c. 925-c. 985).” Wander takes his controversial interpretation one step further, he “proposes that the Joshua Roll was the study for a small-scale triumphal column that would have commemorated Basil’s military success in the East during the reign of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945-959).” His arguments, important and novel, challenge long-standing assumptions. (Wander, Steven H. The Joshua Roll. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2012. pp. 224. ISBN: 978-389-5008-542 (hardback) and an interesting review https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/tmr/article/view/20003

…and the Joshua fresco from the Hosios Loukas Monastery
https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/CivilizationHamblin/id/1892/

My favourite assumption is the Roll’s connection to monumental art, and more specifically the art of wall painting. There is a striking connection to a recently discovered fresco in the church of Hosios Loukas in Phocis, and the extraordinary fresco Marian Cycle of the church of Santa Maria Foris Portas a Castelseprio, dazzling its viewers today as it did in 1944 when they were discovered! The similarities between the Joshua Roll illuminations and the Castelseprio frescoes are long-standing, as they are both considered the products of a common artistic tradition. (On Hosios Loukas and the Joshua Roll: Carolyn L. Connor, “Hosios Loukas as a Victory Church,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 33, no. 3 (1992): 293-308, esp. 304-305 and on Castelseprio: Kurt Weitzmann, The Fresco Cycle of S. Maria di Castelseprio, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951)

Santa Maria Di Castelseprio Photos
https://cartesensibili.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/mete-di-viaggio-raffaella-terribile-un-piccolo-scrigno-riscoperto-santa-maria-foris-portas-a-castelseprio/

Coming back to my original statement, the Joshua Roll is… unique, luxurious and remarkable in every aspect and so much so Hellenistic in spirit! The Byzantium I love!

For a Full Digital Fascimile of the Manuscript, please check the site of the Vatican Library: https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Pal.gr.431.pt.B

For a Joshua Roll Student Activity… check HERE!

Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora

The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, part of a grand Monastery, has many stories to tell…

Tradition has it that the church, the Katholikon of a monastic complex, was originally built during the early 5th century, outside the walls of Constantinople, and its full name was “The Church of the Holy Redeemer in the Fields,” It makes sense. When the city of Constantinople expanded at the time of Theodosius II (408-450), and formidable land walls were built by the Emperor, the monastery retained the name Chora (in the Fields), but became part of the defended city.

Historical evidence tells us that it was Maria Dukaina, the mother-in-law of Alexius I Comnenus, who rebuilt the Chora Church and Monastery around 1077–1081 as a cross- domed church, a popular architectural style of the time. Early in the 12th century, yet another Comnenus, Isaac, the 3rd son of Emperor Alexius, stepped in, restoring the church after a disastrous earthquake.

Two centuries later, around 1316-21, the powerful Byzantine statesman Theodore Metochites enlarged the church and embellished it with many fine mosaics and frescoes. Today, the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora stands as one of the finest examples of the Palaeologian Renaissance, in architecture and mosaic-work. Theodoros Metochitis political career was turbulent during the later years of his life: He was exiled by the usurper Emperor Andronicus III in 1328, but two years later, he was allowed to return to the city and live out the last two years of his life as a monk in his beloved Chora Monastery.

Soon after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, the Chora Church was converted into a mosque, named Kariye Camii, serving the city’s Moslem population up until 1958, when it officially opened to the public as a museum, the Kariye Müzesi. Much of what we see today, much of what we know about Chora Church and Monastery is the work of Thomas Whittemore and Paul A. Underwood, from the Byzantine Institute of America and the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, who in 1948, sponsored a restoration and research program.

“Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” Luke 2:10

I can only describe the Chora Church mosaics in general, and the Church’s Nativity scene in particular, as…brilliant,  outstanding, remarkable and exceptional! They best represent the refined taste of Theodore Metochites, a man, passionate about Greek antiquity and obsessed with the ancient Greek idea of ‘grace’ in art. I stand in front of them and I see elegance, harmony and balance in their compositions. I am amazed by the grace, sophistication and spirit of the depicted figures. I feel warmth, as I am enfolded by their divine light. I marvel at their Hellenistic artistic heritage…

Best Wishes for the Holiday Season!!!

ΥΓΕΊΑ ΣΕ ΌΛΟΥΣ

A PowerPoint on the Nativity scene in the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is… HERE!