Dioscurides and Krithamo

Portrait of the allegorical figure Epinoia (thinking power) holding a Mandragoa in the middle, Dioscurides describing the plant to the right, and a painter creating the image of the plant to the left, Vienna Dioscurides, Folio 5v, about 515 AD, Byzantine Greek Illuminated Manuscript of De Materia Medica by Pedanius Dioscurides, vellum folios measure 37 by 30 cm, Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Vienna

“The Vienna Dioscurides is a Byzantine Greek illuminated manuscript copy of “Medical Material” by Dioscorides, which was created in 515 AD. It is a rare surviving example of an illustrated ancient scientific and medical text… The original “De Materia Medica” or “On Medical Material” was first written between 50 and 70 CE by Pedanius Dioscorides. It is a pharmacopeia of medicinal plants and was widely read and used for more than 1,500 years… This specific manuscript copy was created in the Byzantine Empire’s capital, Constantinople, for the byzantine imperial princess, Anicia Juliana. She was the daughter of Anicius Olybrius, who had been one of the last Western Roman Emperors… The manuscript was presented to the princess in gratitude for her funding the construction of a church… The dedication miniature portrait of Anicia Juliana is the oldest surviving dedication portraits in a book…” I couldn’t better encapsulate the manuscript’s identification. The Vienna Dioscurides is one of the “canvases” I use for my Course on Cultural Geography of Greece and specifically my Lessons on popular Greek Plants like Dioscurides and Krithamo.     https://joyofmuseums.com/ancient-manuscripts-and-historically-influential-books/vienna-dioscurides/

The Protagonists

Portrait of Anicia Juliana flanked by Megalopsychia and Phronesis (detail), Vienna Dioscurides, Folio 6v, about 515 AD, Byzantine Greek Illuminated Manuscript of De Materia Medica by Pedanius Dioscurides, vellum folios measure 37 by 30 cm, Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Vienna

Anicia Juliana (462 – 527/528 AD)was an incredible woman, a prominent member of the up-to-date ruling Roman Imperial Dynasties. She was the daughter of Emperor Anicius Olybrius of the Western Roman Empire, the wife of the Magister Militum of the Eastern Roman Empire, Areobindus Dagalaiphus Areobindus and the mother of  Olybrius Junior, a Roman Consul. Anicia Juliana was the wealthiest woman in the Roman Empire and the greatest patron of the Arts at the time. She is the ktitorissa of religious edifices, the Church of Hagios Polyeuktos in Constantinople, built by the year 527, the most sumptuous of all,  and the recipient of a magnificent manuscript, a copy of De Materia Medica by Dioscurides, known today as Vienna Dioscurides. https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/anicia-juliana

Portrait of Dioscurides and Heuresis, Vienna Dioscurides, Folio 4v, about 515 AD, Byzantine Greek Illuminated Manuscript of De Materia Medica by Pedanius Dioscurides, vellum folios measure 37 by 30 cm, Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Vienna

Pedanius Dioscurides (c. 30-90 AD) was a Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist who served in the Roman army of Emperor Nero during the1st century AD. He was a native of Anazarbus in Asia Minor and studied medicine at the nearby school in Tarsus. Following the Roman Army, Dioscurides collected information and samples of local medicinal plants and about 70 AD he published De Materia Medica, a five volumes treatise on the “medicinal properties of over one thousand natural medicinal substances; most of these… botanical in origin, but drugs of animal and mineral origin…” as well. The book’s subtitle, “On the Preparation, Properties and Testing of Drugs, sets the empirical, scientific tone of this work… Dioscorides didn’t accept anything on faith, or on the reputation of established authorities; he checked everything out and tested every drug clinically.  He personally travelled and researched the local folk medicine uses of every herb… The presentations of every herb and medicinal substance in Dioscorides’ herbal were very thorough.  It included plant names, synonyms and illustrations; plant habitat and botanical descriptions; properties, actions and uses of the drug; negative side effects if any; administration and dosage recommendations; directions on harvesting, preparation and storage of herbs or drugs…” One can only admire the painstaking work done by Dioscurides and the reasons why De Materia Medica “has been the prime authority and source work on herbs and other medicinal substances in the history of Western Civilization, and quite possibly in the history of the world.”     http://www.greekmedicine.net/whos_who/Dioscorides.html

Simply put… the Vienna Dioscurides is one of the most beautiful Byzantine Manuscripts in the world! The c. 512 AD Codex, written in vellum folios and magnificently illuminated, was created in a workshop in Constantinople, and granted, as a gift of gratitude, to the Imperial Princess Anicia Juliana for her patronage in the construction of a church in the quarter of Honoratae. The Vienna Dioscurides is one of the “canvases” I use for my Course on the Cultural Geography of Greece and specifically Lessons on popular Greek Plants like Dioscurides and Krithamo. Please CHECK my POWERPOINT HERE! for pictures of manuscript folios and interesting FACTS about it.

Crithmum Maritimum, Vienna Dioscurides, Folio 184v, about 515 AD, Byzantine Greek Illuminated Manuscript of De Materia Medica by Pedanius Dioscurides, vellum folios measure 37 by 30 cm, Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Vienna

Crithmum Maritimum, according to Dioscurides, Krithamo and Rock Samphire today, grows on rocky beaches where there is a little sand and strong, salty winds. This is one of the plants presented in the Constantinopolitan Codex of Anicia Juliana, described as having detoxifying properties, good to treat liver, intestinal and renal dysfunction. Dioscurides refers to it as “λαχανεύεται εφθόν τε και ωμόν εσθιόμενον, και ταριχεύεται εν άλμη.” I use the illumination of Crithmum Maritimum in Dioscurides’s manuscript in my Cultural Geography of Greece Class to discuss the Plant’s characteristics and create an Inter-Disciplinary Activity my students enjoy doing… as you can see HERE! for the Activity’s instructions and HERE! and HERE!  for samples of student work.     https://www.itrofi.gr/fytika/votana/article/1623/kritamo-votano-toy-gialoy-poy-dynamonei-anosopoiitiko-kai-einai-gemato

Bulletin Board Presentation of a Grade 4 Activity on Dioscurides and Krithamo
Bulletin Board Presentation of a Grade 5 Activity on Dioscurides and Krithamo

Saint Mary of the Mongols

Byzantine church, known as Saint Mary of the Mongols in  Constantinople
Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection from 1930-1947
Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) of Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

«The Byzantine church known as Saint Mary of the Mongols, or Theotokos ton Mougoulion, was once the katholikon of the Monastery of the Theotokos tes Panayiotisses. It is situated in the modern quarter of Istanbul known as Fener, and is unique for being the sole Greek Orthodox sanctuary that has served the same function in Christian Constantinople as well as in Muslim Istanbul. Despite its unique status, the building has not received as much scholarly attention as other Byzantine religious monuments of similar historical importance…” writes Edmund C. Ryder, back in 2009/10.     https://journals.sfu.ca/jmh/index.php/jmh/article/view/260/263

My new POST on the surviving Byzantine Churches in Constantinople takes me to Mouchliotissa or Theotokos ton Mougoulion or Saint Mary of the Mongols. The name has an “exotic” appeal upon me, the fact that it is still Greek Orthodox in practice enhanced my interest… the journey… was fascinating. Right from the beginning, I wanted to establish my sources, scant on the church’s architecture, but informative and well written. Η Αρχιτεκτονική της Παναγίας του Μουχλίου στην Κωνσταντινούπολη by Charalambos Bouras      https://ejournals.epublishing.ekt.gr/index.php/deltion/article/viewFile/4126/3901.pdf     and     The Despoina of the Mongols and Her Patronage at the Church of the Theotokos ton Mougoulion by Edmund C. Ryder     https://journals.sfu.ca/jmh/index.php/jmh/article/view/260/263    

I love and use, for the purposes of this POST, the photographs taken by Nicholas V. Artamonoff from 1930-1947. I couldn’t find contemporary photos that surpass the atmospheric ambience of this unique place.  I am grateful to ICFA (Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives), part of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (an Institute of Harvard University located in Washington, D.C.) for making this Collection available to the world… to regard and admire…  http://images.doaks.org/artamonoff/collections/show/27

Byzantine church, known as Saint Mary of the Mongols in  Constantinople
Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection from 1930-1947
Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) of Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

Ch. Bouras describes “The Panaghia Mouchliotissa as a tetraconch, aisleless, domed church with a slightly later tripartite narthex.” Drawings by Poridis reveal that major architectural changes took place, most probably “during the eighteenth century, in order to increase its size to house a larger congregation.” For example, “the south conch and a large part of the narthex were demolished to make way for the addition of a large hypostyle room roofed with Ottoman pointed domes and an exonarthex.” Originally, “the Mouchliotissa was a tetraconch church with a narthex and two unusual features: the size of each conch was increased by opening three smaller niches in the thickness of the wall, and the dome was supported on four arches carried on columns at the four corners of the central square.” These features, Bouras continues, are rare in Byzantine architecture of the time,  “enliven the interior space enhancing its visual interest and imparting a certain originality.”     https://ejournals.epublishing.ekt.gr/index.php/deltion/article/viewFile/4126/3901.pdf

Byzantine church, known as Saint Mary of the Mongols in  Constantinople
Plan for the original church with the narthex added by Maria Paleologina
Plan for the current church. The surviving parts of the original are in bold
http://wwwbisanzioit.blogspot.com/2018/12/maria-paleologina-e-la-chiesa-di-nostra.html

I always felt for the well-bred Byzantine Princesses whose destiny was to play a role in Byzantine diplomacy through marriage. Maria Paleologina was no exception. She was the illegitimate daughter of Michael VIII Palaeologus, the skilful Byzantine Emperor who accomplished in 1261 the dream of all Byzantines: reconquering the City of Cities, Constantinople. The new Emperor needed strong allies in the East and Maria Paleologina (1258/9-1282), barely 8 years old was “dispatched” to marry Khan Hulagu of the  Il-Khanate of Persia, the conqueror of Baghdad, who dreamed of triumphing over the entire Muslim East…

While in Cappadocia, February of 1265, Maria and her magnificent entourage learned of the death of Khan Hulagu and her new proposal to marry Hulagu’s son and successor, Abaqa. Maria continued her journey… arrived in Persia, married the Khan, grew up in the Khan’s harem and succeeded in turning Abaqa into a protector of Christians until his death… Maria Paleologina or “Despina Khatun, for the Mongols, was revered for her kindness, wisdom and strong leadership. Sources portrayed her as leading a pious life and being quite influential in politics…” When her husband died and his brother, the Muslim Tekuder, became the new Khan… “Maria managed to escaped in time from his control and return to Constantinople… (where) unmoved by the pageantry of the court in Constantinople decided to embrace the religious life…” She used her considerable wealth to found the convent of Theotokos Panaghiótissa in 1285, where, as a respected widow, remained until her death.

Melane the Nun in the Deesis Mosaic with donors Isaac Komnenos, Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Constantinople
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Palaiologina

The life of Maria Peleologina is wonderfully presented in Maria Paleologina and the Il-Khanate Khanate of Persia. A Byzantine Princess in an Empire between Islam and Christendom by María Isabel Cabrera Ramos of the Universidad de Granada     https://repositori.udl.cat/bitstream/handle/10459.1/60547/imatem_a2017n11p217.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Byzantine church, known as Saint Mary of the Mongols in  Constantinople

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 Unidentified Byzantine Church in Constantinople known today as Vefa Kilise Camii has been restored and here is a Youtube Video of the end result by The Hidden Face of Istanbul https://www.facebook.com/thehiddenfaceofistanbul/videos/160082956033322

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)

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 Archangel Gabriel of Hagia Sophia

Archangel Gabriel, 9th century, south side of the Bema of the Holy Apse, entire figure seen through scaffolds, photographed in 1938, MS.BZ.004-03-01-02-016-029, The Byzantine Institute, Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. the late 1920s-2000s, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives at Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.

“Whittemore is now working on a huge archangel, on the S. face of the arch in front of the E. semi-dome. On the same scale as the Virgin, he was one of her two guards. Whether his colleague, on the N. face, is preserved or not Whittemore doesn’t yet know. But the one on the S. face is very well preserved indeed: enough tests have been made to establish that. And he may be of the early Macedonian period: X or even IX—after 842, when images were finally restored. You may imagine with what thirst I await the revelation.” This is an excerpt from a letter Royall Tyler wrote to Mildred Barnes Bliss, back on October 11, 1936 about the Uncovering of the Mosaics of Hagia Sophia and The Archangel Gabriel of Hagia Sophia in particular.     https://www.doaks.org/research/library-archives/dumbarton-oaks-archives/historical-records/bliss-tyler-correspondence-excerpts#uncovering-of-the-mosaics-of-hagia-sophia–constantinople–october-1936

Archangel Gabriel, Mosaic on the Southside of the Bema of the Holy Apse, 9th century, Hagia Sophia of Constantinople

The 1902 to 1953 correspondence between Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, the founders of Dumbarton Oaks, and their close friend and art adviser, Royall Tyler, and his wife, Elisina, are important primary sources and document the formation of the Blisses’ art collection. They also discuss contemporary history, literature and poetry, music, politics, and expatriate life… https://www.doaks.org/research/library-archives/dumbarton-oaks-archives/historical-records/bliss-tyler-correspondence-excerpts

Two monumental mosaic Archangels, Michael and Gabriel, over 10 meters in height, stood guard flanking Mary with Christ Child on her lap at the Great Church of the Holy Wisdom of God in Constantinople. Dating from the 9th century, they were epic in size, towering over the Bema Soffit of the Holy Apse, massive and solid, yet… wherever you were standing and however you were looking at them, they seemed majestic, imposing and ethereal as they levitated on the golden mosaic bed of divine light. Archangels Michael and Gabriel stood regal and imposing, members of a celestial court of honour for Christ and his mother, splendidly dressed in white and gold just like the members of the Imperial Court stood next to the Emperor.

Today, the presentation of Archangel Michael on the north side of the Bema soffit is regretfully almost totally missing. Gabriel, however, is still well preserved, helping us understand the magnificence of Hagia Sophia’s Holy Apse composition. My fascination stands with Gabriel’s face and the amazing ability of the Byzantine mosaicist to use hundreds of different-size tesserae and countless different coloured stones or glass to create a face of spirituality and transcendentalism on such a grand scale, with facial contours and a sense of three-dimensionality that astounds the viewer.

To quote Bob Atchison “The flesh tones used in the face and neck are fine-grained white marble, Proconnesian white marble, Proconnesian grey, cream marble (used very sparingly), and two or three tones of pink marble. Extensive use is made, furthermore, of off-white milky glass which has sometimes a bluish, sometimes a purplish tinge; this forms the right outline of the face, the left outline of the forehead, the pockets under the eyes, the area of light shadow to the left of the nose, etc. Olive glass is used for strong shadows to the left of the nose, round the eyes, the dimple under the nose, and for the shadow under the mouth, where it is mixed with lighter shades of glass and with pink marble. The tip of the nose and parting of the mouth are in deep red glass. Vermilion glass is used in the lips (in the lower lip it is mixed with pink marble) and one line of it forms the end of the chin. The nostrils are in black glass. No green or yellow-green occurs in the archangel’s face.”     https://www.pallasweb.com/deesis/angel-bema-hagia-sophia.html

“It seems too good to be true that there is such a mass of the noblest mosaics ever created, waiting there to be revealed… And I needn’t say that in the whole field of art, there’s nothing that seems to me to touch this work, for importance, and for the unutterable joy these things give when they are uncovered.”     https://www.doaks.org/resources/bliss-tyler-correspondence/letters/11oct1936

For a Student Activity, please… check HERE!

Workers tracing the lower part of Archangel Gabriel, the south Angel, in the Bema soffit of Hagia Sophia, 1939. From the collection: The Byzantine Institute, Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. the late 1920s-2000s. Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives.

Parallel Stories of Byzantine Imperial Portraits

Roundel with Emperor John II Komnenos, ca. 1110 – 1118, marble, 90 x 90 x 7.5 cm, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Museum
Angaran Roundel, marble, d. 100 cm,Campiello de Ca’Angaran, Dorsoduro in Venice

Parallel Stories of Byzantine Imperial Portraits is about our fascination with the ‘image’ of the Byzantine Emperor… “The Emperor had to conform to idealized standards of deportment. He had to be seen as fixed, stable, and unmovable, a ruler whose character and judgement were unswayed by emotional excess. Such a demeanor was described by the eleventh century courtier and orator Michael Psellos in a speech addressed to Isaac I Komnenos…  You are straight, true, stiff… steadfast, firmly fixed, lofty… an impartial judge, unwavering in justice… a secure counselor, noble, unshaken in stormy waves. Psellos stressed the ruler’s lack of emotions: Where is there any anger in you, where are there streams of laughter, where are there traces of rage, and where is the babbling of speech? Where is there boasting, or violence and a willing mind? Where is there a knitting of the brows or an angry expression? For there are no unseemly qualities in you, neither easily excited emotions… nor delight, nor any graces, nor much laughter.” Writes Henry Maguire on IMAGES OF THE COURT in The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843–1261, page 186     https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/The_Glory_of_Byzantium_Art_and_Culture_of_the_Middle_Byzantine_Era_AD_843_1261    

Two Byzantine Emperors – Two Parallel Lives

Roundel with Emperor John II Komnenos, ca. 1110 – 1118, marble, 90 x 90 x 7.5 cm, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Museum
Silver Aspron Trachy of John II Komnenos, 1118-1143 AD, Thessalonica mint, 3.69 grams, 29/27 mm, (Iω/ΔЄC/ΠΟT/Tω/ΠOP – ΦV/PO/ΓЄ/NH/T, the Emperor standing facing, wearing divitision and loros, holding labarum and akakia), private collection     Copyright © 1998-2020, VHobbies.com
John II Comnenos, 1118, Komnenos Mosaic (John II Komnenos, Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, Irene of Hungary), mosaic, Hagia Sophia Museum

Standing on a decorated suppedion, the Emperor of Byzantium at Dumbarton Oaks faces us in all his glory! He wears his ceremonial attire with poise and distinction: “a sagion (cape), bound at the right shoulder with a simple fibula, over a divitesion (tunic) and a loros (the gemmed scarf wrapped around the emperor’s torso.” Crowned and bejewelled, the Emperor stands in front of a vividly decorated background of cloverleaf arranged in a radiant design, holding the imperial insignia: “in his right hand he holds a labarum, a staff with a square finial” and in his left hand “an ornate globus cruciger with, in this instance, a leaved patriarchal cross.”

Who is the impressive Emperor depicted in this Byzantine relief sculpture Roundel exhibited today at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum of Byzantine Art? Is this a unique example of Byzantine imperial portraiture? The answer is NO! There is a second, matching Roundel in Venice, known as the  Angaran Roundel, embedded on the exterior wall of a Venetian house in the Dorsoduro district, equally rare in Byzantine imperial representation. “It has been suggested that these two emperors are Alexios I and John II Komnenos, father and son, who reigned jointly between 1092 and 1118.”

Both Roundels, made of marble, date from the 12th century. For their creation, the unknown artist used a “marble piece of a horizontal slab that was cut from the top of a column shaft of unusually large diameter. The roundels therefore are reused architectural elements of an ancient monument of considerable size.”     http://museum.doaks.org/OBJ27169.htm

Angaran Roundel, marble, d. 100 cm,Campiello de Ca’Angaran, Dorsoduro in Venice

The Angaran Roundel is almost identical to the one exhibited at the Dumbarton Oaks. Both depict Byzantine Emperors looking straight, true, stiff… steadfast, firmly fixed, lofty… holding the symbols of their power, gazing at us with majestic authority… but detached. Created by a great Constantinopolitan artist as an Imperial Ensemble, we can imagine, if this is a correct supposition,  a third roundel with Christ in the middle. The Imperial Portraits somehow ended up in the Veneto area, most probably as the 4th Crusade loot. They were still in the Veneto until 1937 when Robert Woods Bliss acquired the one depicting Emperor John II, through Royall Tyler, who writes to Bliss “I went to Lugano yesterday, & saw the Emperor, who is magnificent… There’s no change in the amount (33,000). H.F. prefers to receive it direct… Volbach was wrong about the material of the Emperor. He is marble (not limestone): I should say he was of exactly the same light grey marble, not shiny, as the Campiello Angaran roundel, & he’s exactly the same in style & in every respect except a few details of costume (the loros is different), & details of the footstool… The chances are they came from Constantinople, as one doesn’t see why the Venetians should have representations of the Byz. Emperor made, when they had not long before shaken off his overlordship… I’m simply delighted that you’ve got this superb carving, the like of which is most unlikely to turn up again…”     https://www.doaks.org/resources/bliss-tyler-correspondence/letters/25jul1937

On the 3rd of July, Ismail Safa Yalbaz, member of the Late Antique and Byzantine Studies Group, shared a POST on the Angaran Roundel that got me thinking… how many times have I been to Venice and missed visiting the Campiello de Ca’Angaran in Venice’s Dorsoduro district? I promised myself… next time in Venice, my respects to the Emperor will be the first thing to do!

For a Student Activity on the two Roundels, please… check HERE!

The Rotunda Ambo

Rotunda Ambo, early 6th century, marble, originally from Thessaloniki, present location: Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Photo Credit: OMNIA http://www.omnia.ie/index.php?navigation_function=3&europeana_query=Arch%C3%A4ologisches+Museum&europeana_cursor=%2A&europeana_prev_cursor=%2A&dpla_nav_start=0&prev_obcnt=-807

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine once said and the Rotunda Ambo, where many books were read, in front of many “travellers,” came to my mind.

As a ‘traveller,’ interested in Byzantine Art,  the Rotunda Ambo is a ‘page in my book’ I like to read about again and again. I imagine… a 6th-century pilgrim entering the great Rotunda of Thessaloniki for Vespers… uplifted and overwhelmed by its size and domed inner space, awe-struck by its shimmering mosaics, stirred by the opulence of the service, the ‘logos’ and the chanting, moved by the sculptural decoration on the walls of its impressive Ambo…

The most important (my humble opinion) monument of Thessaloniki, The Rotunda, was constructed in the early 4th century AD, probably as a temple or as a mausoleum. Not long after, the Rotunda was turned into a Christian church, its interior decorated with wall mosaics of unique artistry and beauty. http://galeriuspalace.culture.gr/en/monuments/rotonta/

As a young student reading and ‘travelling’ through the pages of Ralph F. Hoddinott’s book of 1963, Early Byzantine churches in Macedonia and southern Serbia – A Study of the Origins and the Initial Development of East Christian Art, I was intrigued to enrich my ‘world book’ with stories and pictures and memories.  Many more ‘travels’ later, many more written pages, I take out Hoddinott’s book to read and further explore one specific monument of great importance,  the Rotunda Ambo of Thessaloniki!     http://macedonia.kroraina.com/en/rheb/index.htm

Rotunda Ambo, early 6th century, marble, Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Photo copyright: Dick Osseman
https://pbase.com/dosseman/image/58466693

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, an “Ambo…”, is “a raised stand formerly used for reading the Gospel or the Epistle, first used in early basilicas. Originally, the ambo took the form of a portable lectern. By the 6th century, it had evolved into a stationary church furnishing, which reflected the development and codification of the Christian liturgy…” We know that the position of each Ambo in an Early Christian Church, centrally placed or on the sides of the nave, varied consisting of “…raised platforms on three levels reached by steps and protected by railings. Each level was consecrated to a special part of the service.”     https://www.britannica.com/topic/ambo-church-architecture

The Rotunda Ambo, the only Early Christian sculptural piece to have survived, in fragments and quite battered, still impressive and beautiful, is now exhibited in the Museum of Antiquities in Istanbul while its marble base survives in Thessaloniki.  Dates suggested for the Rotunda Ambo vary, starting as early as the late 4th century. Most scholars, however, believe that the carving of the ornamental decoration of the ambo should date to the early 6th century.

According to Hoddinott… “Below bands of delicately worked acanthus and vine motives, the ambo, in its original state, presented the Adoration of the Magi. Each figure is set individually beneath scalloped niches and between Corinthian columns, the three Magi are shown on one side of the ambo searching for the Christ Child, and on the other bringing Him their gifts. The Virgin, enthroned upon a round backed chair, holds the Child upon her knees. An angel introduces the Magi. Another figure, the upper part of which has been lost, represents a shepherd with his sheep around him and the skin of an animal over his shoulders. Eagles, or other large birds, their wings outstretched, occupy the spandrils between the scalloped niches.”

An interesting article for further reading…, by Nino Zchomelidse  The Epiphany of the logos in the Ambo in the Rotunda (Hagios Georgios) in Thessaloniki

For a PowerPoint on the Rotunda Ambo and a Collection of old photos, please… Click HERE!

Early Christian Funerary Paintings

Tomb Painting of a Bird (Lark?), early 5th century, fresco painting,  Museum for Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki (Photo: Makis Skiatharesis, ΜΒΠ archive)

“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

Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki

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: 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. 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…    

Grade 6 students eploring the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, photographed by Kostas Papantoniou

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

View of Room 3: “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise” in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki (Photo: ΜΒΠ archive)

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!

Articles you might find interesting about Early Christian Funerary Paintings in Thessaloniki:    https://www.academia.edu/24852527/Iconographic_Programs_of_the_Early_Christian_Tombs_of_Thessaloniki_in_the_Context_of_the_Contemporary_Traditions_of_the_Funerary_Art_English_translation_     and    https://bookonlime.ru/lecture/8-early-christian-funerary-painting-thessaloniki-macedonian-and-roman-traditions    and    https://www.didaktorika.gr/eadd/handle/10442/13516

For a Student Activity on Early Christian Funerary Painting, please… Click HERE!

Eάλω η Πόλις

Tabula Peutingeriana, 4th to 5th century Itinerarium, is one of the Austrian National Library’s greatest treasures. The top picture presents the whole length of the Itinerarium, the bottom picture is a detail of the Itinerarium presenting the city of Constantinople.

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.

Tabula Peutingeriana

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/

Tabula Peutingeriana and the city of Constantinople

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!