Portrait Medallion of Gennadios

Will we meet again? He is waiting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York… musically accomplished, all ‘chiseled’ up… and I have to face COVID traveling restrictions, a long trip, and a rather bad knee… He is Gennadios, a young man from Alexandria whose portrait is simply fabulous… one of my favourite works of Art in the world! Our story goes back to 1977 when, as a University student I visited, for the first time ever New York City, I marveled at the ‘Age of Spirituality’ Exhibition, and I set my amazed eyes on his Portrait Medallion…the rest is part of my life story. Ever since, and every time I visit New York I simply have to see him… These days, the Portrait Medallion of Gennadios, a fine example of Alexandrian ‘Good Life,’ welcomes MetropolitanMuseum visitors to ‘The Good Life: Collecting Late Antique Art at The Met’ Exhibition (May 24, 2021–May 7, 2023)… It’s an invitation I somehow have to meet… https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2021/good-life-collecting-late-antique-art

Introducing Gennadios, the Metropolitan Museum site reads: This exquisitely vivid image of an educated youth of the powerful port city of Alexandria probably celebrates his success in a musical contest. The medallion worked in gold on dark blue glass, was made to be mounted and worn as a pendant. There is so much more to Gennadios’s story… https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/466645?searchField=All&sortBy=Relevance&high=on&ao=on&showOnly=openAccess&ft=*&offset=480&rpp=80&pos=510

The Metropolitan MuseumPortrait Medallion, thanks to the inscription, and its grammatical variants, ΓΕΝΝΑΔΙ  ΧΡΩΜΑΤΙ  ΠΑΜΜΟΥCΙ, introduces us to an upper-class young man from Alexandria named Gennadios, a young man most accomplished in the musical art. This portrait served as an exceptional piece of Jewelry, a disk to be framed as a pendant… proudly worn by Gennadios… in the aftermath of a victorious musical competition, one may wonder. Age of Spirituality – Weitzmann, Kurt, ed. (1979), page 287 https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century

Portrait Medallion of Gennadios (detail), 250–300 AD, made in Alexandria, Egypt. Gold Glass, D. 4.2 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://twitter.com/rubsmontoya/status/1224314731885998080

Worked in gold on sapphire-blue glass… to be specific, the drawing of Gennadios’s face was scratched with a fine point on gold leaf applied to the surface of a thin layer of glass… the Metropolitan Museum Medallion is a masterpiece of portraiture on a small scale. There is a group of similar jewel-like glass medallion portraits exhibited in museums around the world, but none is so exquisitely engraved. Scholars believe a lot of these Medallions come from Alexandria where a tradition in gold glass portraiture, like that of Gennadios’s, was active and popular. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Autumn 1977, page 46 file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/The_Late_Roman_World_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art_Bulletin_v_35_no_2_Fall_1977.pdf

The Gold Glass technique was particularly popular throughout the Roman Empire during the 4th century AD. Images in this technique were etched in gold leaf and then, the leaf was fused between two layers of glass… like a sandwich! Items of Gold Glass were usually created into circular bottoms of luxurious drinking vessels since the Hellenistic period. A popular practice for the Romans of the later period was to cut out the Gold Glass decorated roundel of a cup and cement it to the wall of a catacomb Grave to serve as a grave marker for the small recesses where bodies were buried. In Rome, where this practice was particularly popular, archaeologists discovered over 500 pieces of Gold Glass used in this way. Decoration themes for Gold Glass items vary from pagan mythology and portraits to purely Jewish or Christian imagery. Chapter 13 Making Late Antique Gold Glass by Daniel Thomas Howells, pp.112-120 https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20190801105206/https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/research_publications_series.aspx#AllResearchPublications

Here is a wonderful Video on the Gold Glass making technique by the Corning Museum of Glass https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALNMn6DGQJg

I greatly enjoyed reading: The Ficoroni Medallion and Some Other Gilded Glasses in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Joseph Breck, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Jun. 1927), pp. 352-356 (5 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/3046553?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Ae1a77ea3960c80fa8029287c7789e3cd&seq=5#page_scan_tab_contents and Portraits, Pontiffs and the Christianization of Fourth-Century Rome by Lucy Grig, Papers of the British School at Rome, Vol. 72 (2004), pp. 203-230 (28 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/40311081?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

For a PowerPoint on Gold Glass Portrait Medallions, please… Check HERE!

Mosaics from the Ilissos Basilica in Athens

Exhibition of Mosaics from the Ilissos Basilica in Athens, 5th century AD, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece http://www.byzantineathens.com/betaalphasigmaiotalambdaiotakappaeta-iotalambdaiotasigmasigmaomicronupsilon.html

How do they call him, how do they call him / the river? / Ilissos, Ilissos. / Let me tell you my little secret. / I love you, I love you.     /     Babies yell at their mom, / but I am desolate and orphaned. / Birds fly with their wings, / but I fly in the dance.     /     How do they call him, how do they call him / the river? / Ilissos, Ilissos. / Let me tell you my little secret. / I love you, I love you… Back in the late 50’ Ilissos was popularly sung by everyone in Greece. With music by Manos Hadjidakis and Lyrics by George Emirzas, it was a musical hit that made the little river that crossed Athens, legendary… Very few, if any, of those who sang along Nana Mouskouri knew about the Byzantine Basilica, let alone, of the Mosaics from the Ilissos Basilica in Athens… https://midifiles.gr/lyrics/ilisos-nana-mushuri-giovana-1956/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cDeEYeR_0k

Ilissos Basilica Archaeological Site,  5th century AD, Athens, Greece http://www.byzantineathens.com/betaalphasigmaiotalambdaiotakappaeta-iotalambdaiotasigmasigmaomicronupsilon.html

Ilissos Basilica is one of the most important Early Christian monuments in the city of Athens… today, a “sad” archeological site, hardly anyone visits. Back in 1916 and 1917, George Sotiriou. a prominent scholar in the field of Christian Archaeology, excavated the area, discovered the Basilica and the lovely mosaics that are now exhibited in the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens. The Basilica was originally built on an islet in the middle of  Ilissos river (the islet was known as Βατραχονήσι – Frog Island)… located to the east of the Olympieion, popularly called today, the Columns of the Olympian Zeus, a colossal Athenian Temple that started during the 6th century BC, at the time of the Athenian tyrants, and finished by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, 638 years later. The fifth-century Basilica was dedicated to Saint Leonides, the third-century Bishop of Athens who was put to death along with seven female martyrs… in 250 AD during the persecutions of Decius.https://athensattica.com/things-to-see/ancient-sites/ilissos-basilica/ and http://www.byzantineathens.com/betaalphasigmaiotalambdaiotakappaeta-iotalambdaiotasigmasigmaomicronupsilon.html

The Ilissos Basilica was probably founded in the years 423-450 by the Byzantine Empress Athenais-Eudocia, wife of the Emperor Theodosius II and Sotiriou excavations of 1916/17 revealed a Basilica of the transitional type – from the simple, timber roofed to the domed basilica. Excavations also brought to light a crypte-martyrium, where Leonides’ relics were kept, and another edifice, a baptisterium, in all probability for the needs of the growing Christian group of Athenian citizens. The basilica, according to the experts, was very carefully built and richly decorated with marble walls, mosaics, and sculptures. This Early Christian monument of Ilissos properly fills the gap in the continuous artistic and cultural evolution of the city of Athens. https://www.archaeology.wiki/blog/issue/the-early-christian-basilica-of-ilissos/

Ilissos Basilica Mosaic depicting a Stork pecking at a Snake,  5th century AD, Floor Mosaic, 92 x 98 cm, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/permanentexhibition/ancient_world_to_Byzantium/temples_of_the_new_religion/?bxm=1756
Ilissos Basilica Mosaic depicting a Laurel Wreath,  5th century AD, Floor Mosaic, 98 x 97 cm, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/permanentexhibition/ancient_world_to_Byzantium/temples_of_the_new_religion/?bxm=1755

The group of mosaics, coming from the Ilissos Basilica and exhibited in the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens are of exceptional quality combining the best of Roman and Christian floor mosaic traditions. Inspired by the Roman tradition, the Ilissos Basilica mosaics show decorative features such as interlace in the form of chains (“guilloche”), stylized round flowers (rosettes), trailing ivy, motifs resembling fish scales and water birds. The Early Christian designs exhibited are vine scrolls from which hang bunches of grapes and vine leaves (symbol of the Christian Paradise), wreaths of laurel leaves (a well-known symbol of victory from Roman times), small crosses, and other geometrical and plant motifs. The 5th-century artist who designed these mosaics was a master colourist who favoured gentle hues of white, black, deep red, orange, grey, pale violet, brown, yellow, pink, blue and green. His drawing technique also showed an artist who liked discreet and charming lines, light touch, and great care in arranging the tesserae to follow the outlines. https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/permanentexhibition/ancient_world_to_Byzantium/temples_of_the_new_religion/?bxm=1753

For a PowerPoint on the Mosaics from the Ilissos Basilica in Athens, please… Check HERE!

Part of a Mosaic pavement decorated with a winding stem with leaves and grapes, 5th century AD, Floor Mosaic, 62 x 151 cm, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/permanentexhibition/ancient_world_to_Byzantium/temples_of_the_new_religion/?bxm=1758
Part of a Mosaic pavement decorated with a winding stem with leaves and grapes,
5th century AD, Floor Mosaic, 63 x 147 cm, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/permanentexhibition/ancient_world_to_Byzantium/temples_of_the_new_religion/?bxm=1759

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

Albenga Baptistery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a Student Activity, please… check HERE!