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!

El Greco: Formative Years

Domenikos Theotokopoulos… El Greco, 1541 – 1614
The Dormition of the Virgin, before 1567, egg tempera on wood, Holy Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin, Syros island, Greece

“I paint because the spirits whisper madly inside my head.” El Greco: Formative Years introduces us to the world of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, and his Cretan period Icon of the Dormition of the Virgin, in the Cycladic Island of Syros.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos was a Cretan Greek, born at Handaka-Candia, present-day Herakleion, part of the thriving Republic of Venice. Archival research in Venice showed that between 1526-28 his family relocated from Chania to Handaka, where, in 1541 Domenikos was born. His Orthodox-Greek family belonged to the upper-middle class, as his father, Giorgos Theotokopoulos, worked for the government of the Venetian Republic, most probably as a merchant and a tax collector. Very little is known of  Domenikos’s mother and early childhood. He was undoubtedly talented, and his father, realizing it, placed him as an apprentice in a painter’s workshop to learn this profitable trade. The name of his teacher is unknown, but judging from Domenikos’s earliest paintings, he was a great master of the Post-Byzantine Cretan School. Crete at the time was the center of a thriving artistic community and understanding the artist’s early influences and style is important in decoding his later work!

Very little is also known of Domenikos’s early years as a painter in Handaka, except a1563 reference on him as “a master painter” on a  document issued by the Venetian Administration of Candia, and later, in 1566 his testament as a witness in a Candia solicitor’s document in which he is mentioned as ‘maistro Menegos Theotokopoulos, artist’. By late 1566, Domenikos was ready to pursue his career and artistic prospects in Crete were limited. On December 26, 1566, he asked permission from the Venetian authorities in Handaka to auction one of his paintings depicting the Passion of Christ, a painting estimated to be worth 80 ducats but sold for 70. This valuable information comes from the Venetian archives and proves two things. First, Domenikos was still in Crete in 1566, and second, he was an extremely important artist because the price of 70 ducats his small painting fetched was as high as any great Italian artist of the Renaissance would get. https://www.historical-museum.gr/webapps/elgreco/xronologio.php?lang=en

For a PowerPoint on El Greco: Formative Years, please… click HERE!

The Dormition of the Virgin, on the Island of Syros, is a fine example of Theotokopoulos’s 16th-century Cretan period where his personality and artistic being were formed. Greco’s signature on the base of the central candelabrum was discovered, in the process of restoring the Icon, in 1983 by archaeologist George Mastoropoulos. The Dormition’s undoubted attribution to Theotokopoulos helps scholars better understand and interpret the artist’s unique artistic idiom and early production.  

The Icon follows the Post-Byzantine Orthodox tradition of painting, introducing at the same time elements of the Renaissance Mannerism. Today, in juxtaposition to his most “sublime” work, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, the Dormition is seen as Domeniko’s Archetypal representation of “a visionary experience” of two worlds, “the physical world of earth and the spiritual world of heaven, each portrayed in their own ways. Earth is captured on a normal scale with more proportional figures, whereas heaven is composed of swirling clouds and abstract shapes, with a more intangible quality to the figures. This clear distinction greatly allows for two ideas: on the one hand, a union between both worlds is proposed, on the other, the separation of the worlds is enhanced.” https://www.theartstory.org/artist/el-greco/artworks/#nav

Domenikos Theotokopoulos or El Greco, 1541 – 1614
The Dormition of the Virgin, before 1567, egg tempera on wood, Holy Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin, Syros island, Greece
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, between 1586 and 1588, oil on canvas, 480 cm × 360 cm, Iglesia de Santo Tomé, Toledo

The Dormition of the Virgin is the only Theotokopoulos Icon still serving today as an object of Christian Orthodox veneration. It is still “exhibited” in Syros, the 1828-29 Basilica Church of “Psarianon” (the church of the Psara islanders) or officially known as the Dormition of the Virgin. The Icon was brought to Syros in 1824, in the midst of the Greek War of Independence by Psara Island refugees, survivors of the Psara Island destruction. https://www.lifo.gr/articles/arts_articles/253223/sti-syro-vrisketai-enas-apo-toys-protoys-kai-mexri-protinos-agnostoys-pinakes-toy-el-gkreko

Hegeso, daughter of Proxenos

Attributed to Kallimachos architect and sculptor working in the second half of the 5th century BC, Funerary Grave Stelae of Hegeso, c. 410-400 BC, found in Kerameikos, Pentelic Marble, 1,56  x 0,97 m, National Archaeological Museum of Athens

“Sometimes, staring at Hegeso. I am thinking that through tears the best smiles grow up.” The smile and the tears of Hegeso, daughter of Proxenos by Katerina Samara

Kerameikos Cemetery of ancient Athens

The amazing Funerary Stelae of Hegeso, daughter of Proxenos, is one of the many masterpieces exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Found during the 1870 archaeological excavation period at the ancient Athenian Cemetery of Kerameikos, Hegeso’s Stelae was made of Pentelic marble and has been attributed to the sculptor and architect Kallimachos. She was a cherished member of a prominent Athenian family, as the magnificence of the relief sculptural Stelae and the family grave plot to which the Stelae was paced, indicate. https://www.namuseum.gr/en/collection/klasiki-periodos-2/

Hegeso’s Stelae is an exquisite example of the so-called “Rich” style that dates to the end of the 5th century and its main characteristics are the artists’ interest in the human body, on garments with elaborate pleats and on airy figures that move gracefully in space. Hegeso is depicted seated on a smart seat (klismos), her feet resting on a footstall. She wears a chiton, a himation, and a transparent veil on her head. With her right hand, she takes a jewel (originally painted) from a pyxis (jewel box) handed to her by a young servant girl, who solemnly stands before her. The servant wears a “barbarian” (not Greek) garment, with long sleeves, and a net on her hair. What a simple, and unpretentious composition the artist achieved! At the same time elegance, grace, class, and sophistication prevail.

The relief sculpture of Hegeso, daughter of Proxenos, according to the epigram on the top of the stele which kept alive the Lady’s name for 25 centuries, is probably the work of a skillful artist called Kallimachos. Little is known about the artist, not even if he was Athenian or Corinthian. He is, however, reputed to have worked in the building of the Athenian Acropolis, and for designing the first Corinthian Capital at the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, after observing acanthus leaves growing out of a basket placed on top of a young girl’s tomb. Kallimachos, according to Pausanias, is described as clever, innovative, and “catatexitechnus,” meaning he was an extreme perfectionist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callimachus_(sculptor)

The Theban poet Pindar wrote that “We are things of a day… When brightness comes, and the gods give it, there is shining light on man, and his life is sweet.” Let me quote Gabriela Chartier and her comments on how “People should not strive only to be remembered after death, but instead to enjoy the sweetness of life…” and how “Hegeso’s stele seems to coincide with Pindar’s idea. Hegeso is not doing anything heroic; the image does not refer to myths or to the epic past. Instead, she is shown in an event of everyday life: a moment in democratic Athens when the light was shining on her. The fact that this image is on a grave stele reinforces Pindar’s message. Placing such scenes along the main road in the Kerameikos would have offered a constant reminder: human life is passing. We are things of a day.” https://archaeologystudentsspeak.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/gabriela-chartier-on-the-grave-stele-of-hegeso/

Hegeso, daughter of Proxenos RWAP (stands for Research-Writing-Art-Project) is… HERE!

Examples of student RWAP (stands for Research-Writing-Art-Project) Sketchbooks… HERE!

Van Eyck – An Optical Revolution

Ghent Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition: February 1 – April 30, 2020
https://www.mskgent.be/en/exhibitions/van-eyck

Who can really resist an Exhibition, titled Van Eyck – An Optical Revolution? Particularly when over half of Jan van Eyck’s artistic oeuvre will be on display? Paintings from all over the world will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) in Ghent “to contextualize the optical revolution he inspired.” Painting by Van Eyck, his workshop and from “his most talented peers from Germany, France, Italy and Spain” are placed side by side. This is an opportunity to study, compare and draw conclusions!

“Hubrecht van Eyck, the most famous painter ever known, started this work of art; his brother Jan, who was second in the art, finished the task at the request of Joos Vijd. With this verse the donor consigns the work to your charge on May 6th 1432. Admire what they have done for you”.

The main focus of the Ghent Exhibition is to present the recently restored outer panels of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb or as it is widely known as the Ghent Altarpiece. According to the experts of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral “This painting by Hubrecht and Jan van Eyck is the principal work of the Flemish school in the 15th century. The main theme is the glorification or the heavenly apotheosis of man’s salvation and sanctification by the sacrifice of Christ. The subject is treated in a more visionary than narrative or dramatic manner. It is painted on oak panels; the paint consists of mineral pigments in a cement of drying oil.” https://vaneyck2020.be/en/van-eyck-from-home/

The outer panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, beautifully restored and exhibited at MSK, are divided into three registers. The upper register “lunettes” show prophets and Sibyls looking down on the middle register, the Annunciation scene. The four lower-register panels are divided into two pairs, the central sculptural paintings are in grisaille, presenting St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist, while the two outer panels, in astonishing naturalism, stage the donor portraits of Joost Vijdt and his wife Lysbette Borluut.

Jan van Eyck was a revolutionary, ground-breaking artist and the Ghent Exhibition is a learning experience!

He perfected the Oil Technique by adding siccatives. With oil paints, he created rich, deep, lustrous colours, flawless golden tones, and amazing life-like textures.

Observation of reality is key to Jan’s Art. His portraits are lifelike in the minutest detail. His depictions of nature and natural phenomena are credible and authentic. He is so good at creating reality, his art seems like it is competing with reality itself!

Observing and Painting Optical Light Phenomena shows an artist deeply interested “in the painting of light, so crucial to his optical revolution.” Scholars believe that Jan van Eyck “not only gathers practical but also theoretical knowledge in order to reproduce the effects of light.” https://vaneyck2020.be/en/the-optical-revolution/

Artworks presented in the PowerPoint were put together, thanks to an MSK Catalogue… HERE! and HERE!

Pompeiian Portraits of Distinction

Woman with wax tablets and stylus, 55-79 AD, IV Pompeian style, fresco, 37 x 38 cm, discovered in Pompeii VI – Insula Occidentalis, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
Portrait of a man holding a papyrus roll, 55-79 AD, IV Pompeian style, fresco, discovered in Pompeii VI – Insula Occidentalis, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The Pompeiian Portraits of Distinction shows a young couple, stylish, bold and educated at the prime of their life. They are both adorable in the way she brings her stylus to her lips, he holds his papyrus under his chin. They are both pensive… contemplative. They make you wonder… are they thinking of something they have just read or are they pondering on what they are about to write?

According to the experts at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, the two portraits are amazing examples of the IV Pompeian style, discovered in Pompeii on May 24th, 1760. They were among the first discoveries made and dazzled the world! The small painting of “Sappho” holding a stylus and wax tablets, is the companion of the male portrait, depicting a young man holding a Papyrus Roll just under his chin, quite romantic looking, with blondish hair and wearing a lush laurel wreath.

What an elegant couple! Both rendered in pastel colours, they pose for eternity dressed in their… everyday finest. She has a dainty face with big brown eyes, rosy cheeks, full lips and a crest of curly auburn hair. She is richly adorned, but just so… a golden hairnet and a pair of thick golden ear loops are all she needs to look elegant. Her color scheme is on the cooler side, aubergine purple, forest green, and chestnut brown. The young man facing her is rendered in colours of mustard ochre and celery green. He has a pointed, elongated face and slightly slanted eyes. His adornment is a lush green wreath resting on blondish hair with thick curls. She boldly looks at us, he looks at her… both lost in thought! https://www.museoarcheologiconapoli.it/en/room-and-sections-of-the-exhibition/frescoes/ and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_fresco_portrait_of_a_man_holding_a_papyrus_roll,_Pompeii,_Italy,_1st_century_AD.jpg

For a PowerPoint, please… click 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!

The Month of February

The Month of February, late 14th century-latest 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy

The Month of February fresco comes from Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of an amazing fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room and presents the quintessential game of chivalry…

Is there among you any gentleman who for the love of his lady is willing to try with me some feat of arms? If there should be any such, here I am, quite ready to sally forth completely armed and mounted, to tilt three courses with the lance, to give three blows with the battle axe, and three strokes with the dagger. Now look, you English, if there be none among you in love. … and so Gauvain Micaille, the gallant Frenchman squire from Beauce, a gentleman of tried courage, who had advanced himself on his own merit, without any assistance from others, jousts for the honour of France showing his courage and bravery… https://uts.nipissingu.ca/muhlberger/FROISSART/GAUVAIN.HTM

The February fresco at Torre Aquila presents an impressive and festive Tournament where Jousting is the protagonist of the day. The Trento artist, maybe Maestro Venceslao, using warm tones of orange and ochre, organizes a two parts composition. The background presents Trento Ladies sitting behind an elaborate, purpose-built, parapet. They are finely dressed and adorned with elaborate headdresses, crowns, and wreaths, talking to each other, full of excitement… maybe contemplating, even debating whom they are going to favor! The Knights, fully armored and carrying their cotes-of-arm are depicted in the art of Jousting, their goal, to show gallantry and honour, their hope to attract the attention of “their” Lady and get a token of her favor… a veil, a ribbon, a wreath!

According to Wikipedia: “Jousting is a martial game or hastilude between two horsemen wielding lances with blunted tips, often as part of a tournament. The primary aim was to replicate a clash of heavy cavalry, with each participant trying hard to strike the opponent while riding towards him at high speed, breaking the lance on the opponent’s shield or jousting armor if possible, or unhorsing him. The joust became an iconic characteristic of the knight in Romantic medievalism. The participants experience close to three and a quarter times their body weight in G-forces when the lances collide with their armor.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jousting#CITEREFColtman1919

The Trento fresco for February has another interesting genre scene. In the narrow space between the room’s window and the staircase, the artist included a vignette of an older blacksmith toiling hard in his workshop. Let’s not forget this is a fresco cycle of the Labors of the Months, illustrating the activities of aristocrats and peasants, every month, throughout the year!

For a PowerPoint, 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!

An Unlike Comparison

Shrine Head, by unknown Ife (Nigeria) artist, 12th-14th century, Terracotta, 31.1 x 14.6 x 18.4 cm, Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN
Roger van der Weyden, Portrait of a Lady, c. 1460, oil on oak panel, 34 × 25.5 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

They are both beautiful and aristocratic, they look demure but haughty, they represent two different cultures… two different continents, yet they share an “attitude” I find intriguing! Can they be compared? An Unlike Comparison is a RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project) my students like a lot!!!

The Yoruba people have a long tradition in creating unique terracotta portrait sculptures characterized by naturalism and a sense of individuality and humanism. The Minneapolis Institute of Art Shrine Head is striking… blending aesthetic charisma with strong technical skills. The Ife Lady in Minneapolis has a lovely oval face with almond-shaped eyes under heavy lids, full cheeks, and fleshy lips. She has a condescending attitude in the way she carries her posture, she looks decorously downwards, yet, you can easily “imagine the glint in her eye and the gleam of her lips.” The unknown artist of this amazing portrait follows the Yoruba fashion of the time and the face is rendered with “vertical lines following the natural contours of the woman’s face…” This is a tradition “associated with scarification, the practice of cutting designs into the skin as marks of beauty and lineage.” There is, however, a new theory among scholars suggesting that “the lines may be shadows cast by the veiled royal crown worn in her day.” https://collections.artsmia.org/art/4866/shrine-head-yoruba

Rogier van der Weyden is an unquestionably charismatic portraitist. He has the ability to “grasp” the essence of the sitter and “deliver” it, pure and genuine. He is also able to create balanced compositions, combining the elements of art and expressing “an aristocratic ideal of control.” The NGA Portrait of a Lady, a member of the flamboyant court of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, is one such example. May I say, my favorite? Her name may be lost to us, but her high position in Burgundian court is, however, undisputed. She poses as the grand lady she is, in three-quarters view, resting her clasped hands under her chest, exquisitely groomed and dressed, eyes cast down, tranquil… lost in her thoughts. Is she? Rogier van der Weyden rendered her with great “affection.” Every aspect of the composition is well thought… the fall of the veil, the V of the neckline, the triangles formed by dark color schemes, the sharp juxtaposition of black and white in the sitter’s dress, and finally, la pièce de résistance, the bright red ornate belt, in the lowest part of the painting, behind her clasping hands, heightening up her rosy, fleshy lips. How masterful can Rogier be! https://www.nga.gov/collection/highlights/van-der-weyden-portrait-of-a-lady.html

Grade 10 student work

This is An Unlike Comparison, we love to talk about in my Secondary School Art History class and a RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project) my students really like to explore.

For the Student RWAP, please… click HERE!

For a PowerPoint, please… click HERE!

Heraklitos and the Asarotos Oikos Mosaic

Heraklitos, Asarotos Oikos (Unswept Floor), 2nd century AD, Mosaic, 4.05 x 4.05 meters, Musei Vaticani, Museo Gregoriano Profano, Rome

Heraklitos and the Asarotos Oikos Mosaic is one of the many reasons why you should visit the Gregoriano Profano Museum in the Vatican!  It’s an exhibit I dearly love, a mosaic that amuses me, tests my observation… a work of art of the highest quality!

The story of the Asarotos Oikos theme in mosaic-work takes us back to the Hellenistic Period, to the great city of Pergamon on the coast of Asia Minor, and to a legendary mosaicist, called Sosus (εκ Περγάμου ψηφιδογράφος Σώσος). Pliny the Elder describes Hellenistic mosaic making and Sosus’s accomplishments as “…Paved floors originated among the Greeks and were skilfully embellished with a kind of paintwork until this was superseded by mosaics. In this latter field the most famous exponent was Sosus, who at Pergamum laid the floor of what is known in Greek as ‘the Unswept Room’ because, by means of small cubes tinted in various shades, he represented on the floor refuse from the dinner table and other sweepings, malting them appear as if they had been left there…” Pliny, Natural History, 36.60.25 https://www.loebclassics.com/view/pliny_elder-natural_history/1938/pb_LCL419.145.xml?readMode=reader

The Gregoriano Profano Museum in the Vatican has one of the finest Asarotos Oikos mosaics, carefully executed and brightly colored. It was discovered in 1833, on the Aventine Hill in Rome, and as the archaeologists established, it decorated the dining room floor of a Hadrian period villa. This is a unique mosaic, the masterpiece of Heraklitos, the mosaicist, proud to sign his name.  

Heraklitos created a complex floor mosaic composition. The threshold of the triclinium (the Roman dining-room) greeted guests with a design of theatrical masks, ritual objects, and the mosaicist’s signature! The central mosaic decoration presented a complex Nilotic scene, now mostly destroyed. The Assarotos Oikos themed mosaic, boarder-like, covered the four sides of the room depicting, on a white background, “…the debris of a banquet, the remains that would normally be swept away.” It is amusing for me to try to identify what Heraklitos depicted on this amazing floor… fruit, leafy vegetables, lobster and crab claws, clams and oysters, sea urchins, chicken bones, and nutshells, even a tiny mouse, gnawing on a walnut shell. I am equally amazed at the artist’s skill to demonstrate an understanding of three-dimentionality by using contrasting colors and casting shadows against the white floor background. http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/museo-gregoriano-profano/Mosaico-dell-asarotos-oikos.html

An interesting article titled “The asàrotos òikos mosaic as an elite status symbol” by Ehud Fathy of the Tel Aviv University provides an interesting explanation of how we should read this mosaic theme. “The asàrotos òikos mosaics have all been discovered exclusively in the domestic spaces of the Roman elite. The manufacturing of such detailed mosaics must have demanded great financial investment, and while the mosaics must have amused the guests with their Trompe-l’œil qualities, it is hard to believe that such an expenditure was made with this sole purpose in mind. The aim of this article is to explore the asàrotos òikos mosaics as a Roman status symbol of elitist erudition… ” file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/Dialnet-TheAsarotosOikosMosaicAsAnEliteStatusSymbol-6037238%20(1).pdf

For a PowerPoint on the Vatican Asarotos Oikos Mosaic, please… click HERE!