Hagia Kyriake-hagios artemios
Hagia Kyriake-hagios artemios
Most of the churches with aniconic decoration in Greece were located on the island of Naxos. Of these, St. George at Apeiranthos and the Panagia at Engares have retained a few faint fragments. St. Kyriake at Kalloni, north of Apeiranthos, and St. Artemios at the site Stavros, two hundred metres left of the main road connecting Chora with Chalki, opposite the tower of Bazaios, have preserved in good condition almost the whole of their aniconic decoration.
N.D. Kalogeropoulos (1933) located and mentioned the churches of St. Kyriake and St. Artemios, without dating them. Much later (1961-62) the “Team for the Discovery and Investigation of Byzantine Wall Paintings in Greece” included St. Kyriake and St. Artemios among the nearly forty churches they had discovered, photographed and partly drawn. The two churches were subsequently studied and published. This publication assigned them to the 8th-9th century, and more precisely in the reign of Theophilus (A.D. 829-842).
The church of St. Kyriake (total dimensions 11.10 * 7.10 m.) (Fig. 1) is composed of a single-aisled naos with a dome, a vaulted parecclesion on the south side and a common, also vaulted, narthex on the west side with a single lateral entrance from the south. The main church and the parecclesion have large semicircular sanctuary apses to the east. As indicated by the uniform continuous masonry and the interior articulation of the compartments (Fig. 2), all parts are contemporary. The walls built of local undressed greyish stones with very little mortar, give the impression of dry masonry. The limited possibilities of the materials used have determined the exterior aspect of the building: unarticulated walls devoid of any decoration, few and small windows, in short, an aspect reminding one of a castle rather than a church. Only the pitched roofs and the heavy cylindrical dome reveal the architectural plan of the church. The east wall of the narthex was pierced by two doors leading to the main church and the parecclesion. The one to the parecclesion is now blocked up; the other, almost square, with monolith jambs and lintel has a megalithic appearance. On the north and south sides the dome is supported by shallow blind arches. A large arched opening through the south blind arch and two smaller ones on either side (one of them in the sanctuary) facilitate communication with the parecclesion and indicate that it was a contemporary construction. The sanctuary occupies the entire east part of the main church. In the apse, a low, built, synthronon has an episcopal throne in the middle, marked off by a vertical slab on either side (Fig. 4). The walls of the main church have a similar low built bench. The spring of the vaults and the base-line of the low drum of the dome are accented with a cornice of schist. The floor was paved with large slabs, none of which was found in position as they had been broken and scattered by robbers digging for hidden treasures.
St. Artemios is a simple single-aisled domed church, which has neither a narthex nor a parecclesion (Fig. 7, 8). In addition to the architectural type, the other common features with the church of St. Kyriake are: the masonry, with even less mortar; the large semicircular apse, in this case without a window; and the heavy cylindrical dome, with an even lower drum and fewer openings. Here too, the sanctuary occupies the whole of the east section (Fig. 9). The floor, of slabs and natural rock, has survived intact. Built in a more unpretentious and clumsy manner, this church looks older than that of St. Kyriake.
The original painted decoration of St. Kyriake has been preserved on the blind arches, on the intrados of the eastern and middle arched openings giving access to the parecclesion, and in the entire sanctuary (walls, apse, vault). Neither the western part of the naos, nor the parecclesion and narthex bear any traces of this first phase, since probably they had not been decorated then. The same is noted in St. Artemios, whereonly the sanctuary had been painted. The original decoration was aniconic. A second layer, on the curved wall of the apse and on the half-dome, has preserved painting traces showing parts of haloes and an open Gospel Book, while the apse of the parecclesion was painted with the Deesis. In detail, the aniconic paintings of St. Kyriake are as follows:
The curved wall of the apse, above the synthronon and to the right of the double-arched window, is divided into two panels by vertical borders filled with wavy lines imitating marble revetment. The section to the left of the window, though decorated with the same subject in a similar arrangement, has neither panels nor separating borders. On either side of the window, against the white wall-plastering, six scattered birds are depicted turned towards the window, with wavy lines and dots in red colour filling the interspaces. The birds are remarkable. They are drawn with a sharp outline and are painted in dark colour. Their feathers are rendered by curved lines extending from the head to the tail. Their legs are long, rigid, with pronounced joints and talons, like those of birds of prey. Their tall necks, adorned with a Sassanian ribbon-like motif, are curving sharply downwards as if the birds are pecking with their strong beaks at the dots and wavy lines of the field. On either side, the uppermost bird dominates with its size. This large bird and another smaller one have tufted tails. The left-hand representation shows, below, two confronting fishes and the small sketch of an animal. The two paintings present differences in execution. The birds on the left side are more schematic, painted in a clumsy and careless manner. The ends of the curved wall of the apse are painted alike (that on the left is better preserved) with a bejewelled cross flanked by two small palm-trees in pots. The halfdome has retained parts of the decoration. Above the cornice, there are two narrow bands with decorative motifs. Next, there is a pattern of large scales with sharp black outlines, white dots and a heart-shaped core. This scale pattern probably did not cover the entire surface. At about the centre of the composition, part of a curved wide band is visible — possibly from the circular frame of a cross. The band has a toothed ornament, similar to that on the arched opening of the south blind arch.
The north wall of the sanctuary, above a wide zone imitating marble revetment, is divided into two panels by borders, each containing a different motif: spiral tendrils, concentric tangent semicircles, a zigzag design forming triangles with palmettes. The right- hand panel, which is better preserved, contains a large cross on a stepped base. The arms of the cross extend to the edges of the panel, thus dividing the rectangular surface into four smaller rectangles. The two upper rectangles are divided into two triangles by lines joining the end of the upper arm to the ends of the horizontal arms. The triangles between the arms of the cross are light-coloured, the others are dark-coloured, filled with small elliptical motifs having a white contour. Quite probably, the left-hand panel was painted with the same subject. The narrow western part of the arched opening through the sanctuary’s south wall looks like a pier and is decorated with three vertical bands. The middle one, more visible, is painted with looped circles filled with small elliptical motifs. The upper part shows a decoration of continuous oblique parallelograms, each surrounded by a small arrow starting from the right-hand acute angle. The lower section of the arched opening is painted with a rhomb and square imitating marble revetment and the intrados with a cross in a roundel encircled by intertwined tendrils. The vault of the sanctuary retains its entire decoration, though not in good condition. Simple lines divide it longitudinally into three unequal zones. The middle one contains intersecting circles with rosettes; the left, looped circles with rosettes within the circles and in the interspaces; the right repeats exactly the same pattern on a larger scale.
The tympanum of the south blind arch is covered with intersecting circles forming rosettes, the curve of the arch is circumscribed by a toothed band, and the intrados is filled with a continuous spiral design. The once vivid colours have now faded into an indistinct yellow-orange tint. The north blind arch has preserved less of its painted decoration. Its wall is horizontally divided into two zones. On the lower and narrower zone, thick black wavy lines imitate marble revetment. The upper zone seems to have been painted with two or three crosses within ornate frames. The best preserved is the one to the east, with a damaged illegible inscription in capital letters around the lower arm of the cross. Remains of a spiral decoration are visible on the intrados.
The painted decoration in St. Artemios, though better preserved, is even more restricted. It covers only the walls, the vault and the apse of the sanctuary, as well as the east front and the intrados of the east arch.
In the sanctuary apse, below the cornice, are a few remains from a painting imitating marble revetment. The half-dome has preserved in poor condition only a scale pattern, similar to that of St. Kyriake. The walls of the sanctuary, below the cornice, show few traces of the decoration. It seems that the surface was divided into panels imitating marble revetment in various colours (like those of St. Kyriake). Perhaps some of the panels contained a cross. Immediately above the cornice of the north wall of the sanctuary, the vault has a wide zone divided by one horizontal and many vertical lines into two rows of squares. The squares of the upper row are filled with spirals and those of the lower with spiral tendrils. Both designs are interlinked over the dividing lines. On the corresponding part of the vault above the south wall, a wider zone contains three rows of double volutes, reminiscent of Ionic capitals, interconnected both horizontally and vertically. Within the volutes, white dots form rosettes while the interstices are filled with stylized leaves and lozenges. Between this zone and the cornice an inscription in capital letters reads: MNHE&HTH КЁ TON AOYAO COY YKONOMON ON TINOEKH КС ТА ONOMATA AMHN.
“Remember Lord, thy servant Oikonomos whose names thou knowest. Amen”. The position of the inscription, the lettering and the misspelling are reminiscent of similar inscriptions in Cappadocia. The rest of the vault is divided into three unequal zones, exactly as in St. Kyriake. The seriously damaged middle zone, like that of St. Kyriake, shows intersecting circles with rosettes. The lateral zones are divided by horizontal and vertical black lines into small squares which contain alternately: a) a rosette in a circle and b) a rhomb with four heart-shaped leaves at the angles, a circle at the centre, and a trefoil design on the exterior of each side (Fig. 11, 14). No rule or compasses were used for this composition and all straight lines and circles were drawn by a not very careful or steady hand. The east arch has preserved parts of its decoration: on the front a spiral tendril and on the intrados a running spiral, a variation of the motif used in St. Kyriake. The colours are, invariably, white or yellowish against a dark green background.
The decoration in the two monuments presents many similarities and also important differences. In both, the painting is limited to certain parts of the church. A scale pattern decorates the half-dome of the two sanctuary apses, while in both cases the eastern vault is unequally divided into zones with the middle one containing the same motif. Many of the subjects are different (cf. the decoration on the vaults) and so is the quality of the painting. In St. Artemios the decoration is more unrefined, more schematic, and the colouring harsh and unvarying.
These wall paintings, though certainly no masterpieces, are rare in Greece for their type and the extent of their preservation. Their comparative study and dating present difficulties and problems.
Compared with the scant remains of aniconic decorations dated to the Iconoclast period in Thessaloniki, Mani, Nicaea and Constantinople, they have in common the motif of the bejewelled cross, a subject, however, known from earlier times (Ephesus, Sinai), whereas no point of contact seems to exist between the other decorative motifs. A comparison with the aniconic decorations in Cappadocia leads no further, for here too there is a difference of decorative conception and even of repertoire, while subjects common to both paintings are too usual (e.g. looped circles) to be of any help. On the other hand, it is impossible not to associate the wall paintings of these two churches of Naxos (especially that in the apse of St. Kyriake, with the descriptions made by the iconodules on the manner of church decoration imposed by the iconoclasts (“Therefore, holy figures were pulled down from all churches and in their stead beasts and birds were set up and painted…”, as recorded by Theo- phanes Continuatus in his Chronicle III, 10, Migne P.G. 100, v. 1113). In these texts there is also a reference to Arab influence on the architecture and painting of the iconoclasts, mainly during the reign of Theophilus. These sources and the destruction of monuments dating from the Iconoclast period, make necessary an investigation in this direction, i.e. in monuments of Islamic art. The birds in the apse of St. Kyriake recall depictions of birds on textiles and metal objects of Sassanian and post-Sassanian art of the 6th-9th century. The ribbon-like motif adorning the neck of the birds is also of Sassanian origin — a feature adopted and widely used by Roman and Early Christian as well as Byzantine art. A number of decorative motifs in the same church, such as the oblique parallelograms, are found in several variations on textiles from Samarra in Mesopotamia (9th century). In St. Artemios, the painting of the vault with small squares seems to imitate a revetment of tiles — a form of decoration well-liked in the East and very common in Islamic art. Again, other subjects (imitation of marble revetment, scales, intersecting circles with rosettes, spirals) belong to a Graeco- Roman tradition continued by Byzantine and Islamic art, though the form prevailing in the two Naxian churches displays a resemblance to 9th century Islamic art (Samarra, Qairawan, Qusayr’ Amra, Sus).
Therefore, according to the evidence available to this day, the decoration of these two churches of Naxos is assignable to the 8th-9th century, and most probably to the reign of Theophilus (A.D. 829-842). It is perhaps worth noting that the iconoclastic decorations in St. Sophia at Thessaloniki, St. Eirene at Constantinople and the Dormition at Nicaea, all dated to the 8th century, do not disclose an influence from Islamic art. On the contrary, the general impression given by the aniconic paintings in St. Kyriake and St. Artemios is quite different. The assemblage of a variety of decorative motifs, the manner in which they are interlinked, the horror vacui, suggest an Oriental notion and call to mind Moslem monuments. Besides, the large-scale introduction of Islamic elements into Byzantine art occurred, according to the written sources, during the reign of Theophil.