The walker who sets off from Chalki in the olive- growing plain of Tragaia for the neighbouring village of Moni will meet shortly before reaching his destination, to the right, a little off the way and higher than the main road, the cemetery of the community. The cemeterial church, dedicated to the Birth of the Holy Virgin, is the only surviving part of the Monastery of Panagia Drosiani. The Monastery (in Greek Moni) has given the nearby village its name. Information on the Monastery was supplied at a later date by John IV Crispi, Duke of the Archipelago (1555), and others, among whom the Ecumenical Patriarch Johannicius II from Herakleia (1652). As we shall see later on, however, the original part of the church is of much earlier date.
Wall paintings in the interior of the church have preserved a number of undated dedicatory inscriptions in capital letters. An inscription within a roundel on the dome reads (in transcription): “This work was executed under… and under Sisinnios the most holy…”. On the eastern section of the arch before the north conch we read: “For the blessing of Stephanos and his parents. Amen”.
And on the narrow front of the north conch: “For the blessing and salvation and forgiveness of sins of your servants…”.
The single-aisled church is triconchial with a dome. It was built in the Aegean fashion with undressed flat stones and was probably roofed with slabs. The total length of the interior, including the apse and the westward extension, is 19.40 m. and the width, from the middle of the north conch to the middle of the south conch, approximately 8 m. The original west section is about 3.50 m. wide. The large semicircular apse is pierced by a double-arched window, the lower part of which was blocked with masonry when the church was decorated with wall paintings for the first time. Most probably the west section, which is today 11 m. long, originally did not exceed 1.50 m. in length. A triple-arched belfry was added to the later section of the south side. During the Byzantine period three single-naved parecclesia were built adjoining the north wall of the monument with their entrances through this wall. Except for the middle parecclesion, the other two are triconchial and domed.
The architectural features of the original building are archaic and crude. The unpretentious pointed arches supporting the dome are not of the ordinary type. Pendentives are virtually non-existent: shapeless and forming curved angles, they are indistinct lower terminals of the continuous base-line of the dome. The dome has no drum and its base is a quadrilateral with rounded corners. Inside and out parabolic, almost conical, the dome rises in the exterior from a quadrilateral base pierced to the E. and W. by a singlearched window.
The triconchial plan of the original church has been known since Early Christian times (cella tricho- ra). Used for martyria and mausolea, it was frequently employed in the 4th century, while triconch structures were erected also in the 6th century. Later, the triconchial plan was used for churches, like that at Castelse- prio. The probability that the triconch of the Drosiani was initially built as a mausoleum cannot be excluded (the subjects of the painted decoration are indicative, e.g. the Deesis which has an eschatological content and the Ascension which is related to the Last Judgement).
A dating of the original core of the Drosiani to Early Christian times is further suggested by the double arched window of the apse which calls to mind the corresponding, though larger, window of another neighbouring, originally Early Christian monument, the church of the Protothrone at Chalki (see next chapter) and the windows of basilicas in W. Cilicia.
The traces of an episcopal throne in the apse of the main church do not imply that it was a cathedral. Quite a few small churches, particularly in Naxos,have a built bench with an episcopal throne in the apse.
The panels of the marble templon, as it has been restored, show a decoration frequently encountered in the 6th century: Greek crosses within roundels and wavy tendrils terminating into Latin crosses. The tendrils are similar in technique with those on panels in Ravenna (second half of 6th century). The templon of the Drosiani was perhaps carved at that time.
The monument was consolidated first by the local inhabitants, who covered the roof of the original church with cement, and later by the Archaeological Service. The view of assigning the church to the years before the Iconomachy is supported by the surviving original wall paintings. These early paintings which had been covered by a thick lime coating or by later layers of painted decoration — three successive layers on the half-dome of the apse — were exposed by the Greek Archaeological Service under the careful supervision of Stavros Baltoyiannis, Inspector of the Conservation Department of the Ministry of Culture and Science. Their cleaning lasted many years.
Originally, of the interior surfaces of the church only the dome, the sanctuary apse and the north conch were decorated with wall paintings.
The unusual painting on the dome shows two busts of Christ within roundels, like imagines dipeatae, in a N-S arrangement. That to the N. depicts Christ with a very short adolescent beard, holding the Book of Gospels, and that to the S. portrays Christ with a pointed beard, holding a scroll. The two windows of the dome are framed by the winged symbols of the Evangelists, in bust. St. Matthew’s symbol, the angel, is better preserved. The representation of the Ascension occupied the entire apse while the intrados of the triumphal arch in front of the apse was painted with two frontal archangels. The northward side of the east wall has retained a half-obliterated inscription in many lines. Ornamental motifs completed the painted decoration of the sanctuary walls.
The eastern section of the arch in front of the north conch shows, below, St. Julian (?) with the dedicatory inscription mentioned earlier, and, above, a female saint, probably a healing one. Facing her (on the western section of the arch) is an unidentified saint. The semi-dome of the north conch was painted with a half-length representation of the Virgin Niko- poios, flanked by the Sts. Cosmas and Damian portrayed in bust within roundels. Below, on the curved wall of the conch, a Deesis (Fig. 8) shows Christ standing full-length, flanked by St. Mary and the frontal King Solomon to the left, and by a praying female saint and the Forerunner to the right.
We have no other example from the pre-Iconoclast period of a dome painting with a double portrayal of Christ. Indeed, this is a unique instance. As in other Early Christian works, Christ is cross-nimbed. In one of the busts of the dome (and in the Deesis of the north conch) Christ is portrayed with adolescent down on the cheeks, in the other with a beard, just as He is pictured in the Rabula Gospels. The difference between the two representations of Christ in the Rabula Gospels (and also in S. Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna) has been interpreted as intending to emphasize the double nature of Jesus — human and divine. Could this apply also to the double portrayal of Christ in the dome painting of the Drosiani?
On the curved wall of the sanctuary apse the twelve Apostles of the Ascension are shown in almost rythmically alternating poses: frontal, three- quarter, and profile. Between the figures are small trees rendered in a very concise manner, reminding of trees depicted in catacombs. Simon, the first Apostle on the right, and the beardless John — whose names are legible — call to mind figures painted in catacombs. In accordance with the Constantinopolitan iconography, Andrew as well as Peter and the ninth Apostle hold a cross-staff. In the middle of the representation of the Disciples, above the episcopal throne, is a medallion with the head of the Virgin between two small full-length angels turned towards the Apostles. The Virgin was represented in the scene of the Ascension in earlier times and in the Rabula Gospels. The half-obliterated Ascending Christ is shown seated on the arc of heaven holding an open book. Six angels support the glory of Christ, whereas usually there are no more than four. The disposition of the feet of the lower left angel is reminiscent of the angels supporting a crossed medallion in the mosaics of S. Vitale in Ravenna. The figures of the lower angels occupy the entire available area, as in the scenes stamped on the flagons of Monza.
St. Cosmas and St. Damian are portrayed full- length in the apse of the church honouring their name in Rome (526-530) and in the apse of the Euphrasian basilica at Parenzo (Porec, 6th century). The Deesis is one of the earliest representations of this subject.
As already mentioned, the dedicatory inscriptions of the Drosiani begin with phrases like: “for the salvation” or “for the blessing” or again “for the blessing and salvation”. Such phrases are found at the beginning, of Early Christian inscriptions (e.g. the inscription on the Stuma Paten, 565-578). Similarly, the style of the lettering with the oblique terminations of the straight down-strokes is encountered in 6th century inscriptions. The dating of wall paintings, however, cannot be based exclusively on the style of the lettering.
Of the angels on the triumphal arch, the one painted on the southern section is better preserved. His attire is similar to that of the archangels at S. Apollinare in Classe, and his wings form a semicircular curve very close to his halo, like those of the angels in the apse of S. Vitale. The female saint in front of the north conch is dressed in a long white tunic with several broad folds rendered by dark-red lines, comparable with those in the painting of the donors of St. Demetrios at Thessaloniki (not much later than the mid-“th century). The density of the folds there suggests absolute immobility, whereas here the fewer folds denote movement. This may justify the dating of the Drosiani paintings to a slightly earlier date. From me saint’s hand hangs what seems like a doctor’s bag, similar to that of St. Luke in the catacomb of Com- modilla. Her cap calls to mind the hair-dressing of the marble head of the Empress Ariadne in the Louvre and of the so-called Theodora at the Castello Sforzesco in Florence.
The type of the Virgin Nikopoios, painted here with a beautiful oval face, is found on Imperial seals of the 6th and 7th centuries. According to this type, the Virgin holds with both hands a medallion containing the portrait of Christ. The eyes of the Virgin, of King Solomon, of St. Damian, and of Christ on the dome, are rendered in the same manner and resemble the eyes of the Saviour in the apse of S. Vitale. The painting of St. Cosmas, portrayed here with a furrowed cheek, displays a realism familiar from Roman portraits.
The Virgin of the Deesis is titled Hagia Maria, as was the practice in the years before the Iconoclasm. A light red spot spreads over the right cheek and, lower, an oblique line in darker red adds with effective simplicity and great intensity an expression of pain harmonizing it with the bitter lines of the mouth. The unidentified female saint with the rich garments in the Deesis wears an ornate mantle resembling that of the Empress Theodora and the ladies of her retinue in S. Vitale.
St. John the Prodrome is of dark complexion. His face, tanned by the scorching desert sun, is of a type between the broader face of St. Zacharias at Parenzo and the narrower face of Christ on the cross of the allegorical representation of the Transfiguration at S. Apollinare in Classe.
King Solomon is unusually depicted holding a cross. Apparently not participating in the Deesis, he is perhaps represented as an expounder of the Wisdom of the Father which is expressed by Christ. His attire is reminiscent of that of St. Theodore in the icon of the Virgin and Child at Sinai. His crown is surmounted by a cross like the crown worn by Tiberius (578- 582) on the oins bearing his effigy.
The colouring of the faces in the wall paintings of the Drosiani calls to mind the wall painting of the Maccabees and of S. Solomone at S. Maria Antiqua in Rome (630-640).
Some portrayals, like that of the Virgin Nikopoios and of the ethereal angel on the triumphal arch, display a delicate idealized beauty. A number of holy figures are light-complexioned, whereas almost all male saints are painted with a dark reddish hue. The cheeks in some faces show a faint redness. On the contrary, in the harsh most powerful and realistic face of the lower left angel of the Ascension, the flaming red colour of the right cheek forms a sharp impressionistic contrast to the whitish tint of the skin.
The wall paintings of the first layer in the Drosiani present dissimilarities which may be attributed to the use of different models or to varied contemporary trends. A number of comparisons point to a dating in the late 6th and the first half of the 7th century. Furthermore, the depiction of single saints in the lower part of the walls of the church conforms with the development of icon worship from the second half of the 6th century onwards. The combination of hellenis- tic with abstract features in the painting style constitutes a dualism noticeable in the 7th century.
The faces in some of the Drosiani paintings are distinguished for their remarkable beauty. This provincial classicizing monument, which does not lack in realistic tendencies, most probably echoes the art of the Capital and provides valuable evidence on 7th century painting in Greece.
Nicos B. Drandakis
PANAGIA DROSIANI Supplementary note
When studied, the successive layers that had covered the original Ascension depicted in the sanctuary apse of the church of Panagia Drosiani and the overpainted crosses, as well as the wall paintings in the other conchs, will contribute to the verification of a series of phases in the art of painting at Naxos. For example, we note that in the sanctuary apse all subsequent layers represent the Deesis. The older layer, which is badly preserved, is of rather poor artistry. The next layer is of higher artistic quality with a noble Forerunner of the 12th century. Another layer, by the painter Georgios, of the late 13th century shows well designed linear figures without depth. To this painter are also attributed the saints in the parecclesion and perhaps some of the figures in the church of the Damiotissa. The large composition of the Dormition of the Virgin — now detached from the wall of the sanctuary apse — with echoes of the voluminous style of the late 13th century may be associated with the paintings in the apse of St. George at Lathrinos. On the walls of the sanctuary and on the arches partial overpainting is sporadic. In the N. conch of the triconchial church, a 13th century angel covered the unidentified female saint of the Early Christian Deesis with King Solomon (Fig.). Again, some 13th century figures — now removed from the wall — had been preserved in a layer painted in a more popular style with full-length female saints of a certain facial type with a lively expression.