Interior feelings were conveyed by relatively passive and contemplative poses, such as veiling the face or resting the head on the hands, or else by a more active embrace A good example is the late twelfth century fresco of the Lamentation in the Macedonian church of St. George at Kurbinovo, which matches in its intensity the ninth century sermon by George of Nicomedia figure 1. As she bends over the corpse, she kisses her son with her cheek pressed against his, a pose that visually refers back to the embraces she gave her child when he was an infant, as illustrated on contemporary icons such as the example illustrated in figure 2 at the top left of the image , and now preserved in the monastery at Mount Sinai Monastery of St.
Catherine, Mount Sinai, icon, detail. Images of the Virgin. Another antithesis was created at Kurbinovo by the arrangement of the scenes in the church, for the Lamentation and the Nativity were painted in the centers of the north and south walls respectively, facing each other In the Nativity the landscape is peopled by the Magi and by joyfully hastening shepherds, in the Lamentation by two women seated in poses of mourning, one quietly resting her head on her draped hands, another raising both arms in a more dramatic pose of grief.
Until the late thirteenth century such extreme gestures were only allowable in Old Testament scenes, and also in portrayals of penitents, where lack of faith in the Resurrection of Christ was not an issue For example, in an illustration of the entombment of Jacob in an eleventh-century Octateuch in the Vatican, one of the mourners makes the gesture of pulling his hair as the patriarch is lowered into his grave A miniature accompanying another Vatican manuscript, a copy of the Penitential Canon dating to the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, shows repentant monks demonstrating their remorse without restraint, by pulling frantically at their hair, beards, and clothes But such vehement expressions of grief were excluded from scenes of the mourning of Christ until the late Byzantine period, when they slowly began to creep into the New Testament repertoire.
However, around a hundred years later, in the late thirteenth-century fresco of the Lamentation in St. In this painting now even the Virgin has unbound her hair, allowing it to cascade in disheveled strands over her shoulders figure 4. Church of St. Clement, Ohrid. Fresco of the Lamentation, detail.
The Virgin swooning. The Dormition of the Virgin, detail, mourners. We cannot simply say that both texts and images were expressions of a common contemporaneous discourse, because the related phenomena belonged to different time periods in literature and in art. It was three centuries before the emotionalism of the sermons of George of Nicomedia came to be fully matched in paintings such as the Threnos fresco at Kurbinovo. And while we can find violent gestures of grief such as the tearing of hair, clothes, and cheeks described in New Testament contexts in twelfth-century Byzantine literature, for example in the sermon by Philagathos, it was not until the end of the thirteenth century that such vehement displays of grief appeared in New Testament scenes portrayed in art, as we have seen at Ohrid.
Thus the later Byzantine artists were reflecting developments that had taken place in literature long before. Evidently it was more acceptable to describe the extreme gestures verbally than to portray them in painting.
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One major difference between texts and images was that liturgical texts such as the threnoi of the Virgin were performed infrequently, on the appropriate days of the year. These texts, therefore, had a different status from mosaics or frescoes in churches, which were on permanent display to all comers on every day of the year.
The visual artist had to be more circumspect than the church orator, because paintings were viewed more often and by more people than speeches were heard. In the case of images that were hidden, for example in the pages of manuscripts, there could be more freedom, but even here there were constraints.
But there was one curious exception to this rule, in which the artists were bolder than the writers, namely in the frequent portrayals of angels displaying emotion. In Byzantine art, angels displayed both joy and grief. This passage was the subject of considerable commentary by Byzantine writers.
Pseudo-Dionysios the Areopagite, for example, commented in his celestial hierarchy, as follows:. I must explain […] what scripture intends in the reference to the joy of the heavenly ranks. Now, these ranks could never experience the pleasures we draw from the passions. The reference, therefore, is to the way they participate in the divine joy caused by the finding of the lost… They are unspeakable happy in the way that, occasionally, sacred men are happy when God arranges for divine enlightenments to visit them.
In the miniature, the angels demonstrate their enthusiasm by pirouetting and waving their arms in the air — and here we may note that the gesture of raising the arms was polyvalent; it could represent extremes of joy as well as of sorrow, as we have already seen in the case of the Lamentation at Kurbinovo figure 1.
This story is a logical reversal of the parable of the lost sheep; since the sinner had not repented, the angel was not joyful but wept. But, hagiography aside, there are no biblical references to the grief of angels, nor any Byzantine commentaries on such a phenomenon. An eleventh-century epigram by John Mauropous describes weeping angels attending the Crucifixion.
It reads, in part:. Your mother laments and your beloved disciple , they alone being present out of the friends you lately had. Your disciples are fled, and your winged servants circle you in vain, full of tears, for they are unable to help you in your passion. Mary and John stand here with downcast eyes, bearing with pain the passion, and the rank of the angels laments with them.
Neophytos on Cyprus figure 6. In an icon of the second half of the fifteenth century painted by Andreas Pavias on Crete and now in the National Gallery of Athens we not only find angels making the familiar passive gestures of resting their cheeks on their hands, or covering their eyes, but they also throw their arms up in the air, pirouette, tear their garments to expose their chests, and pull their hair.
One answer to this question is that the emotions of angels always were seen as wholly spiritual, and thus their depiction in art was purely symbolic and not related to earthly mourning rituals.
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Western artists adopted many of the gestures and facial expressions that had been used by Byzantine painters to express emotion and also the techniques such as antithesis and prolepsis that structured their presentation. The use of antithesis and prolepsis to enhance the emotional content of religious art was a Byzantine innovation, and its eventual exploitation by western artists was an important contribution of Byzantium to the history of art. Already in Tuscan painting of the thirteenth century we find the antithetical pairing of scenes showing the birth and death of Christ.
A good example is a diptych attributed to the Tuscan artist Bonaventura Berlinghieri around the year Florence, Uffizi. Diptych attributed to Bonaventura Berlinghieri, detail of left panel, Virgin and Child. Diptych attributed to Bonaventura Berlinghieri, detail of right panel, passion scenes. Clement at Ohrid she has to be supported in her grief by a women on each side of her.
On the right St. John and another woman stand in mourning, the woman resting her cheek on her left hand. As Anne Derbes and other scholars have pointed out, even while western artists appropriated many techniques of portraying emotion from the Byzantines, they did not respond to the same texts nor did they necessarily have the same motives.
In Byzantine art and literature, this motif of the swoon was related to the Annunciation, as can be seen in the frescoes of St. Clement in Ohrid. Here the Lamentation was juxtaposed with the Annunciation by the Well; the two scenes were depicted one above the other on the north wall. Mendelssohn, Leipzig: critical ed. Texte etabli et traduit , Paris, Les Belles Lettres, , 3 vols. Davis, English trans. Buchanan and H. Davies San Antonio TX: Hiersemann, , Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur Bd. Farrar and Evans -Augustus, full from Diocletian. Sokrates Scholastikos c. Migne PG The ecclesiastical history of Socrates, surnamed Scholasticus, or the Advocate : comprising a history of the church in seven books, from the accession of Constantine, A.
Bohn, reprinted several times Migne PG ed.
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