Carved Wooden Artophorion with Painted Decoration in the Benaki Museum

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2010 (EN)
Ξυλόγλυπτο αρτοφόριο με ζωγραφικό διάκοσμο από το Μουσείο Μπενάκη: εικονογραφική και τεχνοτροπική προσέγγιση (EL)
Carved Wooden Artophorion with Painted Decoration in the Benaki Museum (EN)

Μπενάτου, Πανωραία

Δεν παρατίθεται περίληψη. (EL)
An interesting artophorion (holy-bread casket, inv. no. -13969) with carved and painted decoration is displayed in a niche in Gallery 25 on the first floor of the Benaki Museum. It was acquired on the open market from the Cairo antiquities dealer Maurice Nahman, but no date is recorded for its accessioning. The work was originally part of the collection of Dr G. Bay, which had been sold at auction in Cairo. An artophorion is a liturgical object, made of wood or metal, which is placed on the altar and contains the presanctified host for emergencies and special occasions. It is usually placed in such a way that the front side of the receptacle, in which there is an opening that can be closed using a small panel, is facing towards the west. This makes it easy for the officiating bishop or priest to open it and take out the presanctified host while standing in front of the altar. The artophorion has a hexagonal base which supports a core with rectangular cartouches on all its side, each edged with a row of little leaves. Underneath and on either side of each cartouche appear wind curling leafy tendrils which end in red and blue-green flowers. In between the sides, hanging from the top, are festoons of similarly painted leaves and flowers, that seem to climb over the wooden surface. The exceptionally high relief, which becomes sculpture in the round in places, the Baroque excesses of the foliate decoration and the lively depiction of birds all correspond to trends found in the art of the Ionian Islands at the end of the eighteenth or beginning of the nineteenth century and this dating is confirmed by a black dedicatory inscription on the rectangular cartouche on the front left-hand side. The inscription tells us that on 20 September 1808 the otherwise unknown Ioannes Stamatiou gave the artophorion along with another donor who shared his name (?) and their wives and children and a number of other donors whose names are commemorated in abbreviated form. The central cartouche on the front face serves to close the opening; on it Christ is depicted against a pale pink ground, wearing vestments and rising from a chalice, which is borne aloft on clouds. On the back, the central cartouche contains a depiction of Christ as the Man of Sorrows emerging from a gold and jewelled chalice against a yellowish ground. On the cartouches on both sides of these central panels two archangels, their arms folded across their breasts, bend towards the central cartouche and the image of Christ in a chalice. The iconographic type on the front with the draped Christ in a chalice is seen in Palaiologan art alongside depictions of the eucharistic theme of the Melismos. This became a standard part of Orthodox iconography towards the end of the twelfth century and was painted in the lower part of the semicircular apse in the bema or sanctuary. The chalice was incorporated into this eucharistic iconography in the thirteenth century. However, such depictions are isolated and the iconographic type was not widely disseminated. The earliest wall-paintings, which seem to have been the archetype for this theme, are found first in Cyprus and later at Mistra. A more direct parallel is that found in the Evangelistria Church at Mistra, dated to the last quarter of the fourteenth century and preserved in a drawing by Gabriel Millet. To judge from the current state of our knowledge based on the published material, the iconographic type of the draped, ‘eucharistic’ Christ in a chalice, was essentially crystallized in the seventeenth and more especially the eighteenth century and was found above all on ecclesiastical textiles and artophoria either in metalwork or painted wood. The iconographic type of the Man of Sorrows in a chalice seems to have entered the Western eucharistic repertoire through the iconography of the Mass of Pope Gregory (Gregory the Great: 590-604), a legend that became extremely popular from the eighth century onwards. In the West this iconography was widely disseminated in various versions from the fourteenth century onwards, becoming exceptionally popular in the fifteenth century. In Venetian art it is found in sculpture, painted manuscripts belonging to Corpus Christi fraternities, on processional banners and so on. It is interesting to note that in the sixteenth century there were Western prints in circulation with similar iconography, such as for example the Flemish engravings of Jerτme Wierix. The iconography of the Man of Sorrows in a chalice seems to have been introduced into the art of the Ionian Islands in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where it is found on artophoria. Finally the full-length figures of angels in imperial dress acting as deacons seem to appear at an early date in monumental painting and are part of the iconography of the Melismos. However, this iconography becomes standard from the fifteenth century in Cretan painting and subsequently became very widespread. To sum up, the Benaki Museum artophorion is an interesting example of craftsmanship. The carved decoration reproduces motifs inspired by Western Baroque. The painted decoration on the front is of a type extremely common in Orthodox religious art. The painted decoration on the back is rare and appropriates a eucharistic iconographic subject, which had been in use in the West from at least the sixteenth century and had become extremely popular in Venetian art. At first glance it is extremely problematic that the Benaki Museum artophorion, which seems to have been a collective offering from some local guild or religious fraternity in 1808 (i.e. a few years after the Ionian Islands came under French and then Russo-Ottoman domination and not long before the arrival of the British) should depict dogmatically “conflicting” iconographies symbolizing the sacrament of the Eucharist in two different denominations with different orientation and content on its two main cartouches, back and front. It seems that the cultural models of Venice – to the inhabitants of the Ionian Islands at least a legendary place – exercised such an influence over local communities that this apparently unproblematic appropriation of Western eucharistic iconography basically just illustrates the natural consequence of local communities aspiring to participate in the art life of a great metropolis by copying its artistic models, in a way overseeing dogmatic limitations. Such aspiration persisted even after the Serenissima had gone into decline. (EN)


Μουσείο Μπενάκη (EL)
Benaki Museum (EN)

Περιοδικό Μουσείο Μπενάκη



Μουσείο Μπενάκη / Benaki Museum (EL)

Μουσείο Μπενάκη; Vol 10 (2010); 105-122 (EL)
Mouseio Benaki Journal; Vol 10 (2010); 105-122 (EN)

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