Ο ζωγραφικός διάκοσμος του τρούλλου του Αγίου Ιεροθέου κοντά στα ΜέγαραPart of : Αρχαιολογικά ανάλεκτα εξ Αθηνών ; Vol.XI, No.1, 1978, pages 115-142
The cupola decoration of st. Hierotheos near Megara
The twelfth century frescoes in the cupola of the little monastic church of St. Hierotheos near Megara were known to scholars ever since 1902 by a photograph published by G. Lampakis. In 1978 the Archaeological Service cleaned and restored the frescoes which had been darkened by smoke. This work also revealed the prophets’ zone in the drum of the dome (figs. 1, 14- 15 ). It thus became clear that no twelfth century frescoes are preserved elsewhere in the church, thelargest area oi which is covered with wall paintings of the seventeenth century. On the other hand, the frescoes of the Middle Byzantine period in the cupola cover an earlier layer of paintings, probably of the eleventh century, as indicated by a small part of drapery in the zone of the prophets.The program in the dome of St. Hierotheos has an unusual representation, a seated Pantocrator ( f i g s. 1 - 3 ), occurring in only three other monumental decorations ( frescoes of the catholicon of the monastery of Myriokephala, Crete, early 11th century ; mosaics of the Martorana in Palermo, mid-12 th century; frescoes of the church of Christos near Megara, second half of the 13th century ). The seated Pantocrator is surrounded by a zone including four medallions on the cardinal points, namely depictions of the Hetoimasia of the Throne (Colour plate I), the Virgin (fig. 4) and two angels (figs. 5 - 7 ), as well as two pairs of half-kneeling archangels on either side of the Hetoimasia (figs. 8 - 10 ) and of the Virgin (figs. 11- 13 and illustration on the front cover).The two archangels flanking the Hetoimasia are identified by inscriptions as Michael and Gabriel. Those on either side of the Virgin are not named but can be securely identified as Raphael and Uriel. Much more enigmatic are the angels within medallions on the cardinal points, to the south and north. The one, to the south (figs. 5-6), is identified by an inscription as Giel (ΓΙΙΛ), who, in ritual magic, is the angel with dominion over the zodiacal sign of Gemini. The name of the angel on the opposite side is preserved in part ; ΓΙ (fig. 7), which may identify the figure as Gidael, a luminary of the seasons as listed in Enoch. These two angels have not been recorded elsewhere in Byzantine art.In the drum of the cupola there are eight prophets in a poor state of preservation. Starting from the east and proceeding counterclockwise, the prophets are as follows : Solomon, David, Moses (fig. 14 ), Jonah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Joel and Isaiah (fig. 15 ).Two types of ornament are used in thecupola of St. Hierotheos ; the Sassanian palmette around the Pantocrator and the crenellated lozenges which frame the four axial medallions and underline, moreover, the middle zone of decoration. In addition, the eight windows, pierced in the drum of the cupola, are surrounded by variations of the two motifs listed above (fig. 14 ).The frescoes of St. Hierotheos serve to define the content of the program of twelfth century dome decorations in a precise manner. In the first place, the seated Pantocrator relates the Megara program to the content of the Ascension, a composition alluding to the Last Judgment and the glory of the Pantocrator. This particular concept is a dominant one in twelfth century cupola decorations, in conformity with developments in the liturgy. The Pantocrator in the dome is glorified by angels, who are depicted full length in procession ( Triko- mo and Perachorio, Cyprus, Martorana in Palermo ), or full length in procession, along with angelic figures in medallions ( St. Hierotheos ), or solely in medallions ( Lagoudera, Cyprus). The inscription “ Holy, holy holy Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory ”, a paraphrase of Isaiah 6, 3 taken from the Epinikios hymn of the liturgy, is often included in the relevant decorations. It refers mainly to the glory of the Lord as witnessed in this prophet’s vision ( 6 : 1 - 3 ). This concept is furthermore enhanced by the frequent depiction of the Hetoimasia of the Throne or, eventually, the Throne of glory, in the cupola programs of the twelfth century. The decoration of St. Hierotheos comprises two further features of this ideological orientation : ( a ) an enthroned Pantocrator and ( b ) two angels of the old Jewish tradition, especially related to cosmological concepts. Regarding the inclusion of the depiction of the Virgin in the program of St. Hierotheos, it may be noted that this constitutes a relatively common phenomenon in dome decorations. While the Virgin is always related to the mystery of the Incarnation, her association with, the Hetoimasia is reminiscent of the pictorial representations of the Last Judgment.The decoration of the Megara church provides one of the most characteristic examples of an ornamental approach which belies the medium of the fresco and its monumental function ; the aesthetic effect comes much closer to that of enamels and illuminated manuscripts, as also indicated by the ample use and types of ornamental motifs. This refined, miniature - like character of the paintings, combined as it is, with the use of contrasting, decorative colors — as shown, for instance, by the red ground of the Pantocrator, the one in ochre imitating gold in the four axial medallions and the blue ground for the rest of the painted areas — relates these frescoes to the aesthetics of the Comnenian period.The dating of the St. Hierotheos frescoes to the twelfth century is moreover supported by the rendering of the human form and the drapery motifs. Closer stylistic analysis may place these frescoes between Nerezi ( 1164) and Kurbinovo ( 1191 ). The modeling is more vigorous than in the figures at Nerezi, while, on the other hand, the Megara figures are more organic and classical,as opposed to those at Kurbinovo ( 1191 ) and at Lagoudera, Cyprus ( 1192 ). The two latter ensembles reflect a more advanced stage in the evolution of Late Comnenian style ; a stage which assumes a strong mannered character and which, in the last analysis, verges on decadence. Moreover, the facial types at St. Hierotheos approach a more classical ideal, when compared to the angular faces with the distorted features, often encountered in Macedonian frescoes of the late twelfth century. Oval faces, with a serene, open expression and a slight haughtiness indicate a new revival of the ideal of antique beauty, as revealed in the most neoclassical of all monumental decorations of the Middle Byzantine period, that of Daphni.The ornamental quality of the Megara frescoes, combined with a search for beautiful effects and a special use of the standard manneristic devices of Late Comnenian style, relate this decoration to one of the three major stylistic trends in the evolution of Late Comnenian painting, the one which is better known as the “ rococo ” manner and for which Professor Demus recently proposed a more evocative term. He called it the Byzantine “art nouveau” style, because of its flowing quality, an unmistakably fin-de-siècle flavor. Until now firmly dated examples of this style have been found only in Cyprus and it is therefore the Cypriot material which may assist us in dating the Megara frescoes.The frescoes of St. Hierotheos reveal, in particular, close stylistic affinity with the paintings in the bema and the founder’s cell at the Hermitage of St. Néophytes near Paphos ; the date is 1182/1183. The figure of Gabriel in the Annunciation (fig. 16 ) displays a manifest predilection for elegant undulations of draperies, rendered in the playful manner that we also see at St. Hierotheos, especially in the depiction of Gabriel (fig. 9 ). The impression of an arrested movement and the fluidity of lines are again devoid of the dramatic quality and nervous vitality which characterize the products of the other, better known Comne- nian trend, the so-called dynamic style, as shown in the mosaics of Monreale, the frescoes at Kurbinovo and in several churches in Kastoria. However, the Cyprus fresco reveals a somewhat less vigorous modeling, a slightly more artificial use of the same devices, briefly a more mannered and dry style. These features may date the Hierotheos frescoes slightly earlier than those of St. Néophytes, in the late 1170’s. Further monumental decorations of the “ art nouveau” style such as the Cypriot frescoes at La-goudera ( 1192) and those of the Evan- gelistria at Yeraki, in Southern Pelopon- nese — the latter can be placed close to 1200—-indicate a much more advanced stage in the manneristic disintegration of Comnenian style.If the basic ingredients of the Byzantine “ art nouveau ” style may be traced,, together with those of the “ dynamic ” trend, in the frescoes of Nerezi ( 1164), a key monument for our understanding of stylistic developments in Late Comnenian art, the frescoes of St. Hierotheos represent the mature phase in the evolution of the former style. This particular trend may be securely connected with metropolitan developments, reflections of which are to be found in Cyprus and elsewhere. The cupola decoration of St. Hierotheos indicates the high artistic standards which could be found in provincial Attica of the Middle Byzantine period, previously known solely from the brilliant mosaics of Daphni.