Η Παναγία και οι Θεοπάτορες : Αφηγηματική σκηνή ή εικονιστική παράσταση (πίν. 22-31)Part of : Δελτίον της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας ; Vol.23, 1969, pages 31-56
The Virgin and her Parents : A Narrative Scene or a «Family Portrait» (pl. 22-31)
The Palaeologan narrative cycle of the Infancy of the Virgin in thePeribleptos of Mistra includes a scene in which Joachim and Anne are seatedwhile the infant Mary stands in front of them ( pi. 22 α ). This scene hasbeen identified as the Discussion of Joachim and Anne who are about todecide on the presentation of the Virgin in the temple once she completesher third year. In addition to the above, the same narrative scene appears atleast twice in Byzantine art, i.e. in the illustrated copies of the Homilies ofthe Monk James of Kokkinobaphos in the Vatican Library ( Vat. gr. 1162)(pi. 22 β ) and in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris (Par. gr. 1208).The iconographie affinity between the fourteenth-century fresco and thetwelfth-century miniatures of the Homilies is striking and points to theircommon origin, which must be sought in the illustrated Protevangelium ofJames.The compositional scheme adopted in the above examples is used in afurther group of representations of Joachim, Anne and the Virgin. Thisgroup includes a thirteenth-century icon in the Sinai Collection ( pi. 23 α ), alate-seventeenth-century icon of the Byzantine Museum in Athens ( pi.23 ß), an icon of Emmanuel Tzanes ( 1644) in the Collection of the GreekInstitute at Venice ( pi. 24 β ) and a fresco in the Monastery of Phaneromeni on the island of Salamis painted by Georgios Marcou and dated 1735(pi. 24a).The Sinai icon repeats the very same composition as found in the Peribleptos and the Homilies of James, while the remaining representationsdiffer mainly in the fact that the parents of the Virgin are depicted standing.However, all four examples share in common both the absence of inscriptions giving the title of the composition ( except for their names ) and asomewhat hieratic organization of the representations. Moreover, there isno evidence indicating that the above mentioned examples were meant aspart of a narrative cycle with the Infancy of the Virgin. We should add that the scene of the Discussion of the Parents of the Virgin for her presentation in the temple does not fall into the group of the liturgical scenes ofthe life of the Virgin which were detached and had obtained also an autonomous existence in Byzantine art; accordingly, we reach the conclusionthat the above four related representations have not the narrative contentof the Peribleptos fresco and the miniatures in the Homilies. To be moreprecise, we believe that they were meant solely as portraits. How can weaccount therefore for the use of the same compositional scheme in two different categories of depictions of the Virgin and her parents?The depiction of parents or tutors in symmetrical positions on eitherside of their child or children or their wards ( depicted standing ) is a familiarcompositional formula in Byzantine art. It is used very often in two categories of works : a) in purely narrative scenes b) in portraits. However,it is obvious that while the adult figures are usually depicted seated innarrative scenes, they are represented in standing position in portraits.An example of the first category is provided by a twelfth-century miniatureof a Psalter in the Vatican Library ( Vat. gr. 1927 ) ( pi. 25 β ).In the category of portraits the familiar compositional formula appearsin funerary stelae of the Late Roman period ( pi. 25 γ ) and has a long historyin Byzantine art both in religious and secular representations. « Familyportraits » of saints serving as illustrations for their feast days often appearin Menologia or other liturgical texts ( directly influenced by the Menologion ).A case in point is the Lectionary of the Gospels ( cf. the eleventh-centuryminiature of the Vat. gr. 1156 ) ( pi. 25 α ). The same compositional formulain a secular context, extensively used in the ceremonial family portrait ofByzantine art, is shown by the miniatures of the Barberini Psalter in theVatican Library ( gr. 372 ) of the eleventh century ( pi. 26 α ) and of theLincoln College Typicon in the Bodleian Library, Oxford ( gr. 35 ) of thefourteenth century ( pi. 26 β ).Three of the four examples with depictions of the Virgin and her parentsas autonomous portraits, i.e. the icons of the Byzantine Museum, Athens,and the Greek Institute, Venice, and the fresco in Salamis dependupon the tradition of the Byzantine family portrait; in contrast, the Sinaiicon is more closely connected with the narrative scene of the Discussionof Joachin and Anne for the presentation of the Virgin in the temple. A directinfluence of this latter scene may account for the iconographie form of theSinai icon. However, we should not exclude a possible connection betweenthe scene of the Discussion of the Virgin's parents for her presentation ( and consequently of the non-scenic representation of the Sinai icon ) andtwo related scenes of the Infancy cycle which enjoyed a greater popularityin Byzantine art. These scenes are: a ) the Caresses of the Virgin, ( cf. e.g. adetail of a Post-byzantine icon in the Byzantine Museum, Athens, pi. 27 α ),b) a variant of the so-called Seven Steps of the Virgin, which comprisesJoachim and Anne seated, having between them the child who is trying totake her first steps ( cf. a detail of a Russian icon of the Post-byzantine periodin the Old Lichac'ev Collection, pi. 27 β ).The presence of the Virgin and her parents in cases such as those of theabove mentioned four examples can be explained on the basis of one dogmaticconsideration, i.e. the all important role of the three figures for the mysteryof the Incarnation. In fact, the « family portrait » of Joachim, Anne and theVirgin has enjoyed a considerable popularity in Byzantine and Post-byzantineart. In addition to the examples already mentioned, there are two moregroups of representations including the three familiar figures : a) thosewith the infant Mary held in the arms of her parents b) those in which theVirgin is fully grown, depicted in one of her traditional iconographie types.The tendency to unite the figures of the Virgin and her parents can beexplained by the considerable spread of the cult of the Virgin after the Council of Ephesus (431 ) and also by the equal status which both Joachim andAnne enjoyed in Byzantine theological thought. The fact that both had aspecial feast in the Ecclesiastical Calendar, celebrated on the 9th of September, gave rise to numerous isolated depictions of the couple in illuminatedmanuscripts of Menologia ( cf. miniature of the Menologion of Basil II,Vat. gr. 1613) (pi. 28 a), in Menologia icons and in monumental painting.The inclusion of the figure of the Virgin into the group is only a further step.The thirteenth-century icon at Vatopedi, depicting Anne holding the Virginin the central area and Joachim on the silver frame, shows that the Byzantine iconographers consider these three figures as an entity ( pi. 27 γ ).A later templon icon of the church of Saint Nicolas of Kyritzis in Castoria(17th c.) (pi. 27 5) represents a more symmetrical arrangement of thegroup with the infant held by both parents.However, the tradition of depicting Joachim and Anne with the Virginfully grown is more widely established because it undoubtedly conveysmore clearly the theological idea underlying the entire composition : theVirgin appears here as the chief instrument of the Incarnation and thereforeof human salvation. This reflects directly on her parents who become thewitnesses of the mystery of the Incarnation and supplicate for the salvation of mankind. Among numerous relevant examples in portative works ofart are three icons in the Sinai Collection ( pi. 28 β and 29 α,β ) while arepresentative example in monumental painting is offered by the fourteenthcentury fresco in the church of the Brontochion of Mistra ( pi. 30 ).One wonders what may have been the use of the icons withdepictions of the « family portrait » of Joachim, Anne and the Virgin. It goeswithout saying that such works may well have been commissioned for thepurpose of private worship especially since the theme carries strong familialconnotations. However, it is quite probable that these icons were placedat least once a year on the proskynetarion of Byzantine and Post-byzantine churches. This would have been on the Feast day of Joachim andAnne on the 9th of September.It has been the object of this study to show the broad and at the sametime complex character of the depictions of Joachim, Anne and the Virginin Byzantine and Post-byzantine art. The creation of new iconographie themes or iconographie variants of more common themes may be consideredas an indication of this complexity. Such cases occur in a late sixteenthcentury icon in the Museum of the island of Zakynthos (pi. 31 a ) (ofthe Virgin's parents only Anne is depicted holding her daughter who inher turn holds the Child Jesus ) and in an eighteenth-century icon ofMount Sinai (pi. 31 β) (the theme of the Tree of Jesse includes thecouple of Joachim and Anne depicted beneath the Virgin ).