Οι βυζαντινές τοιχογραφίες των παρεκκλησίων της Σπηλιάς της Πεντέλης (πίν. 20-44)Part of : Δελτίον της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας ; Vol.25, 1974, pages 79-119
The Byzantine Frescoes in the Chapels of the Cave of Penteli (pl. 20-44)
The two contiguous chapels of the cave of Penteli (Fig. 1 in the text, pi. 20) preserve a fragmentary decoration of frescoes of the thirteenth century. This includes : a fairly complete iconographical program in the berna of the Southern Chapel (pi. 21) which consists of a depiction of the seated Virgin with the Child between two worshipping angels in the conch, the Melismos flanked by four officiating bishops below (pi. 22 - 23), the Deësis together with the medallions of Sts. Peter and Paul above the conch (pi. 25), as well as the Annunciation to the Virgin on either side of the eastern wall (pi. 24). The area above the conch has, in the course of a recent restoration, revealed an earlier layer depicting the Deësis together with the medallions of Sts. Callinicus (?) and Barnabas (pi. 26. 1). The decoration of the Southern Chapel, in addition to certain ornamental themes in the area of the bema (pi. 43), preserves a portrait in the naos of Michael Choniates, the well-known bishop of Athens between 1182 and 1204 (pi. 27.1). It may be safely assumed that the actual site of worship was the Southern Chapel, already since the pre-iconoclastic period, as indicated, for instance, by the relief decoration on the rock which consists of crosses angels, eagles and inscriptions (pi. 44). In a subsequent period, the so-called Southern Chapel underwent certain alterations and was enlarged by the addition of a second chapel in the north. The Northern Chapel which was largely used for burials has the form of a cross-in-square church of an abbreviated type. Of the original decoration a bust of St. Nicholas is preserved in the conch of the bema (pi. 26.2), a feature which indicates that the chapel was dedicated to that particular saint ; there is also a full-length figure of St. Catherine on the templon (pi. 28 - 29). The best preserved decoration in the Northern Chapel is in the dome. This includes the medallion of the Pantocrator (pi. 31) surrounded by the Virgin, the archangels Michael and Gabriel (pi. 35), eight prophets (pi. 34 - 38), as well as the evangelists Matthew (pi. 41) and Luke (pi. 40) in the pendentives. The decoration of the dome, moreover, preserves the date of these frescoes [,Τ] ΨΜΒ (1233/1234) (pi. 42.1); the first letter has been destroyed only recently. The decoration of the Northern Chapel also includes a fragment of the Nativity on the northeast pilaster and a depiction of the archangel Michael (pi. 42.2) on the southeast pilaster whence a passage leads into the Southern Chapel. The iconography of the frescoes in both chapels conforms to the established formulas of the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries. An unusual detail is constituted by the inscriptions in the form of poetical expressions above the heads of the four officiating bishops in the conch of the Southern Chapel. These are : Source of miracles for St. Nicholas, Wisdom for St. John Chrysostom, Knowledge for St. Basil and New nature for St. Gregory, all of which no doubt derive from the hymnography of these saints' feasts. It is, however, the choice of the iconographical subjects which reveals far more the social and cultural context of this decoration. An interesting feature is the substitution of the older pair of saints near the Deësis above the conch of the bema of the Southern Chapel, i.e. Sts. Callinicus (?) and Barnabas, by the pair of Sts. Peter and Paul, the princes of the apostles. The presence of the former pair of saints, which is rather unorthodox for this particular part of the church, gives a personal overtone to this decoration and may be due to the initiative of two individuals of the same name who may have contributed to the decoration of the chapels; the inclusion of the name of Callinicus in an inscription near the figure of St. Nicholas in the conch of the Northern Chapel (pi. 26.2) adds more weight to this hypothesis. Some other portraits also appear to possess a devotional character, for either they do not belong to the traditional repertory of saints in the program of Byzantine churches or occupy unusual positions in the chapels. The presence of the portrait of Michael Choniates with a nimbus, a figure which was not canonised by the church, indicates a local cult of the humanist metropolitan of Athens and a particular devotion on the part of a private individual. The presence of St. Catherine's portrait in an orans attitude on the templon also indicates a personal interest in this particular saint. The devotional character of some frescoes in the chapels is furthermore revealed by the presence of inscriptions including invocations from various figures. All these features are in conformity with the fact that the Northern Chapel, in particular, has been extensively used for burials. With this in mind, the presence of the three figures of the Deësis, in addition to the two supplicating saints, acquires a more precise function within the iconographical program of the two chapels. The frescoes of the two chapels may be classified, from the point of view of the style, into three groups : a) The decoration of the conch of the Southern Chapel, together with the Annunciation on either side of the eastern wall of the bema and the ornamental themes therein, as well as the earlier layer of painting above the conch, b) The figures of Michael Chômâtes in the Southern Chapel, of St. Nicholas and St. Catherine in the Northern Chapel, c) The decoration of the dome, together with the depictions of the Nativity and the archangel Michael in the Northern Chapel, as well as the more recent layer of painting above the conch in the bema of the Southern Chapel. The frescoes of the first group are heavily indebted to the Comnenian tradition in so far as the modelling of the faces and color schemes are concerned ; the type of the ornament used and a marked tendency for decorative effect also point to the same tradition. There are clear indications, however, that the frescoes are dated to the first part of the thirteenth century, as shown, in particular, in the face of St. Barnabas (pi. 26.1), which recalls faces from the frescoes of Milegeva. The second group of frescoes in the chapels is also heavily indebted to the Comnenian tradition, as shown by the minute modelling of the faces. A secure terminus post quern lor this group is, however, provided by the portrait of Michael Chômâtes. The presence of the nimbus in the depiction of the metropolitan of Athens whose death occurred around the year 1222 indicates that this is a posthumous portrait. Moreover, it may be reasonably assumed that this portrait was executed at a period during which the figure of the humanist metropolitan was still remembered by the local inhabitants. The date of the second group of frescoes can be more precisely established after an examination of the remaining part of the decoration in the two chapels and after a few specific remarks which will follow. The third group of frescoes in the Penteli chapels can, on account of the preserved date in the dome, be precisely dated to 1233/1234. These frescoes represent a distinctly provincial version of a style which characterizes a considerable number of fresco ensembles, particularly in areas outside the impact of the artistic trends in the important cultural centers of the period. This style reveals a break with the Comnenian tradition and a tendency for expressive design which is manifestly removed from the classical heritage. This is illustrated, in particular, in the figurai types and the rendering of the draperies. Of all the monumental ensembles in Attica so far known the one which appears to be more closely related with the frescoes of the two chapels, both from the point of view of iconography and style, is found in the church of St. Peter at Kalyvia of Kouvara. The most conspicuous feature which both ensembles share in common is the portrait of Michael Chômâtes (pi. 27). The style of the two portraits is very similar, a similarity which also applies to a more extensive group of the frescoes in St. Peter and the chapels at Penteli. Moreover, the style of the decoration in the dome of the Northern Chapel of Penteli reveals a close affinity with a further group of frescoes in the church of St. Peter, an example of which is illustrated in pi. 39. These comparisons may support the hypothesis that two painters, in particular, who were involved in the decoration of St. Peter at Kalyvia, also undertook the completion of the frescoes in the two chapels of Penteli which have been included in what we designated the second and third groups. If this is so, the date 1233/1234, which appears in the dome of the Northern Chapel, also applies to the frescoes of the second group. The church of St. Peter at Kalyvia was originally dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul, as indicated by a fresco depicting the two figures in the niche above the main entrance to the church. One may wonder then whether the presence of the two princes of the apostles in close proximity to the three principal figures of the Deesis above the conch of the bema in the Southern Chapel of Penteli is not related with the dedication of the church at Kalyvia, the fresco painters of which were most probably involved in the decoration of the Penteli chapels. If this were so, it could be contended that the Southern Chapel at Penteli was also dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul.