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The decorative program of the domes and area under the domes in the church of the monastery Resava

Author(s): Prolović Jadranka

Journal: Zograf
ISSN 0350-1361

Volume: 2008;
Issue: 32;
Start page: 131;
Date: 2008;
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Because the dome is interpreted as a symbol of the heavens, it is reserved for heavenly subjects. The calotte of the dome is seen as a vault of heaven or 'heaven in the heavens' and, as such, as the 'house of Christ'. As the commentator in the 19th century reports, the image of Christ Pantokrator was once located at the zenith of the central dome of Resava. The preserved scenes and figures below the dome, specifically the heavenly liturgy and the prophets, confirm the original existence of this image. Together they build an iconology that was very widespread in late Byzantine art. The composition of the central dome of Resava resembles in its complete appearance, supported by some particularities, the central dome of Ravanica, which served as a model for the artists of Resava. One can find close parallels for the decoration of the side domes in Ravanica. The similar arrangement of heavenly powers in the tambours of the domes in Ravanica and Resava indicate that, like in Ravanica, Christ Emmanuel, the Age of Days, the Mother of God and the Archangel Michael could have been depicted in the zenith of the side domes of Resava. This type of decorative scheme in side domes is common in late Byzantine monumental painting. The remaining fragments with images of angels as deacons positioned in the ring around the zenith of the central dome show that the Heavenly Liturgy was depicted here, specifically the Large Entrance which, aside from the communion, was the only part of the liturgy visible to the faithful. In Resava, the Heavenly Liturgy is completed by the images of crowds of angels, which are portrayed in the tambours of the side domes. The liturgical hymns that accompany these images of angels confirm this order. The rendering of orders of angels in the tambours of the side domes in Resava comply with the traditional program in which these heavenly beings - who being closest to God, who were his first creations and the only to whom a look in the heavenly spheres is always possible - are depicted in His nearest proximity in the dome as a symbol of heaven. The different clothing of the anthropomorphic angels and the differently fashioned robes of the other heavenly beings show that the painter wanted to illustrate the heavenly court with God's heavenly hosts and their hierarchical order. According to Pseudo-Dionysios Areopagites, the hierarchy was composed of nine ranks. It was the top levels of the heavenly army and guard that protect the throne of the Pantokrator and that serve as mediators between heavenly power and humans. With these depictions of heavenly beings in the tambours of the side domes in Resava, the visions of the prophets, who in seldom moments could see these beings, are illustrated. The twenty-four prophets, who have received their symbolic location underneath the Heavenly Liturgy in the spaces between the windows in the tambour, complete the iconographie program of the central dome. The prophets of the Old Testament could sometimes look upon God, as they report in their writings. For this reason they were arranged in the tambour of the dome directly beneath the depiction of the heavenly world, which can be seen in the calotte surrounding the Pantokrator. With this symbolic placement, the prophets connect Heaven and the heavenly world with the Earth and the earthly world. Accordingly, they link the heavenly and godly nature of Christ with his human nature. Here in Resava, all four major and twelve minor prophets who composed their own works are depicted. Also Elijah and Eliseus, who even though they wrote nothing serve as major prophets, were shown here in the tambour. Samuel, Zacharias, Aaron and Moses, who represent the préfiguration of Christ as the High and Eternal Priest, are also depicted. Furtherly, their arrangement expresses a hierarchy among the prophets. Those who are more important and whose work is more often used in the liturgy received a space in the upper register. Selected quotations from the works of the prophets written on their scrolls summarize the most important themes of Christian philosophy and Christian belief. These quotations had, for the large part, also been incorporated into the liturgy. This fact is to be coupled with not only the depiction of the Heavenly Liturgy on the zenith of the dome but also with the Liturgy of the Holy Fathers in the apse of the church, as well as with the liturgy performed daily in the church, which itself is in turn modelled on the Heavenly Liturgy. Most of the quotations were dedicated to holy days on which the appearance of God and of the Holy Trinity are expressed. One of these is Pentecost, which the church at Resava especially celebrated. The quotations further emphasize the suffering of Christ on the cross and particularly the Anastasis. The prophets depicted suggest not only the Messiah; they also emphasize the importance of the Mother of God, of John the Baptist, and furtherly of the apostles and priests as successors of Jesus. John Prodromos is shown by his presence and by the quotation in the hand of his father, Zacharias. With their symbols, the Old Testament priests point out the role of the Mother of God in the mystery of the Incarnation and the Salvation of Man. They are not only as préfigurations of Christ present, but also as the Old Testament predecessors of the apostles and their priestly followers, who continued the work of Christ through which the church survives. The depictions of the prophets and the quotations in their hands contribute with certainty to the painted themes that are illustrated in the lower zone of the church. It is important to note, that they do not always stand directly above their corresponding scene. The central dome of Resava was too complicated for this kind of arrangement that is often found in Byzantine chuches. All other symbolic relationships are however presented in superior style in the central dome of Resava. The surfaces beneath the four side domes and most likely those of both upper windows in the south wall of the diakonikon and the north wall of the prothesis of Resava were probably primarily decorated with the ancestors of Christ and the Righteous. Their presence is to be interpreted symbolically as a confirmation of the earthly life of Christ and furtherly suggest the Incarnation and the roles of Christ as priest and king, which can be followed through the generations of his human ancestors. These figures also stand for a connection between the New and Old Testaments. In the central dome of Resava, the evangelists are arranged in the pendentives while renderings of the man-dylion and keramion (east and west) and of the blessing Hand of God (north and south) cover the surfaces in between. The evangelists are placed in this position starting in the 1 lth century at the latest. In the late Byzantine period, the evangelists became almost exclusively decoration for the pendentives; the church of Resava is such a typical example. The arrangement of the evangelists on the pendentives of Resava demonstrate not only the relationship between the evangelists themselves, but also between their works. Thus, as direct disciples of Christ, the evangelists Matthew and John received their positions on the eastern pendentives. The relatedness of their works are further expressed through this arrangement. Luke and Mark received the less prominent positions on the western pendentives of the central dome. The evangelists are depicted in the same placement in many domed churches from the Palaiologian era in the entire Byzantine area of influence. With the exception of John, all of the evangelists in Resava are shown with the personification of Heavenly Wisdom, which is depicted symbolically as a young woman according to models from Antiquity. John receives the supernatural power as rays directly from heaven and dictates to his pupil Prochoros. Aside from the evangelists themselves, their heavenly symbols are also located in Resava, which, along with the Gospel, glide from the Hand of God out of a heaven segment. Similar depictions of the evangelists with personifications of Heavenly Wisdom, heaven segments and the symbols of the evangelists were quite popular in late Palaiologian times. As already mentioned, the 'true images' of Christ are located in the areas between the pendentives. As it was produced through direct contact with the face of the Saviour, the mandylion serves as proof for the human features of Christ and confirms his human incarnation. All of the characteristics of the mandylion are naturally reflected in the copy of the keramion. Because of their meaning, both of these 'true images', of which the first depictions are pre-ico-noclastic, became one of the most important symbols of Christian art. After iconoclasm, depictions of the acheiro-poietoi from Edessa proliferated; the mandylion was the more prevalent object of the arts. As a consequence of theological debates and a changing image program in the arcades beneath dome during the 11th century, the mandylion and keramion were moved to the area between the pendentives and are hardly missing from this location in any domed church from this point on. The depictions of the evangelists and of both 'true images' in the vaulting directly under the dome have a deep symbolic meaning. As the authors of the Gospels, upon whose works Christianity is based, they received this space between Earth (naos) and Heaven (dome). Like the Atlas of Antiquity, they carry the word (evangelium) of Christ, which was spread directly from God through the four Gospels to the people on the four sides of the world. His image, which Christ sent to Abgar and which, like the word, possesses a supernatural power, also comes directly from God. In Resava, the creative power of God is presented symbolically in the form of His hand. The arrangement of the evangelists and both 'true images' express a very important equation between the word and the image of Christ. This parallel has occupied Christian theorists from the beginning; already Basil the Great explained 'What the word of historic writing brings to the ears, painting shows silently through the image'. During and after iconoclasm, theologians especially emphasized the word and image as equally important methods of proclamation. Thus, the Gospels, through which the written word of God is communicated, are equal to the 'true images', which convey the unwritten word of Christ. As can be learned from the teachings of Christian theorists, Christianity is based upon both of these, the word and the image. The theoretical occupation with this aspect is reflected in the arts as well, to the extent that the evangelists and the 'true images' are positioned next to each other in the decorative program of Byzantine churches. This arrangement became typical for these surfaces and can be continually followed in domed churches starting in the 1 lth century. .
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