Monday, April 23, 2007

St. George at the Byzantine Museum

The 23rd of April is not always St. George's day. Oh no. The feast is such a big one, probably the biggest of those not immediately connected with Christ or the BVM. For this reason, if the 23rd of April falls in lent (and it does so more often than not), then the feast of St. George is celebrated on Easter Monday. This is because Lent is a time of solemnity and whatnot and we can't go feasting and celebrating in the middle of lent.

So, this year, St. George's day falls on the 23rd as it should. St. George is called the tropaiophoros, the bringer of triumph and is one of the earliest saints to be revered by the church. The whole story with the dragon comes from the levant (lebanon alone has a handful of locations with claims to be the spot where the dragon had been killed. The English crusaders (more about them some other day) saw the cult of the warrior saints (George and the many other literal soldiers of christ) and took his cult back to the British Isles with them. Together with the cult, they took back the red on white cross, known as St. George's cross. It is currently also displayed on the flag of Georgia.

Anyway, back to our picture of the day: the picture shows a piece of cloth with woven design measuring about 20 by 20cm (about 8x8 in inches). The design depicts a mounted saint dispatching a dragon - the chances are that it is St. George, although St. Demetrios is infrequently depicted in a very similar way. It's not clear whether there would have been space in the top right corner for St. George's little helper and the princess who gets saved. Both are iconographically late and are probably not there.

Last for today - the cloth is from the Egyptian collection at the BXM, hence we have it at all. The BXM's egyptian collection has a great number of both everyday items and ceremonial items of normally perishable material which has been saved thanks to the arid climate of the egyptian desert. That is why we have this cloth and quite a few other things, some of which may be featured in future pics of the day.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Coming soon - eternal city

Coming soon - the whole of the what we did in Rome story.

Byzantine and Christian Museum - pic of the day 2

Today's picture is from the Byzantine and Christian museum in Athens, from the section of the museum dealing with late antiquity when there were many changes being made to old temples to convert them to christian use. I am not sure if the specific capital is from the parthenon, the acropolis in general or what, but it is in that corner of the museum (good, this, ennit?)

What have we got here? well, it is a marble capital with what seem to be crowned lambs sticking out at the corners. Things to look out for are the deep drilled holes in the lower half of the capital, which are trying to go for the so called marble lace effect (as employed to good effect in the 6th century basilicas of Constantinople and Ravenna and also in Egypt of the same time).

This is one of the more florid and over-worked capitals I am familiar with, hence its notability and inclusion here. The lamb theme is very popular in both mosaic work and plastic work for a few centuries, appearing both in the old (Theodosian) hagia sofia friezes from the 5th century and in the mosaics at St. Apollonaris in Classe from the sixth century.

Do I need to go into the why the lamb is significant in early christian art? What about the problems over the depiction of christ in human form to the extent that this goes against the graven images commandment? Maybe some other time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fancy schmancy dress

From left to right, we have myself dressed as, well... dressed as different things to different people; my sister, Igor, dressed as a "princess" - she wore trainers, all the better to dance on, but still managed to sprain her ankle badly enough to need a week off work, all within 20 minutes of turning up; Thanassi, square bob spongepants, apparently a hit with the youngsters, and K as a painter, although the rasta wig is a little incongruous with the rest of the outfit.

Such was our attire at the annual carnival fancy dress party at the club. We did have a good time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Byzantine and Christian Museum

About a month ago, we went to the Dali Sculpture exhibition at the BXM - Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens. Not a bad exhibition but a little smaller than I would have liked. Much sculpture and some prints which were not bad. I don't know - we have seen so much stuff that has pushed the envelope since Dali, that what we were looking at seemed almost normal or tame. We could still marvel at the three dimensionality of twisted christ (I may have a photo somewhere) or the surreality of his Aphrodites (picture above - note the ear-nose and throat), but there was something about the exhibition which I did not like. Maybe it is that the same scultpure was exhibited in two different sizes, next to each other, or like the Aphrodites above, but I think that the problem was that there was very little to look at. I'll get some photos of Dali up later.

In the meantime, I would like to introduce an occasional feature of the blog which will run until I get bored of it, called ByzMus picture of the day.

It's a tomb monument from very early Christian times - from late antiquity with that characteristic late antique depth to it. It's trying so hard to present a classical face in the subject matter, the poses and the clothing (although clothing would have been classical even then), but at the same time we see elements of what has been called the "stumpy-dumpy style" creeping in - like why is the horseman's hand almost the same size as the horse's head?

I like it because it is approaching the byzantine from late antique, you can almost feel the thresholdiness in the spirally striped columns and over-wrought elaborate designs to the pediment and other architectural bits behind the figures. At the same time, the eyes in the figures are normal - there is no trace of the fourth century's huge bug-eyes.

And that's all I am saying about this one for now.