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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Post-Byzantine Painting: The 15th-17th Century Wall-Paintings

Church was preserved and supported as an organized institution but also because it was granted privileges in order to excercize a kind of state authority. In addition, privileges in different levels were granted to various regions, categories of Christian population or individuals. However, during the years of the conquest and the establishment of a new political and social order the artistic activities and the traditional creative centers in the countries under the Ottoman rule diminish and almost disappear. While, in the areas with Greek orthodox population who were governed by catholic state lords such a complete stop does not occur. On the contrary, some artistic activities are continued there and, already before the mid-15th century, the influence of the new tendencies, especially of the Italian painting is obvious. Furthermore, in the towns of Crete island a large scale production of portable icons for export is developed. During the middle and the second half of the 15th century limited artistic activities are resumed in the central Balkan regions due to the initiatives of local dignitaries, ecclesiastic patrons or small monastic communities who take advantage of their privileges. The anonymous painters readopt the main tendecies of the 14th-century painting, but in a rather stylized manner. Only on Cyprus, during the same period, an artistic current, which has fully adopted the Italian aesthetic expression of the Early Renaissance (-Latin- pareklession in the Monastery of Ayios loannis Lambadistis, Panaghia Podythou, 1502, etc.), runs parallel to the stylistic tendencies which are issued from the Byzantine tradition. Already since the first decades of the 16th century, the major and rich, due to their productive activities, monastic communities start again to commission extensive wall-painting decorations in Mount Athos and Meteora. The artists to whom they give these assignments are already well-known icon painters from Crete. Thus, Theophanis Strelitzas-Bathas, who will become the leading personality of the “Cretan- school of wall-painting”, embellishes with frescoes the Monastery of Ayios Nikolaos Anapafsas at Meteora, in 1527. The katholikon of the Great Lavra and the Monastery of Stavronikita on Mount Athos are wall-painted later, in 1535 and 1546 respectively. Other artists, eponymous and anonymous, will undertake important decorations in monasteries on Mount Athos, Meteora and elsewhere. The “Cretan” school was favoured by the supreme hierarchy of the Oecumenical Patriarchate and indirectly by Moldavian, Vlach and Georgian ruling princes and kings. Thus, it almost becomes the official art form of Orthodoxy. It is characterized by balanced, plain, severe and rythmic compositions; controlled movement, clear-cut design and plasticity; a classicizing monumental style; and also by an iconography which has assimilated a number of elements from Western art. However, certain severe, conservative and expressionistic tendencies survive in the monastic centers of Mount Athos, running parallel to the creations of “Cretan” painting (Monastery of Xenophon, 1544; Ayios Georgios at the Monastery of Ayios Pavlos, 1555). Another creative and extensive trend in the 16th-century painting, which is developed in North-western Greece, runs parallel to the “Cretan” school and expresses aesthetic orientations contrary to the classicizing austerity of Cretan painting. This trend, full of “secular” vigour and vitality, also draws its inspirations from the tradition of the itinerant painters of the period 1480-1500. Two ensembles on the Island of loannina, the Monasteries of Philanthropinon (1530-1542) and Dilios (1543) as well as the Myrtia Monastery (1539) in Aetolia, represent this “school”, with their mature, already crystallized decorative programs,

iconography, composition, technique and style. The artists Frangos and Georgios Kontaris from Thebes, who work in Epirus (Krapsi, 1563; Veltsista 1568) and Meteora (narthex of the Monastery of Barlaam, 1566), undertaking the commissions or the aristocracy of loannina, are very much influenced by the wall-paintings of the Island.

Frangos Katelanos, a famous, also Theban, painter will follow and develop the same tradition in the katholikon of the Monastery of Barlaam (1548) and in the chapel of Ayios Nikolaos in the Monastery of Great Lavra (1560) as well as in all the wall-painting ensembles which have been assigned to him. A great artistic personality and a master in colour, he draws a vivid, full of plastic brush-strokes style and animates his compositions with dashing movements and baroque vibrations, while he keeps, at the same time, a direct and fruitful relation with his contemporary Italian painting. Katelanos starts off from a restless local school, which he promotes to an artistic current of very large acceptance, parallel and antagonistic to the -Cretan- school. He will influence significantly his contemporary painting in the broader area of South Balkans. Towards the end of the century the “Cretan” school and that of the North-western Greece co-exist and create side by side works of manneristic character. The painter Onouphrios represents another important trend in the 16th-century painting in central Albania and Western Macedonia. He has found imitators and successors, who define themselves within the boundaries of Ochrid Archbishopric and in relatively small and humble painted ensembles (Ayioi Apostoloi, Kastoria, 1547; Ayia Paraskevi, Vales, 1554, central Albania). His work is characterized by broad, free compositions, calligraphic design, graceful and noble figures, traditional Byzantine iconography, but also by a familiarity with the Early Renaissance painting. The monumental painting of the 16th century with its two main, predominant tendencies does not essentially leave much space for the formation and development of local schools and workshops, in spite of the survival of some local traditions on provincial scale. Similar phenomena can also be located in the Serb, Bulgarian and Vlach-Moldavian territories. During the 17th century the quantitative development and geographic expansion of painting is considerably greater. Broader social strata, communities and even minor monasteries participate in this evolution by commissioning a great number of works and getting familiar with the monumetal painting. The wall-painting, however, is confined to the eclectic repetition and manneristic immitation of the 16th-century or even earlier tendencies. The adoption and incorporation of floral baroque motives in the iconographic programs, which towards the end of the century tend also to affect the character of the composition, is a common feature of most workshops. Already since 1570, companies of peasant painters from Linotopi in Western Macedonia practise their art in an extensive region for almost a century. They imitate and continue the various trends of the 16th-century painting, depending on the individual workshop and the distinctive taste of their peasant clientele. Similar guilds are aiso active in the central mountainous Peloponnese. On the Mount Agrapha or at Meteora multiple painting ensembles perpetuate the artistic doctrines primarily of the “Cretan” school; while the remarkable painting-activity on Mount Pelion is characterized by an eclecticism and lack of homogeneity. Family groups of painters, qualified with some education, are active and very productive for many generations mainly in the Peloponnese but also elsewhere. Demetrios and Georgios Moschos combine in their work strong expressionistic traditions with the teachings of the school of North-western Greece and the introduction of baroque elements. While Demetrios and Theodoras Kakavas start from Malessina (1570) in central Greece and continue for almost a century in the Peloponnese. In their painting they exhibit a mixture of all the tendencies of the 16th-century painting and a mastering of the minute technique of portable icons. Our knowledge of the 17th-century monumental painting in Greek lands is incomplete and the published ‘ scientific studies are limited. The relevant material, in its greater part, has not been studied as yet, neither it has even been located and catalogued. Therefore, any attempt the entire issue to be presented can be judged as premature.around 1480 and until 1500 workshops of anonymous itinerant artists develop a renovating trend, which is already formed by intended choices in program and iconography and by influences from the style of the Late Gothic painting of Old Katholikon, Meteora, 1483; Cucer 1484; Ayios Nikolaos Eupraxias, Kastoria, 1486; Treskavac; Poganovo. 1500). In the last decades of the century we can also record their artistic creations in official buildings in Moldavia (Hirlau, Dosohoi’, Balinerti, etc.). On Cyprus, during the same period, an artistic current, which has fully adopted the Italian aesthetic expression of the Early Renaissance (“Latin” pareklession in the Monastery of Ayios loannis Lambadistis, Panaghia Podythou, 1502, etc.), runs parallel to the stylistic tendencies which are issued from the Byzantine tradition.