medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
On 11/23/11, Christopher Crockett wrote, with regard to the originally twelfth-century frescoes (1164) in the church of St. Panteleimon in Gorno Nerezi:
> looking at some of the heads
> take your glasses off (if you are lucky enough to be near-sighted) and move a
> few feet away from the monitor with one of these on the screen --at about 3-4
> feet the image will "pop" and the deep shadows are no longer read as abstract
> shapes but as, well, deep shadows.
> of course, not all of them have particularly deep or complex shadows, like
> this one of a young acolyte
> almost Pompeiiesque in his simplicity.
> quite an amazing phenomenon.
I think we need to be a bit cautious here. Despite the lack of a visible orarion (the narrow stole worn by a deacon in "eastern" churches) this figure is almost certainly a deacon, not an acolyte. And the absence of shadow may be due in part to a restorer's restraint in dealing with a somewhat degraded fresco. Here's the larger composition:
The two figures flanking the window each wear a sticharion, a white vestment (analogous to an alb) that's worn by altar servers and acolytes, by readers, by subdeacons, by deacons, and (usually covered by other vestments) by priests. The lack of specifically priestly attire here allows us to conclude that these figures are not priests. The absence of a tradition in Byzantine art of portraying subdeacons and other minor clergy separately (or paired, as here), as opposed to in depictions of services, processions, etc., together the existence of with a well established tradition in Byzantine art of portraying deacons separately (or paired) in this or very similar poses, holding in the left hand a gold case usually interpreted as an incense box (in at least some cases, the object in question might as easily be an artophorion or pyx) and often holding in the right hand a chained censer, suggests very strongly that these figures are deacons (and what would an acolyte be doing with a gold incense box, let alone with a pyx?).
As it happens, there is an analogous composition in this very church:
Here, though, the two figures flanking the window each wear an orarion over the left shoulder, hold an incense box or an artophorion in the left hand, and hold a chained censer (in one case only partly preserved) suspended from the right hand. They are clearly deacons. Note the position of the right hand of the deacon on the right and compare it with the very similar position of the right hand of the figure on the right in the previous pair. The chances are excellent that that figure in the previous pair once held a censer in the same manner. The position of the right hand of the left-hand figure in the previous pair (the "acolyte") differs from that of the left hand figure in the second pair. But not by much: indeed, if one looks closely at that previous pair one can discern traces of swung censers over the white of both sticharia.
The oraria of the deacons in the second pair at Gorno Nerezi are basically white, tricked out with and bordered with gold (compare the basically white orarion in this early twelfth-century mosaic depiction of St. Stephen the Protomartyr in St. Sophia in Kyiv / Kiev < http://tinyurl.com/24b8adg >). Here they are in detail views:
Figure on the left:
Figure on the right:
It is likely that the first pair at Gorno Nerezi (the "acolyte" and his colleague) had oraria identical to those of this second pair and that all visible traces of these had been been lost by the time the fresco was restored.
If that fresco has lost two censers and two oraria, it may also have lost some shading in the "acolyte" 's face.
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