Sunday, April 22, 2007

Themes of the Byzantine churches of Crete

Some of the themes that are still easily recognizable in the Byzantine churches of Crete are:

1. Punishment of the Damned is not hard to recognize as they usually involve grotesque scenes of torture and, as mentioned, are on the back wall.

2. Lazarus rising from the dead is recognized by the bound figure of Lazarus in an upright coffin, giving the appearance that he is standing.

3. The Nativity, characterized by the presence of an animal (ox or ass), a cradle and child and the reclining Virgin Mary.

4. The Last Supper.

5. Christ's Baptism, characterized by Christ in the river Jordan surrounded by fish and the impressive figure of John the Baptist.

6. The Dormition of the Virgin depicts Mary lying serene and beautiful in death surrounded by saints with Christ behind her, cradling her soul (a baby) in his arms.

7. The donor and his family can be recognized as they are on the back wall and do not have a halo, as do not any other lay people represented.

8. Haloed Saints (on the lower part of the church) are usually flat two-dimensional characters that face forwards with dangling feet, as if they are floating. These saints are always fabulously dressed being as they were thought of as courtiers of God.

9. The Crucifixion. The early Byzantine frescoes represented Christ as a spiritual figure, whereas the later frescoes shows a suffering Christ and an agonising Mary.

Many of the frescoes' painters are unknown and although some frescoes may be signed, little is known about the painters themselves. An exception to this is Ioannis Pagomenos, who painted many churches in the Chania prefecture. He is buried in the chapel of Agios Nikolaos in Maza and is known to be one of the more humanitarian painters of this era. Many of his works can be appreciated in the Selino area (southeast of Chania). Another known painter is Manuel Fokas who painted in the Pediada area of Iraklion.