Monday, January 26, 2009

Unique Fresco at Hosios Loukas

Over five years ago, I went on an art history study abroad to Europe. While we were in Greece, we were required to have a tour guide that was assigned by the government. This guide (I'll call him "George") was an interesting character who had halitosis and a penchant for recounting some of the more, er, naughty stories from Greek mythology. He was an interesting man that sometimes created rather awkward situations for our group. I remember one of my professors said that they would never go to Greece again if they had to have George as a guide.

George took us to some really interesting places, though. One of my favorite places that we visited was the Byzantine monastery Hosios Loukas. This church was built in the Middle Byzantine Period, soon after the renouncement of iconoclasm in 843 AD. There are many beautiful frescos and mosaics at this monastery, particularly in the main monastery church (called the Katholikon). I remember being awestruck by the beauty of the church and the etheral environment within the building itself. This special moment was a little disrupted when George started to break into some type of monastic chant. He wasn't such a bad singer, but it was strange to hear such music coming from our tour guide. Nonetheless, Hosios Loukas made quite the impression on me.

The fresco above is found in the crypt of the Katholikon at Hosios Loukas. It contains two biblical scenes, the Burial of Christ (on the left) and the Women at the Tomb (on the right). This fresco especially interests me because of its uniqueness; at present, scholars have found no other artistic examples that combine these two scenes into one pictorial unit. Furthermore, it is unusual to depict Christ's dead body wrapped in a shroud, which also pinpoints this fresco as unusual. Christ is being lifted into a sarcophagus by Joseph of Arimathea (at Christ's head) and Nicodemus (at Christ's feet). The Virgin Mary stands behind Christ. In the scene on the right, two Marys (as recorded in the Book of Matthew) have arrived at the tomb to anoint Christ's body. They are confronted by the angel who points to the empty tomb; one woman gestures in surprise while the other makes a gesture of speech.*

More information and pictures of Hosios Loukas can be found at this site. The website is poorly designed and the photographs aren't the best quality, but one still can get a general sense of the monastic complex and history.

* Disclaimer: I wrote some of the information about this fresco for an online academic database last year. Since I didn't agree (I wasn't even asked, actually) to give up the rights the material I wrote, I see no problem with including the information here as well. In other words, if you ever find part of this information verbatim elsewhere, don't be alarmed. I didn't plagiarize. I actually did write this.