Byzantine Art is a Christian art in the service of the Church. It is an art where the element of abstraction occupies an important place, where the faithful rendering of reality recedes in front of the spiritual element. However, it has never ceased to be a visual art, clearly influenced by the ideas and motifs of classical antiquity, despite the continued adoption and assimilation of eastern elements.It is also an art in which form presents subtle and often complex meanings and not an art based solely on the charm of its lines or colors.
As the chronological period and geographical scope of Byzantine art are enormous, significant variations are observed not only in its style but also in its character. The most sophisticated and elegant variant of Byzantine Art is, of course, linked to the capital of the empire, Constantinople, which was the center of the civilized world from its founding in 330 until its conquest by the Turks in 1453.The use of mosaics and frescoes on the walls of the churches were more extensive in the Christian East than in the West.
The 13th century is marked by the Macedonian School of Iconography, with its main features being the intense aspects of the garments, the plasticity of the faces and the skill of using color. The main representatives are Michael and Eutychios Astrapas. Staro Nagoricino's frescoes, dated to 1317 and attributed to Eutychio Astrapa, are distinguished for their dramatic movements of numerous shapes and the importance of detail.
Eutychios and Michael Astrapas painted together the Church of Our Lady of Perivleptos in Ohrid (Saint Clem). These frescoes, the colors of which are brighter, are also distinguished for the incredible expressiveness of the saints' forms. Also for the first time we find in Saint Clem the name of the artists to be imprinted on the frescoes, something which has happened quite often in works of the time since then. (The name of Eutychios is written on the belt of the icon of Saint Prokopios, while that of Michael on the sword of Saint Dimitrios).Frescoes in Agios Nikitas (1296) are also paintings by the same painters. After 1310 the most important frescoes come from the monastery churches of Studenica (1714) and Gracanica (1321).
The most important iconographer of Byzantine Painting was Manuel Panselinos (13th century) with paintings on Mount Athos and Protaton in Karyes.The realism of the faces and the incredible expressiveness of the movements characterize his frescoes. Holy Washbasin in Protaton and other representations confirm the existence of a distinct Macedonian style quite different from that of Chora monastery in Constantinople. If the so-called Macedonian School has a dominant position in Mount Athos, Thessaloniki and other parts of Macedonia, in the rest of Greece, and in particular Mystras, the dominant idiom is that of Constantinople.
Mystras, where perhaps the most valuable specimens of late Byzantine paintings are preserved, has flourished in the last years of the Byzantine Empire. Next chronological frescoes in Mystras are those of the Perivleptos, with colors that impress with their harmony and luminosity, the accuracy of the design and the excellent rendering of the details. The elegant style of Perivleptos frescoes reminiscent of miniatures is repeated in churches on Mount Athos, Crete and other parts of Greece.By the beginning of the 15th century, Byzantine Art spread throughout Greece.
Portable icons are another type of Byzantine Art developed in the last years of the Byzantine Empire. After the fall of Constantinople, the Byzantine artistic tradition continued in new centers created outside the Ottoman territory, and mainly in Crete, where painters of Constantinople migrated, painting the art of iconography.
At the end of the 15th century, contacts with Venice influenced Renaissance Italian painting in Crete, in terms of style and theme, which were combined with Byzantine tradition, forming a completely separate style during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Cretian School of Painting. The most important representatives of the Cretian School are Theophanes Kris, Michael Damaskinos and Dominicos Theotokopoulos(El Greco).
After Western influence in Greece, the return to Traditional Orthodox iconography was a necessity. Among those who pioneered in this endeavor is the iconographer, and not only, Fotis Kontoglou.
Iconography, the unique Greek Painting, continues its long journey until today and remains always new and unique. Knowing the tradition and technique of the great masters of Byzantine Painting is for me the basis and the impetus for my personal path. What matters to me as an iconographer is to capture the tragedy of the life of Saints and to be able to convey it in the expression of their faces and their bodies. The face of the image to declare that it is a sanctified human nature. There are several theological rules in iconography that we must adhere to and respect. But like any art, iconography can follow the demands and requirements of the modern age without altering its theological character. As a iconographer for 22 consecutive years, and knowing that the believer will testify to painted icons his prayers and anxieties, it is my duty to convey through my Art to the believer how the person depicted with great effort, sacrifice and love in Christ led to the state of holiness and the elevation of human nature.
With God's help I continue ...
Spyridoula N. Degaitis, Iconographer September 14, 2019