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Athos Holy Mount

Monumental Painting
1.1 The Embrace of Peter and Paul
1.2 The Apostle Mark

ca. 1170-80
Vatopedi Monastery
Fresco, 50 x 65 cm and 65 x 65 cm



The Original New Testament

These two fragments of frescoes probably belong to a layer of decoration dating from the late Comnenian period, part of which was discovered preserved in the katholikon in the Monastery of Vatopedi (Tsigaridas 1996 (3), p. 237, figs. 195-6).

One of these two fragments depicts the Apostles Peter and Paul embracing, and the other the Apostle Mark. The Embrace of the Apostles Peter and Paul as an independent theme expressing ecumenical peace and the unity of the Churches was adopted at an early stage in Byzantine art, following iconistic prototypes known in early Christian art.

From the artistic point of view, the fragmentation of the facial volume into separate sculptural units differentiates these frescoes from the painterly character of the wall paintings of Saint George in Djurdjevi Stupovi (ca. 1175) in the mediaeval Serbia, to which Radojcic likens them (Radojcic 1955 (2), p. 434, pl. 102.2). This sculptural effect, which is particularly marked in the Vatopedi frescoes, thus dissociates them artistically from the Serbian frescoes and associates them rather with those in the katholikon of the historic Monastery of Christ the Saviour Latomou (Hosios David) in Thessaloniki (1160-70) and those in the Chapel of the Virgin and in the refectory (the initial phase of decoration) of the Monastery of St John the Theologian on Patmos (1176-80; Tsigaridas 1986, pls. 16-17. Kollias 1986, figs. 20, 37). In our opinion, therefore, and on the basis of artistic criteria, the attribution of the fresco depicting the Embrace of Peter and Paul to the same Greek workshop commissioned by St Sabbas and the kral of Serbia Stefan Nemanja to decorate the Church of St George in Djurdjevi Stupovi (Radojcic 1955 (2), p. 434) is incorrect.

The dissociation of the Vatopedi frescoes from the work of the artist who decorated Djurdjevi Stupovi means that they cannot be ascribed to the patronage of St Sabbas and Stefan Nemanja. Thus the attribution of the provenance of these frescoes from the refectory of the Monastery of Vatopedi, which according to Serbian sources was commissioned by St Sabbas and Stefan Nemanja (Radojcic 1955 (2), p. 434), and their consequent dating at 1197-98, cannot be accurate. Indeed, the obvious artistic connexion between the Vatopedi frescoes and those from the katholikon in the historical Monastery of Latomou (Hosios David) in Thessaloniki and the Monastery on Patmos leads us to date them at about 1170-80.

Bibliography: Millet 1927, pl. 98.1 Radojcic 1955 (2), p. 434, pl. 102.2. Xyngopoulos 1955, p. 21. Xyngopoulos 1964, p. 251. Djuric 1964, p. 60. Lazarev 1967, p. 212. Orlandos 1970, p. 266. Hadermann-Misguich 1979, p. 264. Velmans 1977, p. 118. Mendietta 1977, p. 214. Chatzidakis 1979 (2), pp. 408-9. Xyngopoulos 1981, p. 93. Chatzidakis 1982, pp. 304-5. Mouriki 1980-1, p. 110. Skawran 1982, p. 179. Demus 1984, p. 184. Tsigaridas 1986, p. 161 and particularly Tsigaridas 1996 (3), p. 233, fig. 191-2. The second fresco fragment is simply mentioned by Xyngopoulos 1955, p. 21 n. 1. Xyngopoulos 1964, p. 251. Lazarev 1967, p. 212. Mendietta 1977, p. 214. Xyngopoulos 1981. See particularly Tsigaridas 1996 (3), p. 233, fig. 192.

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