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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Sculpture
6.9 Front of the pseudosarcophagus 'of the founders'
14th c.
Pantokrator Monastery
Marble, 153 x 75 x 8 cm


The Original New Testament

A third of the left edge and the upper right corner are missing. The principal face preserves two arches and the springing of a third. They are supported by unfluted columns, with figures of birds on the capitals. Under the right-hand arch is an Anastasis type (patriarchal) cross, executed in the two-level technique, on a stepped base, with a cypress on either side. The middle arch encloses a Greek cross, its arms terminating anchor-wise in tendrils that meet in pairs to form a palmette. Two small separate half-palmette tendrils fill in the background. The spandrels are decorated with half-palmettes flanking an inverted palmette in a heart-shaped surround.

An arcade enclosing crosses is a very common decorative theme on sarcophagi of the middle and late Byzantine period. The foliate cross appears with particular frequency, with its connotations of salvation and resurrection; according to Byzantine theology, it is the 'life-creating, life-giving wood'.

The two-level cross closely resembles the cross on a pseudosarcophagus from Hortiatis, Thessaloniki, which is dated to the fourteenth century, while the other, rosette-like, cross has counterparts in the painted decoration of the Church of St Nicholas Orphanos in Thessaloniki (1310-20). On this basis, the Pantokrator sarcophagus may likewise be dated to the fourteenth century, a dating which also accords with the tradition connecting it with the monastery's founders, who must have died in the fourteenth century.

Bibliography: Tsigaridas 1978, p. 182, pl. 3α. Pazaras 1988, no. 20, pp. 29, 73, 154, 155, pl. 15β.

Index of exhibits of Monastery of Pantokrator
14th century

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