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Athos Holy Mount

Modern Greek Stone-Carving

The Original New Testament

Building and marble-carving on Mount Athos in the modern Greek period brought together two different categories of organised workers in stone: the stone-masons of Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace and the marble-masons and marble-carvers of Tinos and the other islands.

The first group had long been chiefly involved in the construction of the monastery buildings, most of which were built in the 'north-Helladic' architectural style. Their architectural skills were remarkable, but the stone reliefs they bequeathed us are less impressive, being mainly founders' inscriptions and simple decorations in stone. This is generally the case with northern Greek stone-carving anyway, for it was essentially regarded as little more than an adjunct to the edifice.

The names of these few vernacular architects and builders are preserved in the sources. They include: 'Dionyssios Syropoulos, H(adzis) and master mason' of Karakalou Monastery's seashore tower and its surrounding wall (barbakas) (1534); Theophanis, architect of the katholikon of Dionysiou Monastery (1547); 'Nikephoros, monk, master-builder' in an inscription of Vatopedi Monastery (1604); the architect Constantinos, from Epivates in Thrace, who designed the katholikon of Xeropotamou Monastery, and the assistant builder Hadgi-Constandis Karamanlis (from Karamania), who built it (1763), according to Kaissarios Dapontes; 'Pachomios, architect' in an inscription in the old Church of St Andrew or Serai (1768); the architect Christodoulos from Glossa, Skopelos, who executed a Russian design for the kyriakon of the Skete of St Andrew (1881-1900); the 'mason Ioannis Stylianou from the village of Belkamen, Florina', according to the inscription, who built the multi-storeyed south wing of Simonopetra (1862-4); and there are others too. We learn from one of the monastery's documents that the last-mentioned was an Arvanitis, or Albanian, probably one of the Albanian masons and labourers who were living in Chalkidiki in the mid-nineteenth century, seeking work in the local villages and on Mount Athos.

The other category of stone-workers included the marble-masons and marble-carvers, islanders for the most part, who produced the marble architectural members and the stone reliefs that adorn Athos: closure panels, capitals, phiales, fountains, doorframes, relief icons and other panels, templa, hegumens' thrones, icon-stands, and so on and so forth. Their large number is due to the donors and patrons who were so generous in periods when the monasteries were flourishing, for marble is a material whose use is directly connected with economic prosperity. These objects, which are what chiefly concern us here, belong to two phases, which also accord with a more general division. The first, the phase of what one might term 'folk stone-carving', comes in the pre-Independence period (with a conventional cut-off point at around 1830), though it continued until about the end of the nineteenth century. Thematically and stylistically it is characterised by the folk manner, a blend of traditional (Byzantine and oriental) elements and western Baroque influences. The second phase, that of 'empirical marble-carving', covers the rest of the nineteenth century and the twentieth. It was practised chiefly by Tinian workshops and is characterised by a strong Neoclassicism, apparent in both ecclesiastical and secular works, and influenced by the empirical craftsmen's contacts with academically trained architects and sculptors.

With the Greeks' economic and cultural regeneration in the eighteenth century, the Byzantine marble tradition spread to Athos and, in the course of time, works of marble-sculpture lent increasing lustre to monasteries and sketes. In 1735, Iviron Monastery acquired a splendid fountain (no. 7.1); and the plaque from a second one, certainly the product of the same workshop, was later (1852) incorporated into another, four-sided, fountain, together with new and old (a Byzantine closure slab) sculptures and a rhyming inscription that is a copy of one in the Monastery of St Paul.

There is a marble icon of the Virgin the Source of Life, probably of 1738, built into the wall of the belfry of Xeropotamou; and the building of the katholikon in 1761-3, on the initiative of the scholarly monk Kaissarios Dapontes, adorned the monastery with more reliefs, including the closure panels with two-headed eagles under marble window frames in the north and south facades. At about the same time, Dapontes brought the basin of the phiale, made by a Chian workshop out of red marble (no. 7.3), and in 1783 the peristyle and closure panels were added to the phiale (nos. 7.3a, 7.3b). Other works from the second half of the eighteenth century include a relief icon of the Virgin built into the wall of the narthex, a fountain with a two-headed eagle near the guest quarters, and the throne in the outer narthex.

Still in the eighteenth century, there is the marble hegumen's throne in Pantokrator Monastery, modelled on carved wooden structures; the phiale of Docheiariou Monastery (1765); the relief plaque in the belfry of the Protaton, certainly the product of an island workshop (1781; no. 7.2); a fountain in St Paul's (1794); a fountain on the first floor of the guest quarters in Dionysiou Monastery; and others too.

Early in the nineteenth century there was a surge in building and marble-carving on Mount Athos, notably between 1808-11, when the katholikon of Esphigmenou was built, and the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, which effectively brought all such activities to a halt. The presence of workshops from Tinos was particularly marked. According to Smyrnakis, the architect of Esphigmenou ‘was a native of Tinos who also designed the katholikon of St Paul's’. It seems reasonable to suppose (though there is no definite proof) that this was Demetrios Filippotis, the father of the, likewise empirical, architect, Zacharias Filippotis, who continued the work on the katholikon after the War of Independence. It is a fact that a Tinian workshop was active on Athos from 1808, engaged in both building and marble-carving, as was the custom in those days.

This workshop designed the katholikon of St Paul's and built the foundations in 1817, and the same workshop, or another one working alongside – also from Tinos –, produced a number of marble structures with sculptural decoration in the monastery between 1816 and 1821. These include:

?the renovation and refurbishing of the belfry (1819-20), together with a number of relief plaques that have since been built high into the exterior facades of the katholikon (no. 7.4);

?the renovation of the refectory and kitchen, and the guest quarters and chapel above in 1820. All that survives today is the splendidly decorated frame and lintel, re-used for the entrance to the new refectory (1894). The representation of the protective Christ Pantocrator on a cloud on the keystone of the doorframe carries echoes of a similar representation on a doorframe on Tinos (in the Church of the Megalomata, at Ktikados, 1823) and the Tinian workshop that worked at Xenophontos Monastery;

?a fountain to the north of the katholikon with a Baroque relief arch and a draped curtain held up by rings (1817) and a two-headed eagle on the top (1816);

?a fountain of 1821, under the belfry, with an inscription in a medallion and high-relief vegetal decoration (sections of it are now in a room near the guest quarters);

?other fountains (1817, 1821), the inscriptions on which (like the above-mentioned inscriptions) have been published by Millet, Pargoire, and Petit, and other structures 'at the expense of archimandrite Anthimos'.

Works from this decade in other monasteries are also due (with varying degrees of probability) to the presence of marble-carvers from Tinos. These include:

?in Xenophontos Monastery, dating from 1819-20, when the new katholikon was built: a doorframe and lintel, the entrance from the pronaos to the nave, the windows and panels on the lateral facades, external columns with capitals etc.;

?in the Great Lavra: the outer narthex with marble columns and closure panels, 1814;

?in the Monastery of St Panteleimon: the katholikon (1812-21), where the capitals on the facade are identical to those of Xenophontos Monastery; the hegumen's throne (1815);

?in Koutloumousiou: the phiale with its closure panels, and a fountain, 1813-16.

After 1830 and the birth of the modern Greek state, marble-carving on Athos continued to flourish, both in conjunction with building work and as an independent activity. It now branched out into the creation of marble templa, icon-stands, and ciboria. At first, Baroque was once again the predominant style, but it soon gave way to Neoclassicism. The craftsmen from Tinos were still conspicuously present until the beginning of the twentieth century.

In St Paul's Monastery, Zacharias Filippotis, father of the great sculptor Demetrios Filippotis, continued his interrupted work and, with his brother Ioannis, built the katholikon (1839-44), the only one on Athos built entirely of marble. He was back again in 1860-2, making two marble 'throne-type' icon-stands, the door between the courtyard and the naos, and other structures in the inner narthex, for which he received 18,000 piastres and a bonus of 2.5 okes of oil and 2.5 okes of raki a month. His work was continued by his son Georgios in 1874, who, together with a fellow islander, Giannakos CChalkiopoulos, paved the floor of the naos and the outer narthex, and added three round relief ornaments. Another marble-carver from Tinos, Ioannis F. Lyritis or Karaiskos, then carried out a number of tasks: he paved the old refectory (1895), made the splendid templon in the katholikon (1899-1900) for 750 Turkish liras, re-paved the refectory after it had burnt down and made twenty-six tables (1903), made the templon for the Skete of St Demetrios or Lakkos Skete, a metochi of St Paul's (1903), as also two icon-stands and the floor of the skete (1904).

In Iviron Monastery, the above-mentioned Georgios Filippotis and his son Zacharias built the ciborium over the altar and three icon-stands in 1888-90.

In the Great Lavra, Ioannis Chalepas, the father of that other great modern Greek sculptor, Giannoulis Chalepas, made the templon in the katholikon and the ciborium over the altar in 1886 for 621 Ottoman liras (plus fifty twenty-franc coins, 'as a tip').

In Karakalou Monastery, an inscription in dactylic hexameters on the lintel of the inner narthex of the katholikon tells us that 'Demetrios Mavromaras of Tinos [worked] with marble stones, gouge, and chisel' in 1859.

In Xenophontos Monastery, the marble templon and the altar, made in 1840 'of Athonite and Tinian marble', are also the work of craftsmen from Tinos. The templon is mentioned as a model in the contracts drawn up between St Paul's Monastery and Zacharias Filippotis in 1860 and Ioannis Lyritis in 1899.

At present it is not possible to say which workshops produced the other nineteenth-century marble structures and reliefs on Athos. They include, among many others, pedimented Neoclassical doorframes in Pantokrator Monastery (1847), the Baroque doorframe in the Monastery of St Panteleimon (1855; no. 13), the phiale in Iviron Monastery (1865), the same monastery's gate and propylaea with fluted columns (1867), the templon in Kastamonitou Monastery (ca. 1867), a fountain outside Vatopedi Monastery (1884), and the prostyle entrance and gate of Gregoriou Monastery (1894-6).

The practical function of the marble structures is allied with the protective function of the decoration –Ewhose age-old symbols, re-evaluated, are intended to defend the entrance and the waterE– and also with the informative function of relief icons and founders' inscriptions. In the early phase, the composition is characterised by the general features of folk sculpture –Estylisation, symmetrical repetition, the main subject emphasised by its size, horror vacui, optimism, and a decorative tendency. In the second phase, Neoclassicism predominates, with its well-known thematic and stylistic characteristics. Nonetheless, traditional Baroque reliefs survive sporadically in this period too. In all cases, the island workshops predominated.

Alekos E. Florakis

Bibliography: Vlahos 1903. Smyrnakis 1903. Millet - Pargoire - Petit 1904. Lambros 1909, pp. 433-74. Politis 1913, pp. 185-235. Pallas 1953, pp. 413-52. Mylonas 1963, pp. 189-207. Zora 1966, pp. 35-56. Nikodimos 1975. Korre 1978. Vassiliadis 1979. Florakis 1980. Lydakis 1981. Dagoulis - Lyberis 1985. Goulaki-Voutyra 1989. Karagatsi 1990. Theocharidis 1991 (1), pp. 76-86. Theoharidis 1991 (2), pp. 253-70. Florakis 1992, pp. 184-99. Zora 1993, pp. 1-77. Florakis 1995. Hadzifotis 1995. Karagatsi 1996.

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