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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.34 Book cover 'by the hand of Loukas of Hungary-Wallachia' and 'Iakovos, hieromonk of Simonopetra'
Simonopetra Monastery
Silver gilt, 37 x 25.5 cm
1677, Transylvania



The Original New Testament

The focal scenes on the panels forming this book cover are the Anastasis (front) and the Crucifixion (back), the latter being executed to a smaller scale, since it has to share the limited space of the panel with the Nativity, to which the katholikon of the Simonopetra Monastery is dedicated. The corners are occupied by the Prophets David, Solomon, Zechariah and Isaiah, and the Evangelists. On both sides the remaining space is filled with thirteen medallions depicting scenes from the Revelation, inspired by the illustrations in German editions of the Bible in Luther's translation. The first edition with engravings by Lucas Cranach (Lother 1522), subsequently reprinted with five new scenes (Luft 1529 and 1530), was repeatedly re-published in new and different versions, and thus served as a constant source of inspiration for many artists. The scene from Chapter 20 (79) in which the devil, essaying to besiege 'the beloved city', is defeated and 'cast into the lake of fire' struck a special chord, for it was associated with the Ottoman siege of Vienna (1529) in a period when the Turkish threat to Central Europe was still very real (see front cover, left side, ch. 20).

According to a short chronicle on page 371r, the first costly book cover made for the manuscript in 1657 'had by the inexperience of the goldsmith nothing of seemliness or of comeliness'; the hieromonk Gregorios of Simonopetra, therefore, sent it to Brasov, in Hungary, where in 1677 the original cover was replaced with the existing one. Gregorios' contribution is commemorated in the inscriptions of the cover: (on the front) 'ΜΝΗΣΘΗΤΗ Κ(ΥΡΙ)Ε ΤΩΝ ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΩΝ / ΔΟΥΛΩΝ ΣΟΥ ΤΩΝ ΒΟΗΘΗΣΑΝΤΩΝ ΚΕ / ΣΗΝΔΡΟΜΗΣΑΝΤΩΝ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΘΙΩ ΚΕ Ι/ΕΡΩ ΣΟΥ ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΩ ΤΟΥΤΩ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙ(ΟΥ)' (Remember O Lord those faithful servants who helped Demetrios with this Holy Gospel) and (on the back) 'ΤΑ ΣΑ ΕΚ ΤΩΝ ΣΩΝ ΣΥ Χ(ΡΙΣΤ)Ε ΠΡΟΣ/ΦΕΡΕΙ Ο ΕΥΤΕΛΕΙΣ ΔΟΥΛΟΣ ΣΟΥ ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΣ ΙΕΡΟΜΟΝΑΧΟΣ ΤΑ ΟΠΟΙΑ/ ΠΡΟΣΔΕΞΕ Κ(ΥΡΙ)Ε ΚΑΙ ΕΛΕΗΣΟΝ ΗΜΑΣ' (Accept O Christ this offering from Thy humble servant hieromonk Gregorios, and have mercy upon us, for of Thine own do we give Thee).

In addition to the stylistic affinities - Transylvania was a predominately Protestant region (Fodor 1994, pp. 18, 20) where the German iconographical models were readily available - the provenance of this cover is confirmed by the stamp and signature of the craftsman, with the monogram VA IC. Other works signed by the same artist, also with scenes from the Apocalypse, include Gospel covers in the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem (1671) and in the Cotroceni Monastery in Bucharest (1681). A fourth, similar, cover is preserved in the Monastery of Xeropotamou.

Bibliography: Ikonomaki-Papadopoulos 1991, pp. 166-7, figs. 85-8.

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