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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.37 Chalice
Dionysiou Monastery
Silver gilt and enamel
Height 22 cm, rim diameter 10 cm, base diameter 13.2 cm


The Original New Testament

The cup of this chalice is decorated with engraved seraphs and, around the bottom, with arabesques of flowers and foliage which form a sort of calyx. On the facetted stem plain surfaces alternate with delicate floral motifs on an enamel ground. On opposite sides of the embossed knop, a pair of continuously and symmetrically twining ribbons form two medallions with foliate arabesques and crossed tendrils with anthemia, set against an enamel ground. A stepped collet marks the junction of stem and base. The upper part of the base is facetted in the same manner as the stem, but with the plain and decorated surfaces reversed, and broadens smoothly into a low eight-lobed base with sharp points between the lobes. Ornamenting the thick edge of the base is a fret of stylized palmettes. The scroll of tendrils with foliate arabesques and anthemia that covers the decorated sections of the base is worked in flat relief, as is the inscription that runs around the edge; on the undecorated lobes, the lettering is enclosed within a medallion in the same style. The inscription reads as follows: 'ΤΕΤΕΥΞΕ/ ΤΟΥ ΤΙ/ ΕΞΟΔΩ / ΓΑΒ(Ρ)ΙΗΛ ΟΣ/ ΑΦΙΕΡΩΣΑΣ/ ΕΝ ΝΑΩ/ ΤΟΥ ΠΡΟΔΡΟΜΟΥ/ ΕΤΟΥΣ ζΡΒ(' (Made by order and at the expense of Gabriel, who dedicated it to the Church of John the Prodrome in the year 1594/95). An annotation (1603) in a book in the monastery mentions the name 'Prior Gabriel': this Gabriel and the donor of the chalice may well be one and the same (Kadas 1996 (2), p. 77).

This type of chalice, with a flaring cup, a facetted stem and a lobed base with sharp points between the lobes is typical of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italian work (Braun 1932, pp. 100, 118. Collareta 1983, fig. 4b). These Late Gothic features, in either a pure or a degenerate form, continued to be used from time to time until well into the sixteenth century, as we see in this chalice (Braun 1932, pp. 128-9). The style of decoration, however, comes from an entirely different tradition, for - with the exception of the seraph on the cup - the ornamental motifs used have a pronounced Islamic flavour: this is a combination of styles which is found in many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chalices. Similar works are preserved in sacristies and museums throughout the Balkans, evidence of the co-existence of different religious and cultural traditions, of craftsmen from different backgrounds working together, the product of a commingling of styles and trends brought into contact by the movements of merchants, pilgrims, diplomats, etc. (Radojkovic 1966, p. 122, figs. 134-6. Sakota 1984, p. 193, fig. 28, p. 234. Nicolescu 1968, nos. 70-1, pp. 69-70. Ballian 1988-9, pp. 54-60, figs. 4-5. Ikonomaki-Papadopoulos 1990, pp. 270-1, fig. 25). Some of these have been ascribed to workshops in Herzegovina, where the Italian influence was strong, others come from the Ottoman-occupied Danubian principalities bordering on Central Europe, while the provenance of some has never been determined.

The Dionysiou chalice, with its delicate, sophisticated details, is the product of a judicious blend of features from different decorative systems. In many of its details (twining ribbons, broad arabesques with trefoil anthemia and crossed tendrils) it recalls the work of the Venetian bookbinders and the type of brassware known as alla damaschina (late 15th and 16th c.), some of which is now considered to have been imported into Venice from Syria, Egypt and Persia (Ettinghausen 1959, fig. 37. Gruber 1993, pp. 280-4. Pazzi 1993, fig. 498). Constantinople in the sixteenth century was a similar cross-roads of cultures (Rogers - Koseoglu 1987, pp. 37-41). These observations, let it be noted, are made solely to give some idea of the artistic climate and the influences which helped shape this chalice, not to suggest a provenance.

Bibliography: Unpublished.

Y. I.-P.
Index of exhibits of Monastery of Dionysiou
16th century

The Authentic Greek New Testament Bilingual New Testament I

Icon of the Mother of God and New Testament Reader Promote Greek Learning
Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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