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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.62 Episcopal staff
Iviron Monastery
Wood, silver gilt, enamel, niello, ivory and other materials
158.7 x 17 cm


The Original New Testament

The head of this staff, with its twin dragons, is carved in ivory and ornamented with a crescent of nephrite and gemstones (?) in floral gilt mounts. On the strip binding the head to the shaft is the inscription: 'ΑΡΧΙΘΥΤΟΥ ΠΕΦΥΚΕ / ΛΑΡΙΣΗΣ ΤΟΔΕ * ΒΥ / ΖΑΝΤΟΣ ΟΣ ΓΗΙΞΕ / ΔΙΟΝΥΣΙΩ ΑΧΞΒ' (Property of that Dionysios, Bishop of Larissa, who was called Byzantios, 1662). The staff is entirely covered with inlays of mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell in a pattern imitating the 'scales' on the back of a snake. It is made in five sections, the joins covered by facetted collets, each decorated with a floral motif in gilt on a light blue ground of champlevι enamel. In the centre of each facet is an ornament, alternately a gemstone (?) set in a floral gilt mount or a gilt rosette on a green enamel ground. The tip of the staff is sheathed in silver, its facets alternately gilt with a gilt floral motif and silver with a dense floral scroll highlighted with niello.

In this period, in the episcopal staffs as also in all the symbols of office of the higher clergy features characteristic of the art of Constantinople are usually displayed. Since the sixteenth century exotic and precious materials like ivory, mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell and nephrite had been highly appreciated in the Sultan's court for the manufacture and ornamentation of costly and sumptuous furnishings (Rogers 1985 (1), pp. 339-40. Rogers 1985 (2), pp. 320-4. Atil 1987, pp. 166-7). The same opulence and desire for display is reflected in the ornately bejewelled and inlaid articles fashioned of a variety of materials, such as the ivory hilts made for swords and daggers (Atil 1987, pp. 118-9, 159, fig. 93). Niello and champlevι enamelwork in delicate floral patterns further contributed to the glowing prism of colours and, as the techniques par excellence characteristic of this second half of the seventeenth century, reflected the spirit of the age.

This staff belonged to Patriarch Dionysios IV Mouselimis when he was still Metropolitan of Larissa (1622-71). Demetrios Comnenos-Mouselimis was a scion of a noble and wealthy family from Constantinople, one of those which, according to seventeenth-century sources of 1671 and 1695, had settled in the Imperial capital around the time of its Fall and had managed to retain all their privileges (Apostolopoulos 1980, pp. 46-8, 59-62, 70). A man of undisputed intelligence and scholarship, he adopted the name Dionysios on his elevation to the episcopal throne of Larissa, and subsequently served five times as Patriarch (1671-94). In 1678 he donated his entire library to the Monastery of Iviron; many of the monastery's treasures were his gifts (see nos. 9.42 and 9.43; Gedeon 1883-4, pp. 480-1. Smyrnakis 1903, p. 479) ().

Bibliography: -

Y. I.-P.
Index of exhibits of Monastery of Iviron
17th 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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