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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.65 Wooden icon-stand with inlaid bone decoration
Dionysiou Monastery
Height 114 cm, length 51 cm, width 45.5 cm


The Original New Testament

The ornamentation of the icon-stand consists of tiny bone inlays and pieces of wood of different types and shades. Compartments of stellar ornaments made from microscopic lozenges or triangles of bone alternate with compartments in which little rectangular bone inlays are set in a check pattern, each square containing a green-painted ornament. On the upper surface, where the icon rests, a repeated stellar pattern is surrounded by a border of crosses. The area containing the double guilloche that adorns both the vertical sides and the upper surface is of light-coloured wood.

The technique, which traces its origins to Egypt under the Mamelukes (Koehnel 1950, pp. 59ff.), spread to Constantinople particularly after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1512. It was also well received in northern Italy and Venice, where furniture with inlaid geometric patterns, known as alla certosina, began to be made at the end of the fifteenth century (Feulner 1927, pp. 122-3. Dictionary of Arts 1996, 10, p. 178). The Italian furniture seems to have assisted the spread of the technique both to Constantinople (Rogers - Ward 1988, p. 157) and to the Balkans. On Mount Athos itself, in Chelandari Monastery, a rare example survives in the form of a 'Savonarola' chair (Rorimer 1928. Han 1966, fig. 60).

The year ZNE( (AD 1547), represented by inlaid light-coloured wooden letters, makes the Dionysiou icon-stand one of the earliest ecclesiastical specimens of this technique (cf. the throne of Prochoros, Archbishop of Ochrid, 1528, in Han 1966, figs. 1-2). This early phase is characterised by exclusively geometric ornamentation, which, after the middle of the century, was enriched with Ottoman-type decoration. The next two examples, chronologically speaking - the doors of Vatopedi Monastery (1567) and the patriarchal throne of Ieremias II (1577) - are decorated with Ottoman-type floral and vegetal repertory (Vatopedi 1996, I, fig. 40. Ballian 1988-9, figs. 10-12).

The manufacture of the icon-stand in 1547 coincides with the year that the katholikon of Dionysiou Monastery was completed by the ruling Prince of Moldavia, Petro Rares (Smyrnakis 1903, p. 508), and decorated with frescoes by the Cretan painter Zorzis. The craftsman, or rather the group of craftsmen who made the icon-stand also produced other items, such as a small hexagonal table dated to 1546 and the doors, apart from the Royal Doors, and large window shutters in the inner narthex and the narthex (Kadas 1997, p. 54): that is to say, five double shutters and the single door to the chapel, all done in the same inlay technique as the icon-stand and with variations on the same geometric ornaments. It seems reasonable to suppose that this impressive commission was paid for by the ruling Prince of Moldavia.

Bibliography: Unpublished.

A. M.
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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