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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.76 Chalice
Iviron Monastery
Silver gilt and enamel
Height 30 cm, rim diameter 19 cm, base diameter 20 cm


The Original New Testament

This chalice has a wide, deep bowl set on a cylindrical stem with a small embossed knop near the middle. The stem rests on a small eight-lobed foot; narrow bands extending into rounded projections between the lobes mark the surface off into eight sections, while the foot in turn stands on a flat base of the same Late Gothic design. The surface of the bowl is divided horizontally into two zones and vertically into seven sections; depicted in the compartments thus formed is the Dodekaorton. Represented in the lower zone are the Presentation in the Temple, the Baptism, the Transfiguration, the Raising of Lazarus, the Crucifixion, the Descent into Hell and the Annunciation, while in the corresponding positions in the upper zone are the Nativity, the Koimesis, the Ascension, the Entry into Jerusalem, Pentecost and, finally, the Lamentation, which, as the principal scene, occupies a double section. The dead Christ is represented lying on a bier, attended by John, the Virgin and a woman holding a jar of myrrh. The ciborium in the background, flanked by seraphim, invokes the theme of Christ the Sacrificial Lamb, commonly used in eucharistic programmes in monumental painting and on gold-embroidered veils and silver plate (Walter 1982, pp. 220-1. Vei-Chatzidaki 1953, no. 39, pp. 27-9. Theochari 1986, pp. 24-5. Abramichvili 1986, figs. 226-8).

The liturgical character of this vessel is reflected in the inscription running around the rim: + ΠIETE EΞ AYTOY ΠANTEΣ TOYTO EΣTI TO AIMA MOY TO THΣ KAINHΣ ΔIAΘHKHΣ TO YΠEP YMΩN K(AI) ΠOΛΛΩN EKXYNOMENON EIΣ AΦEΣIN AMAPTIΩN ETOYΣ ζης΄ (`Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 1587'). The iconographic programme is continued on the foot and base: the eight sections of the foot are decorated with seraphim, and the flat lobes of the base with alternating, facing pairs of Evangelists and martyrs.

The principal decorative motif on the knop is a pair of ribbons, entwined to form knots and medallions against a ground of deep blue enamel. Standing out against the green enamel ground of these medallions are floral arabesques, with crossed tendrils or open flower motifs reminiscent of the saz leaf and rosette type (Atil 1987, fig. 81, p. 145. Allan, Raby, 1982, pp. 29-30, fig. 5). The narrow bands separating the sections on the foot and base are decorated with palmettes or floral arabesques in low relief (Atil 1987, fig. 79, pp. 143-4. Allan, Raby, 1982, fig. 21).

With its heavy semi-spherical bowl, small knop and small foot (minus the base), this chalice recalls types common in the early Christian and mid-Byzantine eras (Mango 1986, nos. 2 and 3, pp. 73 and 75. Le Tresor de Saint-Marc, no. 16 bis, p. 166), while its lavish pictorial decoration is reminiscent of Late Byzantine carving, particularly the characteristic steatite tablets, icon sheaths and Gospel covers (Loverdou-Tsigarida 1996, fig. 393, p. 460, fig. 314, p. 371, and fig. 433, p. 484. Le Tresor de Saint-Marc, no. 19, p. 177). The workmanship on this chalice, however, is not of the same quality, although the inscription is very carefully done. The flat base, with its Late Gothic survivals and its characteristic aniconic motifs, is typical sixteenth-century work.

With the exception of those from the Western Roman tradition, few older chalices with scenes from the Christological cycle are known, while the lack of comparable pieces from the first century after the Fall of Constantinople precludes comparisons and conclusions (Elbern 1977, pp. 306-10. Skubiszewski 1982, pp. 259-63). However, the weight given here to historical-narrative and dogmatic decoration may be an expression of processes which in an earlier age probably in the Late Byzantine era led to the creation of chalices of this type. Such morphological elements as the Late Gothic details, the knop with its aniconic decoration and the use of deep blue and green enamel, link it with a number of other pieces from approximately the same period, some of which are preserved in the Iviron Monastery; the question of their origin is still unresolved.

Bibliography: Thesauroi fig. p. 18.

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