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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.83 Artoklasia
Height 40 cm, diameter 41 cm, base diameter 20 cm


The Original New Testament

Occupying the centre of the artoklasia disk, on a separate plate of silver, is a representation of the Virgin and Child in low relief; carved into the rim of this disk is the inscription: '+ Η ΠΑΡΟΥΣΑ ΑΡΤΟΚΛΑΣΙΑ ΥΠΑΡΧΗ ΚΤΗΜΑ ΤΗΣ ΚΥΡΙΑΣ ΤΟΝ ΚΑΡΙΩΝ ΤΗΣ ΠΑΡΘΕΝΟΥ Κ(ΑΙ) ΘΕΟΤΟΚΟΥ ΜΑΡΙΑΣ ΤΟΥ ΠΡΩΤΑΤΟΥ ΕΓΕΝΕΤΟ ΙΑΝΟΥΑΡ(Ι)ΟΣ + ΔΕ ΕΝ ΕΤΕΙ 1746' (This artoklasia is the property of Our Lady of Karyes of the Protaton and was made in January of the year 1746). The representation is surmounted by a church-shaped ciborium, rising over a supporting arcade with slender colonettes. The roof of the ciborium is divided into eight segments, decorated with with flora motifs, each with a small cast hexagonal cupola. A moulded ornamental garland overhangs the arcade from the edge of the ciborium, with small angels placed above each column. Surmounting the ciborium is a conical cupola with a cross, decorated with flowers and foliage. The iconographic programme of the artoklasia proper occupies a band outside the central disk, its figures standing out against a rough ground and framed by an arcade carved in relief. Flanked by the full-length figures of the Virgin and John the Baptist in supplication, Christ is represented blessing in the Multiplication of the loaves and fishes miracle (Matt. 14: 13-22). He is holding a small loaf, from a dish with five loaves and two fishes resting on the lap of a tiny figure on the left. On the opposite side are depicted Sts Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin, standing between the Prophet David and Stephen, the first deacon, who is holding a censer and an incense casket. This proclaims Mary's descent from the royal house of David, and establishes a link between the Incarnation and the eucharistic character of the vessel (Papamastorakis 1989-90, pp. 226, 230). The remaining positions beneath the arches are occupied by the twelve apostles, identified by monogram inscriptions.

Affixed to the broad rim of the disk are six sockets: three decorated with a pattern of foliage on a rough ground and holding flasks for oil, wine and wheat, and three in the form of dragon's heads, for candles. A scroll of flowers and foliage decorates the surface between them. The disk rests on a cylindrical stem with a wide annula, decorated with spiral pear-shaped bosses, each displaying a foliate motif in low relief; this ornament is repeated on the rounded foot. Engraved on the narrow rim of the flat base is the inscription: 'ΣΗΝΔΡΟΜΗ Κ(ΑΙ) ΕΞΟΔΟΣ ΤΟΝ ΚΕΛΙΩΤΟΝ' (With the aid and at the expense of the kelliotae monks).

The celebration of the artoklasia (breaking of the bread), or the 'blessing of the loaves', is connected with the symbolic significance of bread and takes place during the latter part of the service of vespers on major feast days or on the feast day of the saint commemorated, which, in monastic tradition, is celebrated with a pernoctation (Fountoulis 1963, pp. 286-9). In commemoration of Christ's blessing of the five loaves, the officiating priest blesses five loaves, as well as the oil, wine and wheat, which are dedicated to the church. Artoklasia disks of this and other types were produced in the seventeenth century by silversmiths in Serbia and Bulgaria (Iconomaki-Papadopoulos 1990, p. 273, fig. 34. Nikodemos 1988, fig. on p. 73. Radojkovic 1966, figs. 148, 152, 161. Sotirov 1984, figs. 40-2).

This artoklasia dish displays a variety of styles, in both iconography and execution. The arcade of figures against a rough ground recalls pieces from an earlier era, the work of silversmiths from the Bulgarian centre of Ciprovtsi, who after its destruction in 1688 scattered throughout the region (Zalesskaja 1996, fig. 1a). The stylized floral scroll on the rim, however, resembles both in form and style the work of eighteenth-century Vlach craftsmen (L'art albanais 1974, no. 408. Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art 1986, no. 226). The moulded ornaments and the arcade under the ciborium, with its ornamental full-length angels, closely resemble comparable features on a 1644 casket presented to the Great Lavra by the Wallachian ruler Matteu Basarab, while the hexagonal cupolas reflect features of Romanian architecture (Nikodemos L. 1988, fig. on p. 72. Deligiannis 1995, figs. on pp. 173, 174. Sotirov 1984, figs. 47, 48). Finally, the floral decoration on the surface of the ciborium and on the foot, although rendered with a certain fluidity, has a pronounced calligraphic quality, quite unlike the corresponding decoration on the disk.

The lack of stylistic unity, indeed the simultaneous presence of so many different styles in the same piece, could be explained if we accept that this artoklasia was made in two stages - first the disk proper, and later the ciborium and the foot - and that it incorporated elements from earlier pieces. This is borne out by the fact that the inscriptions on the base and the disk are obviously the work of two different craftsmen. An artoklasia with similar characteristics and the date 1777 is kept in the Skete of St Anne.

Bibliography: Millet - Pargoire - Petit 1904, no. 22, p. 9.

Y. I.-P.
Index of exhibits of Protato
18th 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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