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Athos Holy Mount

Church Embroidery
11.25 Pyle with St Nicholas
17th c.
Stavronikita Monastery
124 x 66.5 cm
Asia Minor workshop


The Original New Testament

Represented here is the vision of St Nicholas, as narrated in a tenth-century Life of the saint, in which Christ and the Virgin foretell his elevation to the episcopal throne. The saint is represented full-length and frontal, in the conventional pose of a hierarch. His right hand is raised in blessing, and in his left is a Gospel book with luxurious cover depicting the Anastasis. He wears a phelonion with an overall pattern of crosses, gammate crosses and the monograms IX NK, an epitrachelion with a border of stylized lilies, reversed digammas and aminae, a small omophorion with appliquι crosses on the shoulders, epimanikia, and an epigonation decorated with rosettes and cherubs.

Above, either side of the saint's head and on a smaller scale, are half-length figures of Christ and the Virgin offering the saint a Gospel and an omophorion.

The whole is framed by a narrow border, with the familiar Byzantine pattern of interlaced circles enclosing rosettes and separated by facing pairs of half-leaves, here stylized. The field is decorated with angular stems bearing tulips and carnations.

The saint is depicted in accordance with the description in the Painter's Manual, as 'an elderly man, balding, with a short, rounded beard and a pleasant, serene countenance'. The facial features are schematic: the hair, beard and eyebrows, as well as the wrinkles on the forehead and cheeks, are rendered simply by parallel arcs of brown. His dress is stylized too, whereas the features and the drapery of the figures of Christ and the Virgin are more natural. The broad forehead, intent gaze and drooping moustache are all typical of post-Byzantine monumental painting.

The gold embroidery glows against the rich red of the pure silk cloth. The garments and the flowering tendrils are all worked in gold, while silver thread is used for contrast in the omophoria, the hands, and the outlines of the haloes. The faces, hair, drapery and flowers are all worked in fine coloured silks. While the spirit of Byzantium lives on the figures, the floral decoration of the ground introduces an Oriental note.

This representation of St Nicholas, the patron of the Stavronikita Monastery, replaces the scenes customarily used for the Horaia Pyle (Royal Door) of the katholikon. Today, however, this pyle is only used on the feast day of the saint.

Bibliography: Patrinelis - Karakatsani - Theochari 1974, pp. 198-9, figs. 87-8.

M. Th.
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