Architecture sculpture and painting

In Upper (northern) Egypt the development of early Christian architecture has been seen as predominantly influenced by association with the Mediterranean and Byzantine worlds through the coastal region, while monasticism has been seen as the stimulus for indigenous developments in the towns, cities and monasteries in central and Lower Egypt, although this division cannot be too strictly applied. As elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, the basilica was the core architectural form, with variations. Thus the fourth-century Church of Antinopolis (Antinoe) and the fourth- or fifth-century Church of Pbow had a narrow central nave flanked by side aisles, all of which was encircled by a form of narrow ambulatory that gave on to a small internal apse flanked by side chapels. Others, like the church at Hermopolis (Al-Ashmunein) of the fifth century, had a wide central nave with two side aisles which opened out into a transept with rounded ends to the arms on the north and south sides, beyond which the apse projected to the east. This latter plan was also used in Byzantine architecture, as was the triconch sanctuary at the eastern end of churches in middle Egypt of the fifth to seven centuries. These include the White and Red Monasteries (Dayr al-Abiad and Dayr al-Ahmar) at Sohag. A fully central plan appears in the sixth century in the east basilica of the sanctuary of St Menas, as also in the martyrium at the same site, which has a quatrefoil plan.

The basilica remained the standard form, with a widened central nave and side aisles and internal apse flanked by side rooms. Between the fifth and seventh centuries this is the form employed in the construction of the Monastery of Saqqara and in the churches of Old Cairo in the seventh century itself. The Old Cairo churches with those of the monasteries of the Wadi Natrun (in the Scetis desert) provide examples of that most characteristic feature of Coptic architecture, the khurus. This is the lateral room that was introduced between the central sanctuary (haikal) and the nave, effectively dividing the clergy from the laity. It was common in churches being built from the mid-seventh century onwards, and was also added to certain earlier churches. With the introduction of the vaulted roof, as opposed to the traditional wooden roof, between the tenth and twelfth centuries came the use of a barrel vault over the central nave and the khurus in Lower Egypt, and the appearance of cupolae (domes) over the nave in Upper Egypt.

The complex of buildings at Dayr Abu Mena grew up as a pilgrimage site around the shrine of St Menas, a local saint, martyr and miracle-worker who died at the end of the fourth century. Both archaeological work and the study of literary references have contributed to an understanding of the site, which in the early twenty-first century was listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site in danger. Originally the body of the saint was transferred to a crypt under a cruciform church, but the pressure of vistor numbers led to the building campaign of the early fifth century under imperial patronage. By the end of the fifth century, at the time of Emperor Zeno, the shrine had further developed, having acquired a large basilica (about 55 m long) with wide transepts on the east side of the complex and a projecting apse, divided from the crypt and shrine of St Menas to the west by a tetraconch building between. There was a separate baptistery. With the apse used primarily for burials, the bishop's throne and flanking raised seats for the clergy (synthronon) occupied the area to the west behind the high altar at the transept crossing. With the generous use of marble together with the extensive monastic buildings, baths and accommodation for vistors, and cemeteries, it is easy to see how Abu Mena rivalled the complex of St Symeon Stylites in Syria. As with that pilgrimage site, pilgrims could take away symbolic tokens. In the case of Abu Mena these were pilgrim bottles, which are usually known as ampullae. These small, rounded, terracotta flasks with handles were made at Abu Mena and were also available at other sites connected with the saint's life. They contained holy oil blessed at the site, and water from the spring at Abu Mena. They are moulded with the scene of St Menas standing frontally in the orans pose, with his arms stretched to the sides with palms facing forward, between two camels which kneel with their heads bowed to the saint. This image, of St Menas standing between camels, appeared on a marble panel at the beginning of the fifth century, when the crypt was enlarged. To the west of the tomb chamber was a small underground chapel decorated with mosaic.

The Greco-Roman period in Egypt saw the development of Alexandria as the major centre, whose Hellenized legacy was felt into the Middle Ages. The fifth-century city is only known from documents, as only fragments remain of ancient and early Christian and medieval Alexandria. Here in the former catacombs of Karmuz, funerary chapels with painted apses displayed imagery symbolic of the resurrection. Similar imagery can be seen in other funerary monuments and in churches. An example is the miracle of the loaves and fishes, which makes reference to the Christian symbolism of resurrection through the Eucharist. Of the mausolea in the Bagawit necropolis in the Kharga oasis in the (Libyan) Western Desert, two are particularly significant for their similar displays of the imagery of salvation. The fourth-century programme of the so-called Chapel of the Exodus includes the scene of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. The fifth-century 'Chapel of Peace'(containing the figure of Eirene (Peace) among the personifications around its dome) has paintings of Daniel in the lion's den and of the Sacrifice of Isaac.

At the rock-cut Church of Deir Abu Hennis near Antinoe friezes of the life of Christ are preserved. Dating to the late sixth century is a frieze with New Testament scenes including the Massacre of the Innocents, taking place by order of King Herod, and the Flight into Egypt, to which was added, in the eighth century, a cycle of the life of Zacharias. Carvings in bone and ivory have been found which reflect religious, as well as luxury use. These include liturgical combs with New Testament scenes, one of which, from Antinoe, depicts the raising of Lazarus and the miracle of the healing of the blind man and, on the reverse, an equestrian saint within a wreath supported by two angels (now in the Coptic Museum in Cairo).

Particularly important are the remains from the Monasteries of Bawit and Saqqara, in Middle Egypt, dating to between the sixth and eighth centuries. The Monastery of Bawit, on the west bank of the Nile about 320 km south of Cairo, was excavated in the early years of the twentieth century. Its carved sculpture and paintings are scattered in various collections. Although the most important sites were designated the north and south churches by the excavators, several finds are now believed to have come from private houses and taken subsequently to the monastery. Several capitals and friezes from Bawit are in the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo. The niches of the oratories were painted with imagery which combines the Virgin as the Mother of God with the Child in the lower register with an apocalyptic vision above. One, for example, which dates to the sixth to seventh century, shows the Virgin and Child below, with twelve Apostles and two local saints, and Christ in Majesty enthroned above in a mandorla, on a chariot with wheels. Four wings issue from the side of the mandorla incorporating the four apocalyptic beasts, and there is an angel on either side. This is the imagery of the theophany of Christ, illustrating the Old Testament apocalyptic texts of Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel, as well as that of John. Painting and sculpture is also preserved from the Monastery of St Jeremiah at Saqqara, the necropolis of ancient Memphis. Particularly significant is its sculpture of different periods, much of it from between the fifth and early sixth centuries, which includes the so-called 'wind-blown' capitals of Constantinopolitan sixth-century style. Painting and sculpture can also be seen at the churches of the Red and White Monasteries at Sohag (Dayr al-Ahmar and Dayr al-Abiad).

Other monastic sites in Egypt continue the tradition of wall-painting. In the Wadi Natrun there are vibrant images in the Church of the Virgin at Dayr al-Suryan, the Syrian monastery. At the east end, in the trefoil sanctuary, early thirteenth-century paintings of the Annunciation and Nativity (Figure 19.7) occupy the southern semidome, with the Dormition in the northern semi-dome. The western semi-dome in the church depicted an Ascension scene of the same date. These have bilingual inscriptions in Syriac and Greek indicating a multicultural community of monks in the early thirteenth century. Work at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries in the church consisted of both the uncovering and restoration of other paintings of various dates. Below the scene of the Ascension in the western semi-dome is that of the Annunciation to the Virgin, which includes Old Testament prophets and, in the centre, a lighted censer with burning incense, a visual celebration paralleling the liturgical hymns of the Virgin. Other paintings in the same church include the Nursing Virgin and Child on the half column to the right of the main entrance to the sanctuary.

The Church of the Virgin at Dayr al-Baramus displays recently discovered New Testament paintings on the south wall of c.1200. In the eastern sanctuary are eucha-ristic scenes showing the Sacrifice of Isaac and Abraham with the Old Testament priest Mechisedek. In the apse the Virgin and Child between two angels occupies the lower register with Christ enthroned above. There are paintings of saints in the southern sanctuary. Little is known of the artists of these paintings. However, at St Antony's Monastery near the Red Sea a painter named Theodore undertook work in 1232-3. The programme at St Antony's includes that in a smaller chapel, dedicated to the Four Living Creatures, with the enthroned Christ in Majesty and the apocalyptic beasts between the Virgin and St John. Equestrian saints and monks join the similar apocalyptic imagery found at the monastery churches at Deir el-Fakouri and Deir el-Shuhada at Esna. Three equestrian saints appear, with the archangel Gabriel, on the north wall of the monastery church of the Archangel Gabriel at Naqlun in the Fayyum, built after the ninth century and containing paintings preserved from the eleventh century. These also include the fragmentary Christ in Majesty in the conch of the apse with Apostles below, and niche paintings of the Virgin and Child, St Mark the Evangelist, and St Athanasius. The Virgin and Child with St Michael are depicted on the southern part of the west wall of what is now the narthex

Painting on wood in Egypt is known from the burial portraits from the Fayyum which disappeared from use at the end of the fourth century. Painted icons for Christian use were found on site of the south church of the Monastery of Bawit. A panel of Christ with his arm around St Menas in a gesture of protection, found at Bawit, is now in the Louvre. Contrary to the previously accepted view, which was that icons were abandoned in Egypt between the seventh and the eighteenth centuries, they probably flourished. Several icons are today preserved in collections in Egypt, such as those in the Coptic Museum the Church of Dayr Abu Sayfayn in Old Cairo; some of those in the great icon collection from St Catherine's monastery on Mount Sinai can be attributed to Egypt.

Woodwork has been well preserved in the Egyptian climate. This comprises lintels, door frames and screens as well as icons. Friezes and panels for architectural use repro duced a variety of imagery. A particularly Egyptian example is the appearance of Nilotic scenes, with ducks, crocodiles, fish and hippopotamuses, imagery which was interpreted by sixth-century Christian writers as representing the waters of the Nile and the Creation. The two pairs of doors, of the khurus (choir) and those of the sanctuary of the Church of the Virgin at Dayr al-Suryan in the Wadi Natrun are a good example of wooden doors giving access to a sacred space in a church context. They are dated to the early tenth century and are of great intricacy. The khurus doors, of ebony inlaid with ivory, are dated 926-7, from the time of Abbot Moses of Nisibis. They show, in the upper register, St Peter on the upper left opposite St Mark on the upper right. These are the founders of the patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria. Between them are the central panels, left, of the Virgin, and on the right, of Christ. Christ is designated Emmanuel, a Miaphysite trait, of which an example is illustrated here, as Figure 19.8. Below are five rows of intricate aniconic panels with geometric and cross designs. The sanctuary screen, dated 913-14, repeats the imagery of the Virgin and Christ Emmanuel, and St Mark. Here the Antioch patriarchate is instead represented by St Ignatius, accompanied by the Egyptian Dioscorus and the Syrian Severus. Aniconic panels again appear below. Later surviving panels from church doors include those from the baptistery of the Church of al-Mu'allaqa in Old Cairo, datable to c.1300 and now in the British Museum in London. These include feast scenes, such as that of the Entry into Jerusalem (Figure 19.9).

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