Visual arts

Preserved silver church vessels include patens and chalices, as well as spoons and liturgical fans (flabella), with which deacons kept flies away from the chalices. Several of these came to light in spectacular finds in the twentieth century and are now in museums across the world, especially in Europe and the USA. Some of these finds indicate that silver liturgical vessels were brought to Syria from Constantinople, where they were copied by silversmiths locally. Most are datable by their stamps to between the mid-sixth and early seventh centuries and it has been suggested that several of them may have been made for churches in Resafa, the centre of the cult of St Sergius and home to several other churches, including a famous cathedral. An example of a silver communion paten, or silver plate, is now in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul; it is from the Stuma treasure, but the church to which it was dedicated is unknown. Its imagery depicts the Communion of the Apostles, with Christ shown twice as he performs the Eucharist, once giving bread on the viewer's right to the first of the six waiting Apostles and on the left dispensing the wine to the rest. Above the altar where the scene takes place is a dome from which a lamp is hung, directly above the Host. This paten was donated by a silversmith named Sergius, who had acquired the paten from Constantinople but probably completed the decoration himself, basing his designs on another paten in the same church's collection, the decoration of which had been completed in Constantinople prior to its donation by an official named Megalos.

Pilgrimage tokens, like small coins made of terracotta, celebrate St Symeon the Elder. These show the figure on a column with flying angels bearing crowns on each side and figures below, probably petitioners to the saint. Such objects, cheap to produce and to buy, some engraved in Syriac, gave blessing and protection to the pilgrim. Similar imagery was repeated on objects of value, such as the votive plaque in silver gilt dating to the sixth century in the Louvre in Paris. This plaque shows the saint on his column, a shell above him, and, entwined around the column, a large snake, bearded - as is the saint - and either personifying evil or, conversely, representing the healing god Ascle-pius. It is inscribed in Greek as a thanks-offering to the saint, testimony to the deference paid to a Syrian saint in Byzantine-held Syria. It has been suggested that it could have been displayed on the wall or templon of a church in a village near Ma'arret en-Noman, where it was found.

Churches were painted, as we have seen, and more became known of wall-painting in Syria and Lebanon during the last quarter of the twentieth century. A painting of the Annunciation, dating probably to between the early sixth and early eighth centuries, has been discovered in a secular building. It is on a pillar in the Kastron of al-Andarin (Androna), which was founded in 558-9. An important wall-painting is preserved in the monastery church of Mar Musa Habashi, near Nebek, a foundation of the fifth century, and work is still being undertaken, in the early twenty-first century, to uncover it. So far two layers of painting have been identified, one of after 1058 and the other of 1192. The earlier layer includes a dramatic scene of the Ascension of Elijah, a scene which also appears in the eleventh century in the Church of St Elijah at Ma'arret Saidnaya. The late twelfth century layer displays an extensive programme. In the bema, the lower part of the apse, stands the Virgin, her arms outstretched, holding a medallion of the Christ child, the so-called Blachernitissa image, flanked by church fathers. In the main semi-dome of the apse above is the image of the Deesis (Christ supplicated by the Virgin and St John the Baptist) with Christ in Majesty. These are paralleled by apse painting in Lebanese churches, including those at the church of Mar Tadros in Bahdeidat, and the churches of Mar Mitri and Saqqiyat el-Hait.

The portrait of the young Christ Emmanuel in the church at Mar Musa beams down from the top of the triumphal arch leading to the central sanctuary, above a window and below the roof gable. On either side of the window are Mary and Gabriel, depicting the Annunciation. These scenes are shown against a blue ground with inscriptions in both Syriac and Greek. Below the Annunciation, at the base of the window, is the older Christ Pantocrator, flanked by St Peter and St Paul and four Evangelists. In the upper register of the nave on both north and south are equestrian saints, including St George, Bacchus(?), St Sergius and St Theodore. Equestrian saints are commonly found in wall-painting in this period, other examples being at the nearby Melkite Church of Mar Sarkis at Oara and the chapel of the Monastery of Mar Yaqub, which is also at Oara, in the Oalamoun mountains, and was inhabited by Melkites until the mid-thirteenth century. In the spandrels of the nave arches are the writing Evangelists, with female saints and martyrs decorating the arch soffits. At the east end of the north aisle is the restored Baptism of Christ, and on the north wall is the scene of David and the Lion. The west wall depicts the Last Judgement. At the top are Peter and Paul. Below them is the Hetoimasia, the Prepared Throne, with Apostles and Evangelists. Below the Heto-imasia are Adam and Eve, with the three patriarchs and Mary on the viewer's left and heretical bishops on the viewer's right. Finally, the rest of the scene is taken up with the saved, on the viewer's left, and the damned on the right.

The image painted by King Abgar's messenger to Christ in Jerusalem was replicated in the form of an icon painted on wood prior to the eighth century, when the image was transferred to a cloth or mandylion. It is in this form that it was taken to Constantinople by order of the Emperor Romanos I in 944, and was depicted in an actual icon of the tenth century which is at the Monastery of St Catherine, Mount Sinai. This icon depicts King Abgar receiving the mandylion, with saints, including St Ephrem and St Basil, with monastic saints and the Apostle St Thaddeus. Wall-painting in Syria and present-day Lebanon can be studied in conjunction with painted icons preserved at the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai. Belonging to the contested domain of

'crusader' art, these include panels given by Christian Arab and Latin donors, an example being a small panel of a woman supplicating the equestrian saint Sergius. He carries a red cross banner and his arms suggest he was fighting with the Mongol army as part of the East Christian support in driving the Mamluks out of Syria. Another, an icon of the Virgin and Child of the Hodegetria type at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Kaftun, located between Tripoli and Batrun, which has the Baptism of Christ on the reverse, has also been compared to icon painting at Sinai. Its inscriptions in Greek, Arabic and Syriac, as well as its similarity to wall-painting in the Oadisha valley, suggest its Melkite use.

The art of the book is well represented in Syrian church culture. An early, famous, manuscript is the Rabbula Gospels, now in the Biblioteca Laurentiana in Florence; it was copied by the monk Rabbula at the Monastery of St John at Beth Zagba on the Euphrates in 586.The manuscript opens with an elaborate set of canon tables, the list of concordance between the four Gospels. The Syriac reference to the appropriate Gospel is written between columns which support elaborately decorated arches and then canopies above. At the top stand birds with foliage and sometimes vases. At the top on either side are Old Testament figures, with New Testament figures and scenes in the margins below. Full-page illustrations of the Virgin and Child, the Crucifixion, Ascension, Christ Enthroned, the Election of St Matthew as an Apostle, and Pentecost are clustered at the beginning of the book.

Scribes were commissioned to produce manuscripts for monasteries and individuals throughout the areas of the Middle East where Syriac was spoken or, at a later date, retained its use as a liturgical language. This is known from scribal signatures and the colophon, or concluding statement at the end of a manuscript, as well as notes written in several manuscripts at various times. Manuscripts were also moved between one monastery and another, either to act as a model for a copy, or for safe-keeping, or to initiate or replenish the stock of manuscripts. An example of the latter instance is the removal of manuscripts from Iraq to Dayr al-Suryan, the Monastery of the Syrians, in the Scetis desert in Egypt. This was undertaken by the Abbot Moses in the tenth century as part of his refurbishment of the monastery, a renovation which included the adding of 'Abbasid, Iraqi-style, stuccoes in the sanctuary of the monastery church of the Virgin. Several of these manuscripts are now in the British Library in London and are undergoing restoration. Another is the collection and production of manuscripts by the great Syrian patriarch and chronicler of the twelfth century, Michael the Syrian (patriarch 1166-99), at his Monastery of Mar Barsauma near Malatya (Melitene).

A number of particularly fine illustrated lectionaries are preserved from the flourishing period of the later twelfth to thirteenth centuries known as the 'Syrian Renaissance'. This is the period of the crusades, when Eastern Christian culture intersects with that of the incoming westerners. St Mark's in Jerusalem, which was patronized by Oueen Melisende of Jerusalem in the twelfth century, is an example of a monastery in which manuscripts were produced, as is attested by preserved unillustrated ones. One example of a lectionary, that from Deir ez-Zapharan and now in the Library of the Church of the Forty Martyrs in Mardin, was made by Dioscorus Theodorus, later Bishop of Hisn Zaid (now Kharput) in the mid-thirteenth century. Bound between thick wooden covers, it has miniatures whose iconography can be traced to Syriac hymns, homilies and exegesis. Its scene of the Communion of the Apostles is similar to that of the Stuma paten already mentioned. The illustrations in lectionaries such as these contain elements of everyday life and of direct contemporary relevance. Turbaned figures and highly decorative architecture occur in the Entry into Jerusalem scene in the thirteenth-century Syriac lectionary in London (B.L. Add 7170, Figure 19.3), features which also appear in contemporary secular Arabic manuscripts.

Another contemporary element is the appearance of Constantine and his mother Helena, the finder of the True Cross in Jerusalem, with Mongol facial features. The clearest example is the image in another lectionary made at the Monastery of Mar Mattai near Mosul in 1260, which shows Constantine and his mother Helena holding the True Cross between them. Their Mongol features associate them with the contemporary Mongol Ilkhan Hulagu and his Christian wife Doghuz Khatun. This reflects the faith and trust in the alliance which Eastern Christians made with the Mongol forces at the time, when battling to stave off the Mamluk Islamic armies and with the hope of regaining the Holy Land. The Christian-Mongol alliance is further celebrated by the contemporary portrait of Hulagu's Christian general Kitbugha as one of the three Magi, again with Mongol features, in a Nativity/Adoration scene on an iconostasis beam at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St Catherine at Mount Sinai. This was arguably painted by a Syrian Melkite artist. Kitbugha was a member of the Church of the East, as was Khatun, and both were regarded as descendants of the Magi.

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