An Evaluation on Anonymity and Known Painters in Byzantine Painting ArtGülşah Uslu
Most of the mosaic, fresco and icon examples of Byzantine painting art are anonymous. Anonymity is closely related to the devotional intentions of the painters during the copying of the cult images. Icons attributed to St. Luke, the first painter according to Christianity, also concealed the identity of the painter. However, this situation did not prevent all painters expressing their own identities in their works. There are known mosaic masters, fresco and icon painters such as Ephraim, Georgios Kallierges, Angelos Akotantos from Crete, Michael Astrapas and Petrus. These artists are known from church dedication inscriptions and the signatures they leave on their works. Church dedication inscriptions containing the names of artists have survived from all periods of the Byzantine Empire. This situation shows a craft tradition that has been maintained since the Early Byzantine Period. In the 12th century, painters began to leave their prayers and signatures on their works. It became more common in the 14th century. In this study, the reasons for the anonymity seen in Byzantine painting are examined more clearly. The inclusion of the names of the painters in the church dedication inscriptions and their use of signatures were evaluated in terms of social-economic and function.
Bizans Resim Sanatında Anonimlik ve İsimleri Bilinen Ressamlar Üzerine Bir Değerlendirme*Gülşah Uslu
Bizans resim sanatının günümüze ulaşan mozaik, fresko ve ikona örneklerinin büyük bir kısmı anonimdir. Diğer bir ifade ile birçok eser ressamın kimliğine ilişkin bir işaret içermemektedir. Anonimliğin sebebi kült işlevi görmüş imgelerin kopyalanması sırasında ressamların kutsal kişilere olan adanmışlık niyetleri ile yakından ilişkilidir. Bununla birlikte, yapılan ikonaların Hristiyanlığa göre ilk ressam olan Aziz Luka’ya atfedilmesi de ressamın kimliğini gizlemiştir. Bu durum tüm ressamların eserlerinde kimliklerini belirtmelerine tamamen engel olmamıştır. Ephraim, Georgios Kallierges, Giritli Angelos Akotantos, Michael Astrapas ve Petrus gibi isimleri bilinen mozaik ustası, fresko ve ikona ressamları da vardır. Bu sanatçılar kilise ithaf yazıtlarından ve eserleri üzerine bıraktıkları imzalardan bilinmektedir. Sanatçı isimlerini içeren kilise ithaf yazıtları Bizans İmparatorluğu’nun tüm dönemlerinden günümüze ulaşmıştır. Bu durum Bizans İmparatorluğu’nun herhangi bir döneminde yaşanan bir değişime bağlı olmayan ve Erken Bizans Dönemi’nden beri sürdürülen bir zanaat geleneğini göstermektedir. Kilise yazıtları haricinde 12. yüzyılda ressamlar eserleri üzerine isimlerini içeren dualarını ve imzalarını bırakmaya başlamışlardır. Ressamların eserlerinde imza kullanmaları 14. yüzyıla gelindiğinde ise daha yaygın bir hâle gelmiştir. Bu çalışmada Bizans resminde görülen anonimliğin sebepleri incelenmiştir. Ressamların kilise ithaf yazıtlarında isimlerine yer verilmesi ve imza kullanımları sosyal-ekonomik ve işlev açısından değerlendirilmiştir.
The main reason for Byzantine painters’ anonymity is the copying of cult images. The first original images in Christianity are known as “Acheiropoieta”, which are believed not to have been made by human hands. Some of these images are Kamouliani, Edessa and Memphis images. Another image believed to have miraculous power is the Hodegetria icon of the Virgin Mary, thought to have been created by Saint Luke, the author of the Gospel and a painter, and named after the monastery where it was later found. During the 7th century, while the Byzantine Empire faced Persian, Avar, and Arab attacks, interest in Acheiropoieta images with miraculous powers increased. The spread of legends about these images led to the copying of cult images. However, there have been opposing views in the Christian faith against images since early times. Those who defended the icons against such views emphasized the painting of St. Luke and argued that using images and production practices was a tradition from the apostolic period.
The oldest icons rescued from the destructiveness of the iconoclasts by the end of the Iconoclasm period were considered equivalent to the paintings made by Saint Luke. These oldest icons, interpreted as authentic or original, formed an archetype for later ones. For instance, numerous copies of the Hodegetria Virgin Mary icon attributed to Saint Luke were made in the 11th century.
Byzantine painters became anonymous because of copying the Acheiropoieta, or an original archetype. The painter’s devotional intention to the holy persons prevented him from using his name while making a new icon from an archetype. Therefore, the attribution of the icons made to Saint Luke, the first painter according to Christianity, also caused the painter to hide his identity. Many Byzantine painters produced works anonymously. However, some mosaicists and fresco painters recorded their names in dedicatory inscriptions. In addition to this situation, icon and fresco painters started to use their signatures in their works in the 12th century.
Church dedication inscriptions are one of the primary sources of information about Byzantine mosaic masters and fresco painters. Dedication inscriptions containing the names of the artists are found in churches that have survived from the Early, Middle and Late Byzantine periods. This situation shows a known and maintained craft practice in the Byzantine Empire. The names of artists such as Elpidos, Ephraim, Nikolaos of Rekitza and Georgios Kalliergis are known through church dedication inscriptions.
In addition to church dedication inscriptions, it is seen that as of the 12th century, painters began to use their signatures on icons and wall paintings. The use of signatures by painters is related to the social and economic changes of the period. These social and economic changes continued increasingly during the Late Byzantine period. In parallel with these developments, using signatures by artists became common in the 14th century. Artist signatures come in two forms: the first usually containing the artist’s name, while the second consists of a prayer containing his name.
The painter’s name is Stephanos, and it is known from the prayer he placed in the lower frame of the icons. It is the earliest dated example bearing the signature of the painter of the icons of Moses and Elijah, dated to the end of the 12th century and found in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. Again, a painter named Peter made three icons found in the St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai and they are dated to the beginning of the 13th century. The artist’s signature is on the front of these two icons.
In the Byzantine Empire, using signatures by artists became more common as of the 14th century. Michael Astrapas, one of the famous painters of the period, is known for the signatures he left in the churches where he made the fresco program. The earliest dated building with the painter’s signature is the Peribleptos Church in Ohrid, built by the Byzantine commander Progonos Sgouros. Michael Astrapas went to Serbia in the following years and he worked under the patronage of King Stefan Uroš II Milutin (1282-1321). Another famous painter of the late Byzantine period is Angelos Akotantos of Crete. Most of the icons he made bear his signature.
When the signatures are evaluated according to their position, they call for protection from God, or a Saint, or beg forgiveness of their souls in the afterlife. When the church dedication inscriptions and the signatures of the artists are examined, besides the independent painters, it is seen that there are also painters who are clergies, such as priests, monks or deacons. Painters often worked with family members and collaborated with other painters on more significant works. While some only operated in their own towns, painters such as Michael Astrapas and Georgios Kalliergis have worked and are known in the wider region. In addition, during the Late Byzantine period, painters went to other Orthodox countries such as Serbia and Russia and played a role in the spread of Byzantine art. As a result, Byzantine painting is not a completely anonymous art, contrary to popular belief. Artists have modestly expressed their identities through church dedication inscriptions, signatures, and prayers.