The Winged Figure of Saint John the BaptistIşık Eflan Tınaz
This article contains the theological substructures and the iconographic analysis of the Winged Saint John the Baptist figure. The answer to the question of why John the Baptist was thought as a winged, has been sought out by using the references of Holy Books, examining not only his mission and identity but also his life story It has been established that despite having roots in the 4th century, the first example of Saint John the Baptist as winged was founded at the South transept wall of Saint Achilles Church in Serbia from 13th century. Moreover this special depiction had been included in the iconographic program during the Post-Byzantine period. The icon examples of Winged Saint John are classified into 4 sections as follows: the front, the profile, the part of the composition with other saints and as a secondary figure in his own birth scene. This classification is composed according to the formal differences of those icons.
Kanatlı Olarak Betimlenen Vaftizci Yahya FigürüIşık Eflan Tınaz
Bu makale, Vaftizci Yahya’nın kanatlı olarak betimlenişinin teolojik alt yapısını ve figürün kullanım şekillerinin ikonografik olarak çözümlemelerini içermektedir. Vaftizci Yahya’nın neden ötürü kanatlı olarak düşünüldüğü sorusuna, Vaftizci’nin misyon ve kimliği birlikte incelenerek, Kutsal Kitap referanslarına dayanılarak ve yaşam öyküsü incelenerek cevap aranmıştır. Kökleri 4. Yüzyıl’a dayanan bu tasarımın, ilk örneği 13. Yüzyıla tarihlenen Sırbistan Aziz Akhilleus Kilisesi güney transept duvarında tespit edilmiş, buna karşılık ikonografik programa Post Bizans dönem içinde dâhil edildiği saptanmıştır. Kanatlı olarak betimlenen Vaftizci Yahya figürü ikon örnekleri, cepheden gösterilen, profilden gösterilen, kendi doğum sahnesinde ikincil bir figür olarak gösterilen ve azizler ile birlikte toplu kompozisyon içinde gösterilen Kanatlı Vaftizci Yahya olarak dört sınıfa ayrılmıştır. Bu sınıflandırma, biçimsel farklılıklar bağlamında oluşturulmuştur.
The theological bases of the description of Saint john the Baptist as winged began with the fact that God called upon him by using the specific word messenger which is based on the root of the word angel, then strengthened through the belief for which Saint John the Baptist has been considered to be the resurrection of the Prophet Elijah, and raised furthermore with Saint John the Baptist’s angelic lifestyle in the desert in which he carried out all his missions such as being a Mediator, Messenger, Baptist and the first witness of Jesus Christ. Finally, those theological bases have been widely expanded by the interpretations of Church Fathers and theologians. Saint John the Baptist has been seen as an unique and sacred figure of the Christian art iconography due to the specific nature of his two different identities which blend into one personality for being a Messenger-Forerunner as the last Prophet of the Old Testament by “preparing the way of the Lord” and being the Baptist as the first Prophet of the New Testament by baptising the Lord. This position made him the Bridge between the Old and New Testament. The main significant source and starting point of the attribution of angelic features to Saint John the Baptist is in Mark 1:2-5 in which he was called upon by God himself using the word of angelon (ἄγγελόν) which means Messenger and Forerunner based on the word for angel in Greek. Hereby, an angel-like position is added to the components of his identity. One of the other important reason why Saint John the Baptist is attributed with wings is linked to his association with Elijah Prophet. The story of Elijah Prophet in which he was taken by God before his death and the belief of his future return on earth before salvation day and his transformation into an angel, feeds intensely the thought of the theological base of the angel-man combination in the frame of the Old and New Testaments relationship. The references from the Old Testament about his return and preparation of the way of the Lord before salvation day, are repeated during the announcement of Saint John the Baptist’s birth in the New Testament. It is revealed that this mission of preparing the way was given to John the Baptist. (Malachi 4:5, 3:1). There are obvious similarities between the words from Malachi in the Old Testament and the speech of the Angel to Zechariah during the Announcement of Saint John the Baptist in the New Testament. (Luke 1: 13-17). The same meaning could be found in the words from Zechariah on his doxology for his son. (Luke 1: 76-77). The identification of Saint John the Baptist as Elijah is emphasized in Matthew 11: 9-15 by Jesus himself as well as in one of the dialogue in Matthew 7: 10-13, in which Saint John the Baptist is directly called Elijah’s resurrection. (Matthew 11: 9-1) The common denominators between Saint John the Baptist and Elijah are observed as being Messengers and Forerunners as well as sharing the same way of life. This same lifestyle called Mimessis ton Angelon which means being angel-like, is linked with being ordered by the Archangel to go to the desert. Indeed, both of them spent secluded life in the desert in the form of the “Angel of the Wilderness” in order to be far from all temporary terrestrial things while inviting people to redemption from there. The term “Angel of the Wilderness” which has been attributed to Saint John the Baptist is due to this lifestyle and is mentioned in several sections of the Holy Book as a way of depicting him. For example, it has been used in Isaiah 40:3 as well as several times in the New Testament. (Isaiah 40:3 Matthew 3:1-3, Mark 1:2-4, Luke 3:2-6, John 1:23.) Identified as an Eschatological Prophet, Saint John the Baptist, had a gradual path. He was called upon with the word of Messenger-Angel by God and had been accepted as a prophet since his birth due to his association with Elijah. Then, through Jesus’s words, he earned the qualification which made him superior to the other prophets and started his new position for which he came to be seen as Angel-like. Another parallel between Saint John the Baptist and Angels could be found in the belief that the Angels were created before the big Creation. This thought has been defended by Church Fathers such as Origenus (184–254), Gregorios of Nazianus (330–390), Ioannes of Damascus (?-754) and Saint Ambrose (340–397). This association is linked with the story in Luke 1: 41-45 in the New Testament in which it is written that Saint John the Baptist was filled with Holy Spirit even before both his own birth and Jesus’ birth. The description of Saint John the Baptist as winged has been widely used in the production of icons, especially in Russian and Cretan art in the PosByzantine period, whereas, the first example as a monumental painting and part of the specific program were found in the south transept wall of Saint Achilles Church in Serbia, in 1296. The relevant explanation to the question of why this description was first found in Serbia, is that Serbia has its own iconographic program which evolved according to the specific orthodoxy understandings of Serbia. At this point, the Cult of Slava, which is the foundation of the Serbian orthodoxy, prepared the appropriate base for its implementation. The Cult of Slava includes components such as; confirmation of the first baptised person as Saint of the family, the strong importance laid on the concept of the ascetic life and Martyrs. In the frame of this characteristic mentality, Saint John the Baptist has been seen as Patron Saint of the country due to his Baptist identity and his ascetic life as “Angel of the Wilderness”. The example of the Church of Saint Achilles in Arilije, also was designed in accordance with the definition of Angel of the Wilderness. In this description, Saint John the Baptist is shown with tousled hair, frail, dressed in a camel feather tunic (shaped like an exomis) and tied with a rope in accordance with the general typology of the Bible. In this description, Saint John the Baptist is shown blessing with his right hand and holding with his left hand holding one liturgical vessel carrying his own head and one scroll on which is written a reference that can be found in both the Old and New Testament . (Malachi 3:1, Matthew 11:10, Mark 1:2, Luke 7:27) The presentation of the head placed on a plate, which is similar to the liturgical Echarchist vessel, is emphasizing both the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist and the sacrifice of Jesus. According to Ellen Schwartz’s article entitled “Russian Icons and Byzantine Legacy; The Angel of the Wilderness”, published in Byzantinoslavica volume 58 in 1997, this representation expressed the sacrifice of Jesus as a second time in liturgy through Saint John the Baptist’s demonstration. Those references could describe all identities of Saint John the Baptist such as a Prophet, an Apostle, a Martyr and an Angel. Appropriately, in the example of Arilije, those texts are written on the parchment of Saint John in which he is depicted in the position of the Messenger of Jesus. The second important example as a monumental painting after the Church of Saint Achilles in Arilije was placed in the Virgin Nativity Cathedral, Ferapontov Monastery in Russia which was renamed ‘The Museum of Dionisy’s Frescoes’ in 1975. The frescoes were painted by Dionysio (1450-1520) in the 16th century who was one of the most important painters in Moscow. The church was structured into three apses. On the central apse Theotokos Mary and Child Jesus in the orans position can be found. Saint Nicholaos is found on the south apse and on the north apse. Winged Saint John the Baptist is depicted as a half figure framed with a red line blessing with his right hand and holding one closed scroll in his left hand. The figure is depicted wearing a red exomis over a blue tunic in accordance with the Church’s colour spectrum. Other examples of Winged Saint John the Baptist as monumental paintings can be found in Saint Basilios Church in Nevşehir, Mustafapaşa (Sinasos) built in the 12th century. The paintings, however, belong to the 19th-20th century. Two examples of Winged Saint John the Baptist can be seen in two different positions and two different places inside the church. The first example is placed on the barrel vault at the entrance and can be identified as Deesis. The other one is placed on the Ikonastasis. The depiction on the Ikonastasis shows Winged Saint John the Baptist standing, dressed in a green exomis blessing with his right hand and holding a cross-tipped stick in his left hand. Walter Haring’s article “The Winged Saint John The Baptist; Two Examples in American Collections” published in The Art Bulletin 5 in 1922, is the main source of interpretation of the descriptions of Winged Saint John the Baptist on both formal and iconographic views. In this article, Haring has differentiated the depictions of Winged Saint John the Baptist into 3 groups. This classification includes Winged Saint John the Baptist representations such as standing from front, standing from profile in a supplication position and being a witness of his own birth which is rare but can be found in late Russian art. The first group includes the examples showing him from the front. The descriptions on the front also have different discourses in themselves. In addition to examples of Winged Saint John the Baptist depicted in front while carrying his own head on a plate like a liturgical vessel, there are examples of the same position while he is carrying the Child Jesus on a plate. In the same way, these two different depictions can also be seen in icons framed with several scenes of his life. The second group includes the examples showing Winged Saint John the Baptist from the profile. Generally, the Baptist is seen in accordance to his general typology from the Bible and standing from the profile in a supplication position on a mountain or rocky place. He is seen carrying one parchment and holding a cross-tipped stick which is a symbol of his martyrdom. In the upper left hand corner the representation of God or Jesus can be seen inside an illuminated place to which Saint John the Baptist is supplicating. His own head in a vessel can be seen on the ground, right next to the feet of Saint John the Baptist. At the lower part of the background, scenes of the beheading of Baptist, the Dance of Salome and the imprisonment of Baptist are depicted. The third group of the description of Winged Saint John the Baptist, shows him as a witness of his own birth. On this composition, Winged Saint John the Baptist can be seen behind the birth scene. Haring described this position of him as “a secondary figure” . Even though this description is rare, it differs from all other representations in terms of its content. Here, Saint John the Baptist directly indicates his own birth without any attributes except a scroll which are usually used in the other depictions, such as, an axe leaning on a tree, a cross-tipped stick and his own head or Child Jesus in a vessel. In addition to Haring’s classification, it is possible to add and refer to a fourth group of Winged Saint John the Baptist representations. The scene which shows Winged Saint John the Baptist among other Saints or Church Fathers, can mostly be seen in the Russian iconography. Here, the Baptist can be seen dressed in an exomis on top of a camel feather tunic, holding a closed or open scroll and standing at the same level as the other Saints without any hierarchical differences. The presentation of Winged Saint John the Baptist is an important description due to the different theological layers in both its emergence and the way that it has then been used as an icon. This depiction was found both as monumental paintings in the Slavic World under the influence of the Byzantine culture and widely used in icon productions mostly in Russian and Cretan art. On the other hand, no other example could be found neither in the main Byzantine lands nor in the Western Europe. Since the 17th century, this specific depiction of Saint John the Baptist as winged has been found worldwide, exclusively in Orthodox Art.