Post- Byzantine Wall Paintings29 October 2011
In spite of the fact that Post-Byzantine wall-paintings occupy by far the greater part of the surfaces covered in the monastic building complex of Vatopaidi, these are markedly lacking in the quality with which the anonymous charismatic painters of 1312 were able to endow the wall-paintings in the katholikon. Furthermore, it has been seen as remarkable and inexplicable that Vatopaidi, with the commanding position which it has maintained throughout its history, lacks paintings of the 16th century, a time when Theophanis Strelitzas, an artist of repute in his own time, and other Cretans were active on the Holy Mountain.
Only one work can be attributed to a Cretan workshop of the 16th century – though study of it, because of its position, is as yet dependent upon photographs. This is the imposing Pantocrator which dominates the cupola of the Chapel of St Nicholas on the southern side of the katholikon1.
The next oldest wall-paintings are in the architecturally idiosyncratic phiale* of the Monastery: the older painting can be seen below the selective over-painting of 1842 in its dome (Figs 245, 246).
The general style, the subject-matter, the repetition of typical details, and the colours of these wall-paintings all argue for their ascription to the Cretan Merkourios and the Peloponnesian Atzalis, painters who are known to have worked together, who were responsible for the decoration of the phiale at the Megiste Lavra in 1634/16352. Their work seems to have enjoyed the Monastery’s regard, and this must have been the reason why, when the phiale was reconstructed in 18103, it ventured to retain almost the whole of its brickwork vault, while nearly all the marble columns which supported it were replaced.
In 1652, the conch and the south wall of the sanctuary of the katholikon were painted. On the south wall, above the entrance to the diakonikon*, the donor of the work, Theodosios the Peloponnesian, is shown full-length in monastic attire, praying before the icon of the Theotokos. Next to him, the twelve-line verse dedicatory inscription is laid out4. The iconographic themes are adapted to the dedication of the church to the Blessed Virgin: on the arch above the altar table we have eight scenes from her life and miracles, while in the semidome she is shown enthroned and holding the Holy Child, flanked by angels doing reverence. The band immediately beneath contains a depiction of the Communion of the Apostles. Here the subject extends to the side walls of the conch with a retinue of deacons, while at a lower level, bishops are shown full-face. The art of this unknown painter is marked by a ‘horror vacui’ and the static and rigid form of the figures. He retains traditional features (e.g., the polystavria), but also delights in the multi-coloured flowered vestments with their Russianising tendencies. It could be said that with the painter of the sanctuary, Vatopaidi is passing from Cretan painting to that of the middle period of Turkish rule5.
It is in a totally different artistic style that the walls of the Paramythia Chapel were painted in 1677/1678, at the expense of Grigorios, Metropolitan of Laodicea6, who was a member of the Vatopaidi brotherhood and was in charge of the management of its metochia in Moldavia and Wallachia.
It was in this small chapel, which contains a highly-revered icon of the Theotokos of the same name, that until recently, “by ancient custom”, the tonsure of the monks of the Monastery was carried out7. A supplicatory service is still held there every day. Almost all the wall-painting has survived in very good condition, in spite of the (very discreet) repainting of 18468. The differences between this painter and that of the sanctuary are substantial, though here too a horror vacui is apparent. He seems to have followed the general lines of the Cretan School (see, for example, the ‘Deposition from the Cross’ in the credence apse) in subject-matter and iconographical types, but is possessed of a strong tendency towards decorativeness and attempts to include a wide range of subjects within this small church, thus producing ‘overcrowding’. Typical are the bands of intertwining vine tendrils which form the large number of tondi (rondels) of the martyrs, which serve to divide the pictorial zones, and which adorn the points of the four arches which support the dome.
The corresponding tondi in the sanctuary contain bishop saints, and those at the base of the dome, prophets. In many instances, an impressive band of repeated schematised flowers of many colours runs in parallel with the band of rondels.
Even though this church is dedicated to the Theotokos, the scenes associated with such a dedication do not predominate in its iconographic programme. Apart from the ‘Platytera’*, with Christ in a heart-shaped nimbus with stars, in the semidome of the sanctuary conch, and the depiction of the Dormition in the traditional position on the south wall, only one scene seems to have been produced for a special reason. This is the ‘apotheosis’ of the Blessed Virgin which occupies the upper band on the north wall, opposite the corresponding scene of the Second Coming on the south wall and the large shrine with the Paramythia icon. In the scene in question, the Theotokos, enthroned and holding the Holy Child, dominates the space, since she is in the middle of Paradise and is surrounded with the characteristic triple nimbus with three shades of blue. She is attended by nine archangels, while groups of prophets and saints, harmoniously spaced, pray to her. At the footstool of her throne, St John of Damascus holds a large unfurled scroll containing a hymn addressed to her9.
The drum of the cupola seems to have been decorated with scenes devoted to the Theotokos, but of these, the northern half has been ruined by damp and the rest are hard to make out because of soot.
Of the name of the painter of the Paramythia Chapel there is no record. Three years later, however, in 1681, we know that the priest-monk and painter Makarios Kallerghis was working in the Monastery. He was responsible for the canopy of the ‘Esphagmeni’ icon, which is described as “an arch with carved decoration and a gilded canopy, and doors similarly carved and gilded, and with a dome over, on which canopy the present inscription has been preserved and appears. 7189 = from Ch[rist] the year 1681. The All-venerable Dominus Serapheim being Abbot, the present was made by the subvention and at the expense of the most blessed among monks the venerable kyr Anthimos surnamed Ozadinos and elder of the Monastery of Vatopaidi; the hand of Makarios, priest-monk, painter, Kallerghis”10. It is, then, not beyond the bounds of possibility that this painter, with his Cretan surname, of whom we currently know little11, was the artist who produced the wall-paintings of the Paramythia Chapel.
The year in which the walls of the Paramythia Chapel were painted (1677/1678) is also that of the wall-paintings in the conch which is to the left of the entrance to the oil store (docheion), carried out at the expense of the ‘storeman’ Symeon of Galatista12. Although these wall-paintings have been for the most part painted over (obviously in the mid 19th century), the hand of the painter of the Paramythia Chapel is clear to see: both the form of the (over-painted) heart-shaped nimbus which surrounds Christ as He sits in the arms of His Mother, and the lettering of the dedicatory inscription (not over-painted) are identical with their counterparts in the Paramythia Chapel. In the case of the store, however, we have another indication of a link with Makarios: the carved and painted wooden door panels which close the painted conch appear to be the originals and contemporary with the wall-painting13. Bearing in mind the similar work done by Makarios for the Esphagmeni icon, mentioned above, we regard it is very likely that in this instance too Makarios worked as both wood-carver and painter.
In 1683, another, unknown, painter decorated the walls of the Monastery’s cemetery chapel14. The chapel was destroyed by fire in 194515, hence the wall-paintings today have lost most of their colours. Moreover, a considerable part of them has been ruined wholly or in part by damp and the repair work carried out after the fire; the donor’s inscription has also been lost16. In spite of this, a rudimentary study of the wall-paintings and the formulation of some views about them are still possible. From the point of view of style, the painter of the cemetery chapel bears no relation to any of the wall-painters of Vatopaidi known to us up to now. In his work there are distant echoes of Cretan art and prefigurements of the good-quality painting of Western Macedonia, as that made its appearance in the 18th century. It seems probable that this artist worked with – at least one – assistant, to whom could be attributed the depiction of St Theophanes on the facade of the pier wall next to the sanctuary screen, above St John the Baptist.
The painting of the 18th century is introduced into Vatopaidi with the large composition of 170417 which adorns the eastern wall of the open colonnade along the facade of the katholikon. This composition has five iconographic subjects: the Deisis*, the twenty-four ‘oikoi’ (sections) of the Akathist Hymn*, the ranks of the warrior saints, the Second Coming, and the Theotokos as ‘Gorgoeipiköos*. There is no record of the name of the painter, nor are there any other wall-paintings in the Monastery which could be attributed to him.
Of the whole painting, particular honour is paid in the Monastery to the Gorgoeipiköos, which, according to tradition, took the place of the Paramythia icon when it was removed from its position on the wall18. Below the Gorgoeipiköos, the figure of a monk kneeling in prayer is shown19. The scenes of the Second Coming, of the Akathist Hymn, and the Gorgoeipiköos received a first critical presentation by Kondakov, in 190220. Undoubtedly, they cannot be claimed as one of the best examples of painting on Athos during the 18th century21; nevertheless, the ‘order’ with which the subjects have been positioned, the size of the composition, which is laid out in a large, integral space, so that it can be viewed as a single piece, and certain ‘memories’ of Cretan art are all features which have a positive effect and impress the average visitor.
In 1721, the walls of the Chapel of St Demetrius were painted by Cosmas of Lemnos22. The painting of Cosmas, one of the better examples of an attempt being made in the 18th century to return to the models of the 14th, is the subject of a special study in the following chapter. Cosmas, who must have been proud of his art and of the models which he followed, is the first known artist to have signed his wall-paintings at Vatopaidi – even if he appended his signature cryptographically23.
The year 1739 saw the painting of the dome and the pendentives of the katholikon at the expense of Païsios, Sacristan of the Monastery24. This magnificent composition, with its imposing Pantocrator dominating the whole of the katholikon, is the first example of ‘Athonite’ wall-painting art at Vatopaidi, as that had already begun to take shape under the influence of the Western Macedonian and Epirot painters of the period and the teachings of the great Cretan masters.
We do not know the name of the artist, nor his place of origin, though it has been argued (on criteria of art criticism) that we have to do here with “Epirot painters”25. His iconographic models take us back to the work of Theophanis of Crete: the Divine Liturgy, which is shown below the Pantocrator is a copy of the same subject from the apse of the katholikon of Megiste Lavra, but the artist’s inability to attain to the level of his model and his taste for decorativeness are apparent26.
It is highly characteristic that the choice of this particular painter was made at a time at which the trend towards a return to the models ‘of Panselinos’ was at its height. It should not be forgotten that just eighteen years earlier the walls of St Demetrius had been painted, and that Dionysios of Fournas, the pupil, according to tradition, of David of Avlona27, finished the writing of his Interpretation a few years earlier, in 1730. Nonetheless, the strong personality of the Sacristan Païsios28 selected for the “undertaking of the topmost part of the painting of the dome” a painter whose art seems to have spoken to the heart of the Athonite.
On the basis of the specific example and given the way in which ‘Athonite’ painting prevailed until the mid 19th century, it could be said that the transitory return of a small group of painters in the early 18th century to the artistic models of the 14th was a sui generis archaising artistic particularity which was seen as being (and was) outside the living Athonite tradition of the time. Moreover, there were then no doctrinal reasons which called for such a revolutionary change, while there was a host of painters, of importance and otherwise, who had no desire to deviate from what they had been taught. It goes without saying that the host of ‘conservative’ painters had the obvious ability to influence the market, on the basis (at least) of lower prices. It is, then, my view that these mundane considerations basically account for the smooth evolution of Athonite painting and the suspension of the worthwhile (but untimely) attempt at a full-scale return to the old iconographic models.
It should, however, be stressed that this movement bore some fruit: many Athonite painters turned their attention by degrees to the painting of the Protaton, copying individual characteristic iconographic types and certain compositions, features which they were able successfully to incorporate into their work. At the same time, the wide dissemination of the text of the Interpretation of Dionysios among the workshops of Athos contributed to the spread of his views on iconography and to the establishment of the belief that the art of Panselinos should serve as an example in the work they produced.
When the Vatopaidi fathers wished to provide some rudimentary illumination by means of the light of day for the dark mesonyktikon* of the katholikon, they put two new windows in its west wall, on either side of the mosaic of the Annunication, which remain today29. This took place not long before 1760, but the exact date is not known. After this alteration, the complete repainting of the area was thought desirable, and this was completed in May of 176030. It is interesting that the old wall-paintings were not scored as the usual practice was to ensure better adhesion of the new plaster on which the fresh paintings were to be executed. Are we to look for a theological interpretation of this, or was it due to a certain respect for the art of old? We do not know the name of the painter of the mesonyktikon, but he was an artist who differed essentially from the painter of the dome, and his style, rigid and with ‘old-fashioned’ features, avoids marked alternations of colour31. To the same artist should also be attributed the paintings on the ceiling of the ‘parakyptia’ (catechumena*) of the katholikon.
In 1780, the south chapel of the katholikon, dedicated to St Nicholas, had its walls painted. The work was the responsibility of Phlitheos, Sacristan of the Monastery, from Moudania in Asia Minor32, who during his long term of office was exceptionally active in the field of the restoration of its buildings. The iconographic programme of the chapel has been influenced by that of the katholikon33, but the anonymous painter uses striking colours. The figures are ‘harsh’ and he introduces many features from folklore into the scenes from the life of the Saint. In the dormition of St Nicholas, he has been influenced by the familiar subject-matter of the corresponding scene from the life of St Ephraim the Syrian. On the north side of the choir, St John Vladimir is portrayed in royal apparel. The depiction of this saint is not usual in Athonite churches, at least before the time of the powerful Russian presence on Athos in the 19th century.
The ‘Platytera’* in the conch of the sanctuary, a composition of a quality superior to that of the rest of the painting of 1780, is the work of another painter, who, in my view, should be identified as the monk Makarios Galatsianos. This work marks the beginning of the many years during which the Galatsianos workshop was active on the Holy Mountain.
The first known work of Makarios was of 1778 and was in the Church of Aghioi Anargyroi* at Makrynitsa on Pelion, now no longer standing34. Apart from his work at Vatopaidi, we know of the wall-paintings in the cemetery chapel of St Nicholas in Karyes (24 August 1787)35 and in the porch at the Docheiariou Monastery (19 November 1788)36. Of his portable icons, only a ‘Galaktotrophousa’* of 1784 is known. This is from the Church of St Antony in Thessaloniki37 and is now in the city’s Museum of Byzantine Culture. Makarios was from Galatista in Chalcidice and was living in a kelli* of the Karakallou Monastery as early as 1785, with his nephew Veniamin, also a painter, as his junior38. In 1803, their company had been joined by Veniamin’s brother the priest-monk Zacharias – another painter39. Later – before 1814 – a third brother, Makarios40, born in 1796 and later to become a priest-monk, was added to their number.
The dynamic company of the Galatsiani left its mark on Athonite painting for a whole century, producing a host of portable icons and painting the walls of a large number of buildings. In the case of most of their signed works they state their place of origin, a practice which should not be seen merely as a kind of ‘trade mark’, but as an expression of their profound affection for their home41, with which they continued to maintain close ties and where their relatives worked as icon-painters42.
In 1786, Makarios carried out the wall-painting of the newly-built refectory of Vatopaidi43.
The iconographic programme shows particularities when compared with those of other Athonite monasteries. Special emphasis is given to scenes involving the Theotokos,
who predominates, together with individual full-length, more than life-size, figures of monastic and ascetic saints, including those of Vatopaidi.
These large figures, which appear chiefly on the side walls of the western arm of the cross-shaped building, give rise to a sense of space, since they occupy only the areas between the windows, leaving the band above them vacant.
There are no scenes of the tribulations of martyrs, but the scene of the ‘Dormition of St Ephraim the Syrian’ occupies a conspicuous place.
There are several scenes concerned with food: the Lord’s Supper and the Hospitality of Abraham are on the front of the west wall, on either side of the apse occupied by the place of the Abbot, in which the enthroned Theotokos is shown, holding the Holy Child, dominating the Root of Jesse.
The semidomes of the south and north conches, respectively, contain illustrations of “the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a certain king” and “Christ blessing the five loaves”, below which, in two bands, are sanctified monks, chiefly Athonites. Among these, in the northern conch, the three Adrianopolite founders of the Monastery are depicted.
The eastern arm of the cross-shaped refectory does not have wall-paintings44, but we know from the description of Antoninos that in 1859 there was there at least a scene of “Charon threatening with his scythe a monk who lies beneath his feet. Next to the monk is an open coffin.”45 Also of interest is the decoration of the ceiling, in which on the gilded frame around the central patera there are miniature landcapes which are strongly reminiscent of similar decoration in mansions in Western Macedonia46.
The wall-paintings of the refectory, on which Makarios must have worked with the assistance of his nephew Veniamin, are not influenced by ‘Panselinos’47, but belong within the artistic trends brought to the Holy Mountain by Epirot painters of the 18th century. However, the artistic personality of Makarios can be clearly discerned, and the compositions in the semidomes of the three conches presage the ‘style’ of the painting of his nephews and their pupils.
The next major project, for which the Sacristan Philotheos was responsible, was the making good of the damaged sections of the wall-paintings of the main body of the katholikon and the painting over of the rest, clearly to achieve an integrated colour feeling.
The damage had resulted from damp and the great crack from one side of the choir to the other with which the katholikon is afflicted. The painter’s intervention in one small section was highly significant: on the arch of the apse of the south choir, the site of the depiction of the Nativity of Christ, it seems that the ‘bathing’ scene had been destroyed. In the course of restoration, the painter did not reinstate the original subject, but put in its place the striking figure of a shepherd, blotting out with paint an important part of the surviving original, showing the midwife with the Infant in her arms. On the other hand, he restored the damaged figure of an old shepherd with great care.
This intervention of the artist follows the theological trend usual on Athos at the time – that of removing scenes drawn from apocryphal books48.
The restoration of the wall-paintings took place in 1789, and was financed by the priest Ioannis from the Castle of Gisvero (now Stagira) in Chalcidice and his children Christodoulos and Vassileios49, who were involved in the ‘Commune of Mademi’ and had financial dealings with the Monastery50. A correlation of the date and the style of the new sections of the painting make very probable the hypothesis that this is the work of Makarios Galatsianos.
In 1791, a group of pilgrims provided the financing for the painting of the narthex of the Chapel of St Demetrius, which abuts on the north side of the katholikon51. We do not know whether the walls were painted in their entirety before the fresh work of 1791; of the older painting, the imposing Deisis, partly painted-over, to the left of the entrance to the main church (late 13th century), the ‘Espaghmeni’ on the right, and St Demetrius “healing the ship’s mate”, above the entrance to the narthex of the katholikon, works of the 14th century, have survived.
Moreover, opposite the ‘Esphagmeni’, we have the impious deacon who ‘knifed’ the icon, as if he were still in the position from which he sought pardon in repentance for his sacrilegious act. The depiction of the deacon and the lengthy archaising poems about the same icon inscribed on the wall are clearly works of the first half of the 18th century52.
The wall-painting of 1791 includes a series of pictures covering the Creation of the World to the Tower of Babel, scenes from the life of St Demetrius, miracles of the Theotokos at Vatopaidi, with emphasis on the Paramythia icon, and subjects relating to the Holy Girdle. However, the greatest interest is provided by the ranks of the sixteen donors of the wall-painting, who are shown on the ‘arcosolium’* of the north side of the narthex. They appear full-length, arranged in two consecutive lines, smaller than life-size, upright, full-face, and named53.
It is obvious that these are realistic portraits and that each of the figures is distinguished by particulars of his costume. As far as I am aware, such a group of donors is unique in its numbers on the Holy Mountain, but it follows the old custom of portraying donors, which showed an upsurge on Mount Athos during the 18th and the first half of the 19th century54.
The anonymous painter of the narthex belongs within the framework of the Athonite painting of his time, but the portrayals of the donors shows that he was an artist who, when called upon to undertake compositions outside the standardisation which his normal activities required, was capable of producing work which demonstrates his true abilities. In view of the similarity between many features in the painting under review and the painting in the refectory and other compositions – to which we shall be referring – it is my belief that it should be attributed to the companions of Makarios55.
Although this is not recorded, it is obvious that the same artist was responsible for the wall-paintings in the Chapel of St Andrew in the northern wing, which was built in 178856 at the expense of Gerasimos, Metropolitan of Drama and a member of the Vatopaidi community57. The decoration of the walls took place after 1791, the year of the construction of the carved wooden sanctuary screen58, which was in position when the walls of the chapel were plastered so that they could be painted. It seems clear that it was painted in 1798, when the founder’s inscription was written on the interior lintel of the chapel59. The painting follows the now familiar Galatsianos lines, only here great attention has been paid to the accuracy of composition and it could be said that what can be seen in this is the care taken by Makarios’s nephew-apprentices. The iconographic programme of the cupola follows that of the dome of the katholikon. Of interest is the depiction of Gerasimos of Drama on the south wall of the chapel, next to the screen. He is shown full-length, in episcopal vestments, with his right hand in a gesture of supplication towards the icon on the screen next to him, which shows Sts Gerasimus and Onuphrius60. If we bear in mind that he was a contemporaneous figure, it seems very likely that this is a realistic portrait of him.
In the year 1802, the narthex of the St Nicholas Chapel was decorated at the expense of Christians of the province of Meleniko and of monks of Vatopaidi61. Although the name of the painter is not recorded, the work should be ascribed to the Galatsiani, specifically to Makarios’s nephews, Veniamin and Zacharias, who now seem to have been working on their own, within the context of a single company, thus allowing their aged uncle to retire. In spite of this, however, the first signed work by them which we know of dates from 180362.
The subjects in the narthex of the Chapel of St Nicholas are divided into two groups: in the lower band, the upright, full-face figures of monastic saints who played an important part in the history of monasticism are clearly influenced by the painting of Panselinos, whose work the Galatsiani now seem to have begun to study63.
The upper scenes include martyrdoms of saints and ecumenical councils and are marked by the simplistic nature of the composition and the introduction of features from folklore.
However, the full-length figures of prophets which are introduced once more take their origin from the corresponding subjects in the Protaton.
In the whole of the work, apart from the shared features which link it with later signed works by the Galatsiani, there are two particularities typical of their workshop: the baroque framework above the doorway into the narthex of the katholikon and around the individual compositions, and the inscription on the arcosolium* of the founder’s tomb, built into the south wall of the narthex64 of the katholikon. The framework is akin to those of the refectory, of the Chapel of St Thomas (1815) and of the narthex of the katholikon. The inscription is written in the miniature formal script used by their workshop over many decades.
In 1815, the Chapel of St Thomas in the eastern wing was built. The painting of its walls was almost completely confined to non-pictorial decorative designs adapted to the architectural features of the chapel.
These consist chiefly of the familiar baroque surrounds of the Galatsiani and a narrow band at the base of the cupola, with small decorative landscapes similar to those of the refectory. The icons on the sanctuary screen were painted between 24 September 1820 and 11 March 1821 and are inscribed “of the works of Veniamin galatsianos”. The nature of the inscription is indicative of the conviction held by the Galatsiani as to the quality of their works, a conviction which in certain instances went well beyond the bounds of a proper monastic humility and manifested itself in expressions of excessive self-admiration and self-advertise-ment65.
During the creation of the windows for the illumination of the mesonyktikon from the narthex, it is clear that damage was done to the wall-paintings of the narthex. We know, for example, that a little after 1760, “over the most northerly of these [the windows] is the present inscription, high up, next to the arch [where today St Rhodion is depicted]: This present sacred and divine church was decorated in the reign of Andronicus, son of Palaeologus, the most orthodox Despot Comnenus, at the expense of Dominus Arsenius, in the year 6820, from the incarnation 1312, and the tenth of the Indict. Below this inscription, where the window now is, the baptism of the Lord was formerly depicted, and in this was the following two-line inscription in form of question and answer, thus:
What do you, O river, why do you draw back your streams?
I know not what I do, except that I tremble before Him who stands here.”66
There was, however, other damage to the wall-paintings due to the widening (or making?) of the entrance from the narthex to the north side of the mesonyktikon, the site of the Antiphonetria icon, as a result of which the depiction of St John Climacus and the Vatopaidi saints accompanying him suffered serious damage. In 1819, the necessary repairs and additions were made by Veniamin and his ‘brothers according to the flesh’, as we are told by the relevant inscription67.
It must have been at that date that the verses on the Baptism and the old founder’s inscription, the content of which was incorporated into a the new one, with some minor variations, were covered.
The intervention of the Galatsiani in the painting of the narthex was very discreet. The painting over of the subjects of 1312 was limited to the absolutely necessary, at points where the colours had been washed out. They repainted the greater part of the inscriptions and the texts on the scrolls, decorated the facades of the arches with rows of 59 rondels with busts of saints, repainted – or painted ab initio – all the full-length saints on either side of the mosaic of the Annunciation, and restored the composition with St John Climacus, repainting his portrait and the first four of the monks who follow him. It is very likely that the Galatsiani portraits of the monks depict specific personages of the period, as do their neighbours of 1312 .
In this specific case, their supplementations are absolutely adapted to the older painting and, were it not for the ‘join’ in the plaster, it would be difficult to distinguish between the two phases.
The revolutionary events of 1821 and the troubles which followed down to 1830 interrupted for many years wall-painting activities at the Monastery. The next project known to us was carried out in 1841 and was the painting of the narthex of the cemetery chapel – whose wall-paintings were destroyed in 192368. In the next year, the walls of the section of the phiale reconstructed in 1810 were painted and its older paintings were repainted in part.
The work was paid for by Iakovos, Metropolitan of Kassandreia69, who was a brother of the Monastery and the future administrator of its estates in Romania70.
The decoration of the phiale introduced a new trend in painting to Vatopaidi, due to the presence and intense activity for many years of the painter Matthaios Ioannou from Naousa71 and his pupils.
Matthaios had worked in Moldo-Wallachia72, where he probably learnt his naturalistic painting. His presence on the Mountain at that period cannot have been unconnected with the neo-Classicising trends which were beginning to manifest themselves in the artistic tastes of the Athonites, both in painting and in architecture73. In response to the spirit of the times and under the obvious guidance of Abbot Philaretos, he was employed for many years at Vatopaidi on replacing parts of wall-painting compositions which had been destroyed74, on the partial or complete repainting of important monuments75 (phiale, 1842;76 Chapel of Aghioi Anargyroi, 184777), on the painting of portable icons78, and on the painted decoration of wooden structures79.
The work of Matthaios, which included other places on Mount Athos80, is marked by a strong tendency towards decorativeness (witness the fine flower vases and the striking bands of flowers forming borders in the Chapel of Aghioi Anargyroi) and an attempt to incorporate outdoor scenes in an environment rendered realistically. At the same time, however, his painting is an attempt to follow the traditional Athonite style (particularly in the case of portable icons), as that took shape with the work of the Galatsiani, obviously wishing to satisfy the aesthetic demands of his clients. Matthaios is one of the pioneers of the introduction of Westernising painting on Athos, and his work was continued by his pupils81 and his son Christodoulos, born in 1855, who worked with him from 186782.
Matthaios’s activity at Vatopaidi seems to have been interrupted by the return to the Monastery of the vigorous and learned Archimandrite Ioannikios of Cyprus, who for twelve years from 1846 managed the estates of Vatopaidi in Bessarabia83. In 1858, two important units of wall-painting were completed by the monk Nikiphoros, brother and pupil of the far-famed Ioasaph of Karpenisi84: the decoration of the porch of the Monastery’s single entrance and the painting of the walls of the dark passageway occupied by the Antiphonetria icon in the katholikon85.
The porch has been decorated with an original composition, a ‘hymn of praise’ to the Blessed Virgin, the protectress of Vatopaidi.
It begins with the ancient sages, who, according to tradition, ‘foreglimpsed’ the coming of Christ, and it continues with hymnographers who lauded the Theotokos. These are followed by prophets who foretold the birth of Christ of the Blessed Virgin, the scene of the Annunciation, and, on the boss of the ceiling, an imposing Western-style Holy Trinity, flanked by a host of angels. In the sheltered conch on the lintel of the gate is a depiction of the Theotokos holding the Holy Child, known as the ‘Pyrovolitheisa’ (She who was shot)86. The same icon had been in this position since 174487, and was repainted by Matthaios in 184588. On its right is “St Euthymius abbot of this monastery”89, and on the left, over the donor’s inscription90, his namesake St Ioannicius.
The scene showing sages of antiquity is the last known example of this in post-Byzantine painting and the fourth of its kind on the Holy Mountain91. It shows the “wise Sevila”92 ,
and “Thules king of Egypt”.
Their presence in the composition, as in the whole iconographic programme, cannot be unconnected with the supervision of the work by the cultured patron of letters Ioannikios94.
In August of 1859, the painting of the Chapel of the Holy Girdle by the company of Nikiphoros was in progress95; the work was finished in 186096. The wall-paintings (carried out on a dry surface) cover every available surface in the chapel, and they could be said to be one of the last examples of genuine Athonite painting and the last major wall-painting project at Vatopaidi. Here too the iconographic programme is influenced by that of the katholikon, but has been enriched. Many folklore features have been introduced into the scenes from the parables (see, for example, the parable of the man who fell among thieves and that of the vineyard), while the whole composition is imbued with a ‘Turco-baroque’ mood.
The work done subsequently is sparse and of no account: a quasi-Western and Russian ‘Platytera’* in the sanctuary conch of the Chapel of St Thomas, the “work of Grigorios priest-monk”97 of 1877, and some ill-designed and highly-coloured wall-paintings of 188298 in the Chapels of the Archangels and of the Holy Trinity on the upper level of the katholikon, clearly the work of Athanasios Sarafianos of Vavdos in Chalcidice99. It is with these works that the period of post-Byzantine wall-painting at the Vatopaidi Monastery closes.