Aer with the Communion of the Apostles, 1534/5

3 November 2011

Dimensions: 54 x 52 cm.

The Apostles are in two groups, to the left and right. Christ is in the centre, as Great High Priest, below a ciborium (baldacchino) with its curtains drawn back. He wears the dalmatic and the pallium and has His arms open in blessing. He stands before the Holy Table, whose altar cloth has an embroidered cross. In the middle of the altar is the paten with the asteriskos*. Behind Christ, the walls of the city can be seen. Around the ornament the inscription is in Cyrillic script: “HE GAVE TO THE DISCIPLES AND APOSTLES SAYING: TAKE EAT THIS IS MY BODY WHICH IS BROKEN FOR YOU FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS / THIS COVER WAS MADE BY VARLAM IN THE YEAR 7043” (see Illus. 30b).

The year 7043 from the creation of the world corresponds to the year 1534/5 from the birth of Christ.

Varlaam, Metropolitan of Hungro-Wallachia (1534-1544)17, under the Princes of Wallachia Vlad Vintila (1532-1535) and Radu Païsié (1545-1552) sometimes signed as ‘Metropolitan-Archbishop’ and sometimes by only one of the two titles. He is always referred to as “Father-Archbishop Varlaam”, as in a chrysobull* of 8 February 1540, by which the Voivode Radu Païsié grants an annual income of 12,000 aspers to the Monastery of St Catherine on Mt Sinai. Towards the end of the period when he was Archbishop, after a long interruption, printing was re-introduced into Wallachia.

This aer can be compared with the eucharistic veil of the Chilandari Monastery published by G. Millet18, but here we have the scene before the Metadosis, since the paten is covered by the asteriskos*, which is removed after the Sanctus. Christ is rarely shown in the iconography only once – Metadosis and Metalepsis – and with the paten covered by the asteriskos*. (See the scenes on the liturgical cuffs).

This aer lacks the angels of that of Chilandari, the ciborium is simpler, and the decoration of the edge is replaced by a liturgical and dedicatory inscription.

The material of the aer is covered entirely by the embroidery, the velvet showing only between the letters of the inscription on the hem. The faces of the Apostles, which are very expressive, are in wheat-coloured silk with shades of light brown. Their hands are in an attitude of supplication and their eyes are fixed on Christ, whose nimbus is adorn­ed with stones.

The embroiderer has combined the gold and silver thread with red, mauve, sea-blue, yellow, and green silks. Almost all the familiar stitches are employed: karfoto, straight riza, isia spasmeni, kamares. The work must be attributed to a very good Moldavian workshop.