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Школа Феофана

Церковь Спаса

Иконостас БС




The System of Frescoes and Its General Idea

Феофан Грек - "Иоанн Креститель", фрагмент

The wall painting in the Church of the Saviour falls into ten tiers from the Pantocrator in the dome to the simulated drapes just above the stone floor. The pride of place is given to the capital representation of the Pantocrator in the dome. Following Him are four archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Rafael) alternating with four seraphs (of which only two came down to us). The archangels' spheres bear Greek letters X, 0, A, and S which can be interpreted presumably. The walls between the windows of the drum a bit lower contain patriarches from the Old Testament (in the inscriptions they are called the righteous men) Adam, Abel, Noah, Seth, Melchisedek, Enoch. They are accompanied by the Prophet Elijah and St John the Baptist. The frescoes on the transitional part from the drum to the transverse arches have not preserved. The curves of the arches must have contained full-length figures of the martyrs. The lower part of such a figure has been revealed on the southern curve of the eastern transverse arch. On the vaults and enclosed within the lunettes were the Gospel scenes (the fifth tier). The majority of them have been lost. The fragments of the Nativity of Christ, Baptism, Presentation in the Temple, Apparition of Christ to the Eleven and Dormition and - in the lunette over the altar niche - the Descent of the Holy Ghost are the only ones still intact. Considerable sections of painting remain in the lunette of the southern wall occupied by the Nativity scene. The representations of the riding Magi, an angel, flying down from Heaven, and shepherds watching him, discovered here, are of a very high quality.
The frescoes cleaned in the sixth tier arouse great interest. They are, in particular, the full} preserved flying figure with a trumpet and sphere in its hands, shown on the western edge of the south-east column (above the Virgin from the Annunciation), and the remaining fragment of the similar figure on the opposite south-west column. Taking into consideration the general symmetry in the distribution of frescoes in the upper section of the building we can assume that there were originally four such representations in the Church of the Saviour. The flying creatures are depicted without wings, the fact testifying that they are not angels. The obliterated remains of the inscription, seen on one of the frescoes, do not lend themselves to interpretation, and the clue to the main idea of these unexplained paintings has not been discovered yet. The spheres point tc the cosmic character of the pictures, while the number of the figures (four) presumably means four parts of the world.
The walls between the windows of the drum were given over by Theophanes not to the prophets as it was the custom in the fourteenth century but to the Forefathers. Therefore, the prophets took their places under the Gospel scenes. These are half-length figures enclosed in three-coloured medallions. On the end walls of the diametrical and lengthwise naves such medallions are absent because the paintings in the lunettes are equal in height to the two-tier representations. The Church of the Saviour had sixteen medallions with images of the prophets in all (two medallions on each of eight walls) but only small pieces of the six of them remained. It should be noted that the outlines of one Prophet Daniel are clearly seen.
In the seventh tier on the western side of the pillars before the altar is shown the Annunciation. The figure of the Archangel Gabriel to the left is almost lost. The Virgin (to the right) has been much better preserved. St Mary is sitting with a spindle and a clew in her lap against the architectural background. Adjoining to the Annunciation scene had been full-length grand figures of the martyrs. The remaining parts of those pictures were found to the right of the Virgin Mary, under the Nativity, and on the western wall in the southern sector of the transept. The seventh tier had comprised about twenty portrayals of the martyrs.
All the frescoes on the arches above the prothesis show thematic affinity with the above mentioned cycle. Here we can identify the representations of St Trifon and St Sergius while lower in the eighth tier are St Alexius the Man of God, Andrew the God's Fool, St Gelasius and one of the three martyrs of Cappadocia - Elevsippos, Spevsippos or Melevsippos. At the same level with the latter frescoes were cleaned small fragments of the standing martyrs on the western wall in the south part of the transept and the remains of the two warriors in the north part of the transept, highly valuable as a work of art.
The ninth tier of the murals is represented by the crosses on the columns before the altar and above the arch of the diaconicon and by the figures of the female martyrs in the western section above the gallery. Here we find St Julitta with the youth Cyrik, St Thecla, St Alexandra (?) and St Barbara.
The author deliberately stresses the description of the bema, altar niche and the adjoining diaconicon, the painting in which displays certain thematic independence. There is justification for grouping all these works into one thematic category. From the historical scenes and individual portrayals of saints in the main section we pass over to symbols.
Flanking on the right and left the Descent of the Holy Ghost fresco, having decorated the east lunette of the vault, must have been two scenes from the last days of Christ. It is completely impossible to imagine the subject of the badly damaged fresco on the south slope of the vault. But undoubtedly the above mentioned paintings were connected thematically with smaller frescoes of the lower tiers on the north and south walls of the bema and on the facing the altar sides of the two eastern columns supporting the dome. The remains of four representations are distinguishable the one being identified as the Agony in the Garden. The most likely assumption is that the bema was painted with fourteen or sixteen scenes from the Passion of Christ. Analogous cycle, consisting of the similar compositions moderate in size, fills the altar in the Church of St Theodore Stratilates, which was painted in the 1380s and shows stylistic affinity with the frescoes by Theophanes in the Church of the Saviour of the Transfiguration.

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