19 September 2009

PS, Part Two: Chapels

Starting again with the topic of clothes: I had mentioned the fresco of a Western woman in a small church used for the burial chapel, Ag. Marina, of a fief near Nauplion. I discovered a cache of my photographs that had gone missing, and in them I found her husband.

This may not seem particularly exciting, since all you can see of him is part of his red robe, and a bit of elbow and arm to the left of the hanging lamp, and a faint outline of thighs and knees just below the middle of the picture. Here she is again, below, in what was once meant to be a white dress. Both pictures have been Gimped to lighten them up and increase the contrast considerably. The man in red and the woman in white are reaching out towards each other, a common gesture in such paintings.

So in this tiny, badly-built, ruinous chapel, we have portraits of a husband and wife. Excavation might find a tomb. Excavation might ruin the place. Cleaning the frescos plus a little faith-healing might produce evidence of another burial or two, and even another portrait.

This husband and wife would have had a house in Nauplion, and one out on the fief. What small information we have on Nauplion's houses indicate that the houses were underwhelming, embarrassing if the city had to house a high-level visitor. We know even less about the fiefs, but this one is made out of steep hills and valleys, the ancient Greek fortress of Kazarma, and a Mycenean bridge where the main road from Nauplion to the east coast of the Argolid runs through. Cyriaco rode out there to visit and sketch the antiquites. Probably the fief produced wool, honey, and olive oil. That is what is produced in those hills today.

* * * * *

More Gimping and enlarging turned up a provocative image from another chapel, Metamorphoses. Most of the visible frescos are firmly dated to 1570 by a painted inscription. On the wall to the right of the entrance is a fairly conventional scene of the saint-making process, with body parts about to happen. In contemporary Venetian documents, this is called tagliar a peci, cutting to pieces, and can mean anything from a knife wound to what you think it means.

This whole fresco is clearly 16th century, even without the inscription that dates it. But the top of this 16th century scene peters out over an earlier scene which could provide a great deal of information for the history of the chapel.

All that remains of that earlier scene is a group of men, wearing what appears to be Western dress, being directed by a young man in the center to look at Christ on the cross. The later painter has nicely managed so that the mountains of his scene support the older scene and give Christ's feet a place to rest -- which suggests a damaged but respected older fresco.
A combination of small hints in various sources have made me think there was a small Franciscan monastery somewhere in the Nauplion area in the 15th century, and this partial fresco is suggestive of Franciscans to me. I would be grateful for any information here -- on iconography, Franciscans, whatever.

The historical sequence of events, then, would have the monks, maybe Franciscans, maybe not, leaving --at the latest -- in 1540 with the Ottoman takeover of Nauplion. A new landowner allowed the abandoned monastery to be taken over by the Orthodox, and Michael Fantalouris paid for new frescos in 1570, for the benefit of his soul, he said.

I hope his soul was received kindly.

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