28 July 2012

The Frescos of Longanikos

Main street, Longanikos.

Longanikos is a wonderfully severe town, with massive stone buildings and ruins on the steep hillside above and below the narrow main road. It was noted in a list of fortresses controlled by the Venetians in 1463, at the beginning of the long war with the Ottomans.  It next appears two years later in the letters of Jacopo  Barbarigo, provveditor of the Morea, in his reports to Venice. Barbarigo reported Longanikos under siege in mid-September 1465, then he had a letter from Epiphani Kladas, podestà at Vordounia, saying that the Turks had left and gone to Leondari.  The next day a sad and exhausted group of men arrived at Barbarigo's headquarters at Mantinea, on the coast of Mani just south of Kardamyloi.

Michaeli Rallis and his brother, Nikolaos Bochalis and his, Manoli Kladas, and Zuanne Gavala, podestà of Longanikos, and a group of twenty representing the town, came to say that they had defended Longanikos as long as they could.  They had given over 10 of their sons as hostages, so the siege would be lifted.  Their houses had been burned, their possessions destroyed, and Longanikos was going to starve.  Barbarigo did what he could for them out of his limited resources -- a little cash, some cloth and grain, and enrolled them in the army at one ducat a month. He also gave them a letter of appreciation on behalf of the Signoria, written in Greek.

All I knew of Longanikos was the facades of the houses on the main street, and this story.  So I was delighted to come across a book, Les Peintures Murales Byzantines des Églises de Longanikos (Athens 2002) by Olympia Chassoura who presents the exceptionally lovely frescos in Longanikos in three unprepossessing little churches.  Two churches' frescos date from 1375, towards the end of the despotate of Manuel Kantakuzenos and Zampia/Isabella of Lusignan, while the frescos shown in the third date from about 1430 in the despotate of Theodoros II Palaiologos and Cleofe Malatesta.  These names are for the convenience of placing the frescos in a historical time-frame: there is no evidence to associate the frescos with the rulers.

Ag. Giorgios, Longanikos.

Church of the Dormition, Longanikos.

North facade, Ag. Apostoli, Longanikos

Ag. Giorgios, Deisis

Ag. Apostoli, Deisis

The majority of the frescos are from Ag. Georgios.  Unfortunately, most of the pictures in the book are printed in low-grade black-&-white, and details are difficult to make out. I regret not being able to see the Dormition's Virgin in color.  But what can be seen in the color photographs indicates the selection of a remarkably subdued color palette -- here one might wonder about the economics of color choice, unfamiliar iconography (the torture of Ag. Georgios, below), and exceptionally tender presentations of the human form.  In fact, the Prophet Ezekiel (below) is the only huggable prophet I have ever encountered.

The frescos at Longanikos can be demonstrated to be by the same painters who worked onAi Yannis and the Aphendiko at Mistra, and Ag. Nikolaos at Zarnata.  The Ag. Georgios frescos are dated 1374/75 (6884) in an inscription, those of Ag. Apostoli a year or so later, while those of the Dormition are from the 1420s.

Archangel Gabriel (det.), Ag. Giorgios 1374/5

 Torture of Ag. Giorgios, Ag. Giorgios,1374/5.

Dragon narrative, Ag. Giorgios, 1374/5 

 Princess and dragon, Ag. Giorgos, 1374/5

The Prophet Ezekiel, Ag. Giorgios, 1374.5. 

Ai. Blasios & Prochoros, Ag. Giorgios 1374/5


  Ai Theodori, Ag. Giorgios, 1374/5

 The Apostle Paul, Ai. Apostoli, 1375

The Baptism, Ai Apostoli, 1375  

Nativity, Ai Apostoli, 1375  

Metamorphosis, Church of the Dormition , ca. 1430

Dormition of the Virgin, Church of the Dormition, ca. 1430

Virgin and Child, Church of the Dormition,ca. 1430

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