Monday, November 2, 2015

as-Safir on the History of Antiochian Orthodox Iconography

Arabic original here.

The Arabic Icon... In Athens

by Walid Nasib Elias

Tripoli native Emma Ghorayeb Khoury gave a lecture at the University of Athens about iconography in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch during the 17th and 18th centuries.

As-Safir met with Khoury in Athens and she spoke about Antiochian iconography, revealing the secrets of the Arabic icon and its home in the Monastery of Our Lady of Kaftoun in Koura. She mentions that it is not possible to talk about icon painting before the 17th century, with the appearance of the art of the Aleppo School of icons which was founded by the family of the priest Yusuf al-Musawwir, who was born in Aleppo in the mid-17th century. He was followed by his son the priest Ni'mat Allah al-Musawwir, his grandson the deacon Hanania al-Musawwir and his great-grandson the deacon Jirjis al-Musawwir.

The iconographer Michael Polychronis transmitted the secrets of the Cretan School of iconography by painting the Church of Saint Nicholas in Tripoli, which contains 120 icons, in 1809 and the Church of Saint George, which was erected in 1862 by a decree from the Ottoman sultan.

She adds that according to the memoirs of her grandfather, Abdallah Ghorayeb, the painter lived in Tripoli from 1809 to 1821 and left a valuable legacy of icons. Thanks to him, the most important icons in the Patriarchate of Antioch were painted, especially those found on the iconostasis of the church in Maaloula.

The painter Hanna al-Qudsi transmitted the art of the Jerusalem School to the Church of Antioch, signing his work "the wretched painter."

According to the author, the most important schools of art in the Patriarchate of Antioch are the Aleppo School and the Jerusalem School, whose icons circulated in most churches and monasteries but whose artistic importance is less than that of the Aleppo School. The icons of the Church of Saint Nicholas resemble those of the Aleppo School and are of an excellent artistic quality. Very old icons are also found in the Church of Saint George in Mina.

With the coming to power of the Russian Empress Catherine II in the 17th century, iconography started to decline-- after having been at its apex-- because she preferred the tradition of Italian painting and so iconography changed and was no longer as authentic as before.

The rarest and most important icon in the Patriarchate of Antioch is found at the Monastery of Our Lady of Kaftoun and dates to the 13th century. It has numerous distinct features that are different from other icons depicting Theophany. The icon has two sides. One side is an icon of the Theotokos and the other is an icon of Theophany. Its importance is due to three texts written in three languages: Arabic, Syriac and Greek.

Despite the lack of any book on the subject, the writer stresses that its painter is unknown because originally icons were not signed. They only started being signed in the 17th century. For example, the famous icon of the Holy Trinity painted by the Russian Andrei Rublev was not signed.

Khoury mentions that Greek influence on Antiochian art is very clear because of the presence of Greek bishops and patriarchs in positions of ecclesiastical authority up to 1850 [in fact, until 1899]. People from Aleppo would go to Mount Athos and the Greek islands, including Crete, bringing with them the style of iconography that does not differ from the eastern, Antiochian style.


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