Prophets carrying texts by other authors in Byzantine painting: Mistakes or intentional substitutions?

Prophets carrying texts by other authors in Byzantine painting: Mistakes or intentional substitutions?

By Ljubica D. Popovich

Zbornik radova Vizantoloskog instituta, Issue 44 (2007)

Abstract: Since there are no two identical churches in Byzantine art, consequently there are no two identical iconographic programs. This observation also applies to the representation of prophets in the drums of the domes or in other locations in Byzantine churches. Research dealing with this group of Old Testament figures reveals many variations regarding the planned selection of prophets and choices of the texts that they carry inscribed on their scrolls.

This study examines the instances when one of the authors of the prophetic books carries the text by another author. These occurrences are neither frequent nor accidental. Such deviations from standard practice that are explored in this article demonstrate the following: first of all, exchanges of text can occur due to the mistake by the artist, as exemplified in the Palace Chapel in Palermo, or by the mistake of the person who inscribed the texts, as in the Chapel of Joachim and Anna in the Monastery Studenica. Secondly, in a number of monuments the text-bearer and the selection of the text by another prophet-author are not accidental.

For example, if a number of quotations to be used are chosen from the book by the prophet Isaiah, and he is only represented once, because repetition of the same prophet within a group of Old Testament figures was not practiced, what is to be done? Therefore, other, usually minor, prophets, were selected to hold the scrolls inscribed with the text by other authors, for example, Isaiah. Such cases are well documented in the churches of Panagia ton Chalkeon and the Holy Apostles in Thessalonike, and in the church of the Resurrection in Verroia, where the selection of prophets’ quotations, usually inspired by the liturgical tradition, furthermore serves to underscore a certain idea of a theological or iconographic nature.

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