Terry, Ann and Henry Maguire, Dynamic Splendor: The Wall Mosaics in the Cathedral of Eufrasius at Porec.
In the Istrian town of Porec, the sixth-century cathedral, baptistery and episcopal palace stand close to the Adriatic Sea. These buildings form one of the most complete and important surviving examples of such an ecclesiastical complex. Splendid mosaics adorn each of the three apses, the apsidal arch and the facade of the cathedral built by Bishop Eufrasius. This book presents a meticulous survey of the apse and arch mosaics, in the context of early illustrations, descriptions and restorations, and it explains their style, iconography and iconology in relation to other works of the time.
After briefly describing the appearance of the mosaics today, the authors make a critical analysis of the graphic and documentary evidence for what was visible in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drawings, prints and photographs are carefully evaluated in relation to written descriptions of the mosaics and reports on their condition. In this way, the authors establish what was there before the controversial restoration of 1890-1900 by Pietro Bornia. Their aim is to distinguish between what dates from the sixth century and what from the nineteenth, and to ascertain whether the nineteenth-century restorers remade, copied or even 'improved' on the original work, according to the various theories of restoration then current.
The authors have undertaken a precise and very valuable examination of the mosaics from scaffolding erected in the cathedral at various times. This close inspection of the physical fabric of the mosaics has enabled them to see where the original plaster survives, where the original tesserae are still in situ, or have been reset, and where new tesserae have been added. The 'andamento' or patterning of the tesserae, in regular or irregular passages, also distinguishes original from restored work. The authors found that the range of hues identified as dating from the sixth century far outnumbers those added in the nineteenth century. The mosaicists employed more costly materials, like gold, glass tesserae and mother-of-pearl, in the central apse and less expensive cubes in the side apses, where the mosaics have not survived in their entirety. This painstaking survey of the mosaics is an important contribution to our understanding of them.
On the whole, close inspection of the mosaics has enabled the authors to conclude that Bornia's restoration consisted mostly of replacing large stretches of gold tesserae and minor patching of other areas. In two places the images were remade: the Lamb of God in the centre of the soffit of the main arch was fabricated in Rome; and the lower part of the frieze of Christ and the apostles on the apsidal arch wall was largely refashioned after the fragments of surviving mosaics had been removed from the wall. In general, however, it seems Bornia tended to respect the fabric of the original mosaics, in contradiction to accusations at the time from his critic, Giacomo Boni.
Stylistically, the mosaics are related to those in the Arian Baptistery, S. Vitale, S. Apollinare in Classe and the second phase of S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, works dating from c.526-556. The materials used are also similar, with coloured glass tesserae mixed with mother-of-pearl, stone and slate. It is likely that artists from Ravenna fashioned the Porec mosaics.
By establishing which parts of the composition are original, the authors come to a clear understanding of their iconography, and are able to identify the figures and their attributes. They can confidently identify the figures of Saints Cosmas and Damian in the north apse, for example, because of their certainty that the surviving lettering is original. They can also see part of the medical bag, often the attribute of these saints, carried by Damian. After identifying some of the figures, it becomes possible to discuss aspects of the work's iconology and to explain the deeper significance of these images. For example, they discuss their possible relation to the 'Three Chapters controversy', when the bishops of Venetia and Istria (including Bishop Eufrasius) opposed Emperor Justinian's condemnation of the writings of Theodore of Mopseustia, Theodoret of Cyrus and Ibas of Edessa at the Council of Chalcedon. They discuss possible reasons why the image of Susanna and the Elders appears on the incense box held by Zacharias. They note how the veil and belt of the Holy Mother of God allude to the mystery of the Incarnation. In these most interesting sections on iconography and iconology the authors have used many contemporary works of art as comparative material.
This book combines meticulous research with convincing argument and fascinating discussion. It is lavishly illustrated with numerous illustrations, most of which are in colour. These display the mosaics with many details of their beautiful materials, as well as early depictions of them, and comparable works of art mostly from the sixth or seventh centuries. Printed in two volumes, the abundant illustrations are well organized and easily accessible, while reading the text.
Joan Barclay Lloyd
School of Historical and European Studies
La Trobe University
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|Author:||Lloyd, Joan Barclay|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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