23 lipca 2015

Souffle's Song 'Saint glass of Byzantium' - this is NOT a review 8D [ENG]

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Strange is name of this skirt, isnt't it? >D Though I can understand the typo, all in all, 'saint' and 'stained' sound slightly alike. Nevertheless, this name, although gramatically incorrect, makes more sense in case of this print, than the eventually corrected. There are Christian saints present indeed and no stained glass windows motifs, although it might look like they do. And if it's not stained glass, then what? Ouch, a lot. There is a lot going on on this print. And, contrary to the similar in some ways dress from Krad Lanrete, this print is inconsistent time-wise, geography-wise and - unfortunately - culture-wise as well >D Yes, no matter what the name says, not everything here is Byzantine.

Is it a pure coincidence, or was it supposed to make things harder for a certain Polish blogger who loves to search for truth about historical prints on lolita clothes? >D If you survive to the end of this post, making the decision will be up to you...~

Maybe you are new here and don't know it, or maybe you just need to be remembered about it - this Ra here is a byzantophile. Maybe not a total one, because there is another country I can rant about for hours, but my heart is wrapped quite firmly in Byzantine gold foil. When I had seen this skirt I immediately knew I would like to inspect it someday, yet none of the colours was convincing me. I've been postponing and postponing buying it, because shipping from China is scary, and suddenly I got an unbelievable occassion to get it into my hands. Yes, this entry is another one of my strange 'reviews' digging deep into art history and history in general, this time related to a topic which I hold dear. Let's sail to Byzantium then, as Irish poet Yeats said.

This country drew my conscious attention for the first time in high school, during a history lesson. The teacher said king of Franks, Charlemagne, had been crowned a Roman Emperor by the Pope and Byzantium objected this, because their rulers, having at their disposal Roman imperial regalia, were the only people who had the right to carry this title. I was surprised by this passive objection, since the rest of European history teached me grabbing anything belonging to another country immediately resulted in war. What surprised me more, though, was the Pope's disregard for Byzantine Empire's traditional rights, just like this big and nearly ancient country not only didn't matter, but didn't exist at all... I myself utterly hate feeling ignored, that's why I feel sincere sympathy towards all things unwanted and unneeded. (I despise those that throw themselves in my face, calling to be seen, that's why I don't like Ancient Rome. And many other things, from social justice warriors to manga.). It was the beginning of my adventure with Byzantium, which only needed me starting to like early Medieval art and golden colour to bloom into love at last XD Or maybe the Empire is the cause of me liking gold now...

The Byzantine Empire lasted 1100 years with a small break - I wouldn't want to go through its history, because it's not the most fascinating thing in its case. Byzantium was very conservative, withstanding any new trends and changes, standing firmly on Roman and Greek culture foundations, making use of its perfectly polished principles of functioning. Telling Byzantine history is boring, since it would end up in naming subsequent emperors and the wars they led.

Then what could I say about these people who spoke Greek, yet called themselves Romans? Whose country has no direct descendant, yet its standards are weaved deep into the structure of Europe? The footprints of this civilisation can be found even in such unexpected places as mosques on Iberian Peninsula (Córdoba) and in Israel (Dome of the Rock) or even, in a very twisted way, in functioning of European Union. Not to mention the obvious influence it had on Russia and the Balkans. Nevertheless, Byzantium remains pretty unknown. Always distanced, believing in its own superiority (fully justified!) to the rest of Europe; when it finally opened up to the West, it was received with as much distrust, as much distrust it showed the West. But the works of Byzantine mosaicists and goldsmiths were much valued in other countries. The craftsmen were often imported by foreign rulers to decorate buildings with tiny plates, and the jewellery method of setting polished gems in collets was borrowed on Carolingian and Ottonian court.

Yet no matter how it prized the arts, the West felt more and more resentment towards Greek Empire itself, as it was called back then. It was probably caused by inferiority complex towards this sophisticated country, whose capital was called the Queen of Cities, with legends about her unnumerable riches; country, where food was being eaten with forks instead of hands and where majority of people could read. Byzantium was denigrated as a passive country of effeminate men (because, inter alia, they thought trousers were a barbaric thing and wore long tunics instead. How is that a bad thing? >D), and the hatred reached its peak in 1204, when the 4th crusade attacked, sacked and completely plundered Constantinople. The first captors of the City since its foundation took the riches to the West, declared the end of Byzantium and founded the Latin Empire in its place, ruled by Franks, which lasted 50 years. This is the second time I mention the Franks, which is strange, because the biggest Western enemy of the Byzantines was Venice, not them.

Byzantine Empire, although resurrected itself, never regained its former power after this blow. As a shadow of what it was before, it ultimately came to an end in 1453, captured by Turks. Since that time it lives in popculture as a resultant of Russian sacral art and Western lies. Hidden behind splendor of dripping gold, artful mosaics and imperial silks (made thanks to silkworms illegally transported from China, as the legend says), the Empire is now a lost world, veiled by mystery. Let the dead rest in this particular glory that only the things that have passed can have. Let's take a look at its fantastic art instead.

First of all I'd like to draw your attention to the colour. I've mentioned at the beginning none of them was convincing me enough. Why among them there wasn't that one colour that associates the most with Byzantine Empire - purple, purple like clotted blood and like wine-dark Sea? No, it's not a mistake nor a strange case of daltonism: the ancients saw purple as a dark, reddish-brown colour, contrary to the ever lighter colours called with this name today. How in the world did Homer see this hue in the Sea waves? Nobody knows, it's one of the biggest mysteries of ancient literature >D

But enough about purple and imagination of archaic Greek poets. We have dark blue here. I like dark blue very much, when I was a child all of my things had to be in this colour. But the shade here is very specific. It's no ordinary navy or something. It's my favourite shade probably of all that exist, one that immediately increased my sympathy to this skirt - Prussian blue. Prussia is this very country I can rant about for hours. So it shouldn't be a surprise this strange, greenish-greyish shade of dark blue I was used to look at caught my eye. It's probably a mistake in dyeing factory, because I'm guessing it was supposed to be navy blue, but I have a colour of Prussian uniforms instead and I LOVE it. It's completely historically incorrect in the case of Byzantium, since this dye was synthesized more than 200 years after its fall, but it's completely hictorically correct in case of another country that fascinates me, and for me it's way more important than crazy level of correctness.

This whole motif is multiplied through whole circumference of the skirt. What's better, despite being the main part of the print, it's also the most mixed up thing. I'll repeat myself: this is not stained glass and not everything here is Byzantine.

There were no stained glass windows in Byzantine Empire as we know them from gothic cathedrals. Mainly because the architecture of their churches wouldn't let it. Byzantine architecture is somewhat similar to romanesque (it's older, of course) - chunky buildings made of heavy stone can't have giant windows, because the ceiling wouldn't find a suitable support in a wall with such a big hole and it would easily collapse. And when the windows are small, then there is no need to decorate them heavily. It doesn't change the fact the coloured glass was being produced in the Empire and sometimes it was even used for the windows, but it were always simple geometrical shapes, never human figures.

Here one can see the most typical Byzantine craft - wall mosaic. Upon closer look the tiny plates can be seen on this print. This method was in use from the dawn of human civilisation, was popular in ancient Greece and Rome, but it became a central one for Byzantium and was perfected there. Mosaics made from colourful stones and glass would make a good new name for this skirt, let's say, 'Glass mosaic of Byzantium' and it would sound way better. But no.

So these motifs come from Byzantine Empire. But their shape obstinately suggests stained glass windows. No surprise: this is where the time and geography inconsistency of this print manifested itself (and it's not the last example of it, but I'll keep silent for now). Stained glass windows gained popularity thanks to gothic architecture - and the shapes of these mosaics belong to gothic windows with traceries. Byzantine art of course never used this type of windows, despite the emerging of gothic art and lasting of the Empire overlap. I've already told you how Byzantium shunned new trends and fashions. And about its aversion to the West.

So... should I be angry at this historical incorrectnes? Come on, am I supposed to be a goth and don't enjoy gothic art? >D Trefoil and quatrefoil traceries are very pretty and give a feeling of lightness and slenderness to the otherwise monumental, yet heavy mosaics. And these weird vector roses and ivy - is it only me who sees them climbing up the wall of a ruined church, a church forgotten so much nobody even knows now there were once buildings that combined gothic art with Byzantine? >D

It was the first mosaic I've found. It's easiest to do it when some kind of writing is showing, and it was what helped me also here. It says '[G]ervasius' - so it's Gervase, saint Gervase. Maybe some of you saw a slight difference between him and the rest of mosaics in the previous photo: the colours and his face features are different. That's because it was made by different artist, in different time, and it itself comes from a different church. Namely from Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan and dates back to 9th century. Milan already wasn't within the borders of Byzantium at that time - this mosaic was made by hired byzantine mosaicists. That also explains the Latin alphabet, but it's not the best method of telling Byzantine art from Western, because the Greek language became main language of the Empire in 620, and all older official writings are in Latin.

Medieval genderfluidity! The previous owner of this skirt, after many thoughts, decided it's a male figure, while I, also after many thoughts, abstained from voting. Turns out it's a woman. Although I have to say it's way better visible on the original photo than on the print. But it's a woman, and not an ordinary one, since it's Mary, mother of Jesus. This mosaic comes from church of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome, dates back to 13th century, and is located in the apse (semicircular vault over the altar). And here's a sad truth: it's in no way a Byzantine work. It's entirely a work of an Italian mosaicist, whose name we even know: Pietro Cavallini. So, yeah, cultural inconsistency... On the scroll held by Mary there is a writing that says: 'Leva eius sub capite meo et dex[t]era illius amplesabit[ur] me'. Have I ever mentioned how much I love such Latin where there are v's instead of u's? If no - now you know >D It means: 'His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me', 2:6 and 8:3 from Song of Songs.

Song of Songs is the most controversial part of the Bible. And my favourite, because, among other things, it bears resemblance to ancient Egyptian love poetry. Since christian faith never spoke to me on a spiritual level, I won't write what do I think about official explanations of this work, because it's not the place for this. The mosaic follows these explanations, so I'll stick to them. One of such theories says the Song of Solomon is about relationship between Christ and the Church. Church, as the medieval folks loved their symbolism everywhere, is antropomorfised as a woman in regal attire, and is called Ecclesia. You can see she has a hand of Christ - the Groom from Song of Songs - on her shoulder. Ecclesia was quickly merged with Mary into one figure and bears the name of Maria Ecclesia.

These - undoubtely, this time - ladies come from the same church as Mary above. They are century older, though, and are placed on the church's facade, which is unusual, because few of such mosaics remained to our times. It is not exactly known, who they are, but the total number of them, halos and lanterns they carry suggest Wise Virgins from one biblical parable. It isn't the only explanation, they could be Roman female martyrs or even court ladies as well. I admire their robes, which look pretty Byzantine to me, but I won't lie, telling Byzantine fashions from medieval European is my Achilles' heel.

Nice pendant, isn't it? What a pity it's another thing that has nothing in common with Byzantium >D I can say it's the last one - but it's also the most missed shot of them all. It was made probably in Germany and most probably after the final fall of Byzantine Empire... It works like a locket. But its purpose wasn't to carry secret love letters or perfume, but holy relics. Yes, it's a personal reliquary pendant, now empty, and the gemstones used for decoration may have a symbolic meaning: pearls symbolise purity, the red gems probably blood of Christ, and blue sapphire is for heaven and holiness.

Now that's funny - when I've been looking at my skirt for the first time, I highly doubted in Byzantine origins only of this cross. Byzantine art is always slightly off, slightly asymmetrical, with slightly irregular cabochons instead of faceted, like the gems in the previous pendant. As you can see - this cross meets all of these requirements, but I couldn't see it on the blurred print. In my eyes the gems were faceted, no matter they were set in collets like Byzantines did it, since I know well this method was later used in the rest of Europe. Additionally, it looked like there were no pearls, which Byzantium loved so much... Just how much one has to fuck up the 'copy-paste' method that the white elements turn out in the colour of the background.

Because this cross is Byzantine. It's Byzantine as hell and has a fascinating history. It's also a reliquary pendant, containing an alleged splinter of the Holy Cross (fun fact: the ancient Romans were a very pragmatic folk and reused the same crosses many times), made in 11/12th century. It was accidentally found at the beginning of 19th century in Roskilde, Denmark. Roskilde was once, in early Medieval times, a capital of Denmark, but in 19th century it was reduced to a mere agricultural settlement. Roskilde Cathedral was selling their old wooden furnishings and and a local coppersmith bought several of them for firewood. When he was cutting a crucifix into smaller pieces it turned out the head of Christ was hollow and inside, wrapped in silk, was this beautiful golden cross.

But it only leaves more questions. Why was it so hidden? Nobody knows. I'm highly suspecting the Protestant Reformation movement, which engulfed northern Europe in 16th century. The protestants were destroying and plundering catholic churches and they don't believe in holiness of relics - hiding such valuable artifact seems natural. And how a Byzantine cross came to the Danish capital? It's even more mysterious. I haven't heard of any marriages between Danish kings and southern princesses during these centuries, and the Danes didn't participate in 4th crusade. The way of truth is surely crooked and I won't dare to give answer.

The last part left is this mosaic motif from vertical stripes. Is it Byzantine... partially. It's one of the mosaics inside the Dome of the Rock, a muslim sanctuary in Jerusalem, one of the most holy places for islam. Caliph Abd al-Malik, enthralled by interiors of Byzantine temples that still stood in Syria, wanted to build something similar yet different, and what will dazzle the world. So he built Dome of the Rock, a domed octagonal building, just like Christian churches back then. Then he hired mosaicist masters from Byzantium to supervise working on the ornaments. And so these mosaics came to be: partially they meet the requirements of islamic art (no forbidden animal and human pictures, but crowns, jewellery, floral motifs and geometric shapes instead), partially they are in Byzantine aesthetic (colours, highly formalised, imperfect symmetry and lack of horror vacui - meaning 'fear of empty space', which is typical for islamic art).

You can see the mosaic srtipes are surrounded by narrower stripes of gems set in gold. Don't worry, I didn't identify them, I didn't even try to >D The Chinese designers won over my seeker will here. But I won over them in another area...~

Have you wondered while reading this entry, where such assortment of motifs came from? Where the hell did they find such little known - and little Byzantine, contrary to what the name suggests - mosaics? Really, one would rather expect Theodora, Justinian, Zoe Porphyrogenita and Irene of Hungary. These would be undoubtely Byzantine at least...

I did wonder. And I discovered it while looking for Roskilde reliquary. I've already identified everything else, it was the last thing left and it was giving me a hard time. I've been searching it under every possible tag in several languages I know. When I caught myself googling such specific terms as crux gemmata and they didn't give me the result I needed, I thought maybe I'm going the harder way. I decided to register on the site where everything is - Pinterest and look for it there. And that's where I found this double-barred cross at last. And then...

And then I put 'byzantine mosaic' in the search out of curiosity. ...really, if I had been registered there earlier, it would save me a lot of time. All of these mosaic pictures were one of the FIRST ones under this tag. Mary and both women were even cut so conveniently, although the source photos are panoramical. And everything was tagged as Byzantine, even this poor German pendant. And I think if it's the way I'm supposed to find next possible historical prints, then I quit, because it's not satisfying. Even for the price of knowing that on a skirt which name has 'Byzantium' in it, three out of seven are partially Byzantine, and only one is undoubtely. Congratulations, now that sounds like a great result >D And for the future, don't believe everything you can find in the internet.

Sources of original photos: 
gothic window: (x)
st. Gervase: (x)
mosaics from Santa Maria in Trastevere: (x); at least it's what Pinterest says
german pendant: (x)
Roskilde cross: (x)
mosaic from the Dome of the Rock: (x)

4 komentarze:

  1. Wow you did some great research! I knew nothing about Byzantine art and jewellery but it is impressive! And such a beautiful skirt print!

    1. Thank you! I'm trying my best, since I know many of my followers aren't from Europe and they probably know little about long gone European cultures. It's not even like Europeans in general know much about Byzantine Empire XD And since I do have a certain amount of knowledge... well, it's only a pleasure for me to share it.

  2. I loved reading this analysis of the print! It reminds me of your analysis of the Mozarabic Chant print :) It's so interesting to learn about the art history of these prints :)

    1. Thank you very much, I'm glad you liked it! <3 They are indeed similar, because their subject is Medieval art and while it's not my main field of study, it still speaks to me thanks to dominance of Latin language during that time and I can easily see many concepts that bloomed then are roots for modern things. And I just love, LOVE to delve from time to time into some obscure symbols and Middle Ages are the best era to find symbolism, because it was everywhere :D