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Image and Narration in Byzantium: New Testament Cycles in Palaiologan Monumental Painting

Nektarios Zarras, University of the Aegean, Summer Fellow 2013

During my fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, I had the opportunity to prepare for publication the paper, “Narrating the Sacred Story: New Testament Cycles in Middle and Late Byzantine Period,” that Ι presented here at the spring symposium, “New Testament in Byzantium,” on April 26–28, 2013. My research at Dumbarton Oaks was based on the cycles of the Passion and Eothina gospels represented in monuments decorated by the painters Michael and Eutychios Astrapas. It focused on three main areas: first, the methods of organizing and depicting the extensive narrative cycles; second, the influence of the texts on the arrangement and the iconography of the scenes; and third, the perception of the sacred story by the beholder. It emerges from the expansion of the cycles that the painters, in collaboration with the designers of the programs and following the gospel text and the rhetoric of images, created superb ensembles in which the scenes are transformed into narrative media. Episodes that, within the narrative, function as prologue and epilogue to the central scenes, as well as dialogues between the protagonists, which are illustrated in every detail, dramatize the sacred story in such a way that the beholder lives an exciting experience of instruction through imagery. In the course of working in the Dumbarton Oaks Library, I also had the opportunity to embark on the Ministry Cycle of Christ depicted in the Chora monastery. I hope that the results of this endeavor will be published soon.