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The Monastery of St. Chrysostomos at Koutsovendis, Cyprus: The Wall-Paintings

Maria G. Parani, Nicosia, Cyprus, Summer Fellow 2004

The monastery of St. John Chrysostom at Koutsovendis in Cyprus was founded in the late eleventh century by the monk George, who probably hailed from Syria-Palestine. A few years later, a chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity was constructed contiguous to the katholikon and adorned with magnificent wall-paintings (ca. 1100), which are now only partially preserved. The founder of the chapel and donor of its painted decoration was the governor of Cyprus Eumathios Philokales. The surviving wall-paintings of the Trinity chapel were conserved and recorded by a team from Dumbarton Oaks under Cyril Mango in the 1960s. Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the monastery of St. Chrysostom, located in a Turkish military zone, became inaccessible and the wall-paintings were covered up by whitewash and large sheets of paper. Because of these unfortunate circumstances, the numerous black-and-white prints and, especially, the detailed color slides and transparencies in the Dumbarton Oaks Photograph Archive have come to constitute an invaluable source for the study of this important painted ensemble.

My study of the paintings of Holy Trinity constitutes part of a larger project undertaken in collaboration with Cyril Mango and Tassos Papacostas, with the aim of publishing a comprehensive study on Koutsovendis that will contain sections dedicated to the history of the monastery, its architecture, sculpture, and the chapel frescoes. The presence of Dr. Papacostas at Dumbarton Oaks, also as a Summer Fellow, provided me with an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas with him and profit greatly from his expertise.

The iconographic study of the frescoes deals mainly with certain features that appear unusual. Some of these could probably be considered as reflecting current theological discussions and recent developments in the art of the period, while others are perhaps better associated with the donor and his motives, the chapel’s function, its specific monastic milieu, or the influence of local historical conditions and artistic traditions. The stylistic study of the frescoes addresses primarily the problem of the artistic tradition to which they belong. Considering the links of the Koutsovendis monastic community with Syria-Palestine, the possibility that the Koutsovendis master came from the area of Antioch is being explored. Having access to the excellent reference library of Dumbarton Oaks was essential in pursuing further this line of comparative art-historical inquiry. The section on style also explores the relation of Koutsovendis to other Cypriot painted ensembles of the early twelfth century, with special emphasis on the paintings of Asinou, Trikomo, and Apsinthiotissa. As a consequence of 1974, the unpublished paintings of the latter church are now destroyed. The color slides from Apsinthiotissa in the Dumbarton Oaks Photograph Archive constitute a rare record of this little-known lost masterpiece.