Viewing Vermeer – part 1

Today (14 March 2023) is Vermeer Day! We ordered tickets online on 28 December shortly after we first heard about it and although the exhibition was on at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam between February and June, all tickets were sold out by the middle of February.

The museum is an impressive late 19th century building that has been completely modernised inside and is very well laid out. The relatively short queue moved quickly and we were soon free of coats and bags and ready to enjoy the exhibition. The exhibition texts are in Dutch and English and the paintings are arranged thematically. Of the 38 known paintings by Vermeer, 27 appear in the exhibition, the others were either too fragile to travel or their owners refused to let them be included. From auction catalogues, titles or at least subjects of some other Vermeer paintings are known but they have since disappeared.

The paintings are hung in small rooms, making it necessary to wait patiently for an opportunity to get close up to them amidst a press of people. There are two paintings I will talk about separately when I do a post about Delft where we spent three days after Amsterdam. These are the View of Delft and the Little Street as they are the only two cityscapes featuring his home town that Vermeer produced .

At the beginning of his career when he was in his early 20s, Vermeer painted 4 paintings on religious / mythical themes. At first sight, I would find it hard to say they were by Vermeer as three of them at least are so different in style to the paintings for which he is well known. He produced them in his early twenties when he was still finding his way and apart from their subject matter and style they are also the biggest canvases he created. The mythological painting is Diana and her nymphs: none of the characters are looking at each other or out at the viewer, seemingly locked in their own interior worlds. One curious feature is that two of the nymphs (in the foreground) and Diana all look alike, possibly indicating that he used the same model in different poses. I am sure this same face (model) appears in his other paintings. This will be a recurring theme through the exhibition: the same clothes, models, props recur throughout his work.

The first religious painting is of an obscure saint, St Praxedis, based in Rome who collected relics of matryred Christians. In Vermeer’s treatment she is squeezing a sponge holding blood into a vessel, obviously taken from the decapitated body of a martyr seen on the ground behind her. Once again there is no connection with the viewer as St Praxedis concentrates intensely on the task she is undertaking. Again that sense of an interior world to which we do not have any access.

The second religious painting is much more impressive, Christ in the house of Mary and Martha. This seems to me to be the first painting where Vermeer uses light in an interesting way to focus on Christ teaching. It is also the first where there is a connection between the three characters: Jesus looks at Mary, who has been complaining that she is doing all the work while Martha sits listening to Christ teaching, as he explains that listening to the teachings is more important. Martha, her head resting pensively on her right hand sit at Christ’s feet looking up at him. The main focus is on Christ’s right hand against a bright white tablecloth background as he gestures towards Martha.

The final painting in this section is an odd and slightly disturbing one, called The Procuress, a common theme in Dutch 17th century painting apparently. It depicts a girl being pressed into sleeping with a man leaning over her from behind with his hand on her left breast, The girl’s coif is askew and her cheeks are flushed from the drink she has been taking. She holds a wine glass is in one hand and a flagon sits on the table to her left. The man about to take her virtue is dropping a silver coin into her outstretched hand watched avidly by the shadowy figure of the procuress in the centre of the painting. The most bizarre feature of the painting though is the man sitting on the left, dressed in extravagant black and white clothing and a floppy hat with feathers, luxuriant brown locks cascading round his head. He has obviously had a few to drink It’s odd because he is smiling broadly at the viewer, holding a raised glass in one hand and the neck of stringed instrument in the other. This character has been described as a self portrait by Vermeer, on the basis that he looks like the same character, dressed in the same clothes that can be seen from the back in his later Art of Painting. Why would Vermeer put himself looking so merry in such a moralistic painting.

The other odd thing about the painting is the foreground, consisting of a highly patterned, mainly red coloured carpet covering up the the lower halves of the seated characters , as if they had put a rug round themselves to keep warm. In fact it solves a few problems of perspective that might have distracted from the main subject of the painting. Carpets in odd places are also a recurring theme of Vermeer’s paintings.

Finally, and this is the disturbing part, it is the beginning of another theme in the exhibition: women seemingly being forced or encouraged to drink by men who themselves are not drinking.

Ravenna – the church of San Vitale – part 2

I did an initial post on this church a little while ago, but forgot to do a follow up. The most famous mosaics in this church are the ones on either side of the altar depicting (on the left) the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and (on the right) his wife Theodora.

Both are part of processions offering gifts to San Vitale. Justinian, carrying an empty basked, is accompanied by soldiers and priests, including the local bishop, Maximianus, the only one to be named on the mosaics. The Emperor seems to hover in mid air, between earth and heaven, as befits God’s representative on earth. He is wearing a cloak of imperial purple with a gold border, a colourful, bejewelled rosette fastening his cloak at his right shoulder.

On his head he is wearing an imperial crown studded with precious jewels and pearls. Four pearls hang on gold chains from the crown (pendilia), a symbol of his imperial status.

In Theodora’s procession she is accompanied by two priests and a group of ladies in court costume. She is also wearing an imperial crown with pendilia, a rich purple cloak with gold trimming and a depiction of the three Magi.

She stands beneath a shell, holding a golden bowl or chalice. The shell has been interpreted as a symbol of her death (she died in 548 AD), perhaps reinforced by the priest to the left pulling aside a curtain to reveal a black space. The mosaics were finished in 547 before she died, so this seems unlikely. In front of the pulled back curtain is a fountain symbolising the eater of life.

Both Justinian and Theodora are given haloes, not I think as a sign of saintliness, but perhaps to emphasise their status as divine representatives. All of the faces shown in the mosaics have the large eyes seen in icons, focused not on the here and now but as if looking out into eternity.

As noted in my first post on this church, only the apse and the walls to the side of the main altar have the mosaic decorations. The mosaics are of such superb quality they must have been done by artists from Constantinople: the Great Church of Aghia Sofia was consecrated there 10 years earlier in 537 AD. Neither Justinian no Theodora ever visited Ravenna, so they never got to seem themselves immortalised in mosaic form.

It’s not clear why the rest of the church was left undecorated: did they run out of money or was it all part of the plan that only the area near the altar would be decorated? To one side of the area under the central dome is a large baptismal pool with water in it.

An unusual feature is an inlaid labyrinth on the floor between the altar and the central dome area. It’s not clear whether this is part of the original building or whether it was added later. Often they are associated with medieval cathedrals, so it would be interesting to know how old it is.

There are some beautiful floor mosaics, including several in the following style which looks very Roman or like those remaining from the Great Imperial Palace in Constantinople:

A shell motif appears in various places on the floor of the church (though the first one may be more a depiction of the sun and its rays):

Myris – Alexandria 340 AD

I came across this strange poem by Cavafy a couple of years ago when I was reading and translating some of his poems about Alexandria. Something about it lodged in my brain and I thought it would be good to translate it but put it aside until I came across it again a few days ago.

What struck me about it when I first read it- and again now – is the concrete detail of the Myris’s parents’ house and the description of the strangeness of the Christian funeral rite to a pagan. But most of all , I was struck by that sense of horror at the end of the poem when the poet flees the house, gripped by doubt that he never knew Myris at all, and not wanting his memory of him to be tainted by the Christianity that was a major part of his life.

When I heard about the tragedy of Myris’s death
I went to his home, although normally I avoid
Going into the homes of Christians
Particularly when there are bereavements or celebrations.

I stood in the hall. I didn’t want
To go further inside as I was aware
That the deceased’s parent were looking at me
Questioningly and with dislike.

They’d put him in a large room
That I could see partially
From where I stood: all precious carpets,
And vessels made from clay and gold,
I stood and wept to one side of the hall.
And I thought that our gatherings and outings
Without Myris would no longer have any value:
And I thought that I would not see him again,
At our lovely and indecent night parties,
Happy and laughing and reading aloud verses
With his perfect sense of Greek rhythm:
And I thought I had lost for ever
His beauty, that I had lost for ever
The youth I had adored intensely.  

Some old ladies near me were speaking in low voices
About the last day of his life –
Constantly on his lips the name of Christ,
In his hands he held a cross.
Then into the room came
Four Christian priests who ardently
Said prayers and supplications to Jesus,
And to Mary (I don’t know their religion well).

Of course, we knew Myris was a Christian.
Since first we got to know him.
When, the year before last, he became part of our group.
He lived just like us.
More devoted to pleasure-seeking than any of us:
Lavishly frittering away his money on entertainments.
To the rest of the world happy-go-lucky,
He willingly launched himself into night quarrels on the roads
When our group chanced upon an opposing group.
He never spoke about his religion.
Indeed once we told him
We would take him with us to the Serapion.
But, I remember now, it was as if
He was offended by our jest.
Another couple of occasions come to mind now.
When we were making libations to Poseidon,
He withdrew from our circle and looked away.
When one of us, inspired by the god, said
‘May our party be under the favour and protection of the great
And sublime Apollo’ – Myris whispered
(the others didn’t hear him) “with the exception of me”.

The Christian priests in loud voices
Made supplications for the soul of the youth.
I noticed with how much attention
And intense care for the formalities of their religion
They prepared everything for the Christian funeral.
And suddenly a strange impression
Took hold of me. I somehow felt
As if Myris had left me:
I felt that, as a Christian,
He had been united with his family
And that I had become a stranger, very different;
I felt in addition a doubt come over me:
Perhaps I had been deceived
By my passion and had always been a stranger to him.
I rushed out of their hideous house,
Leaving quickly before my memory of Myris
Was taken over and corrupted by their Christianity.

In the footsteps of Bruce Chatwin on Mt Athos

Looking towards the monastery of Stavronikita from the monastery of Pantokrator

The monastery of Pantokrator on Mt Athos has a pavilion on the cliff top looking out over the Aegean towards the monastery of Stavronikita with Mt Athos behind it. The view offers a continually fascinating scene as the light changes throughout the day: now Stavronikita in shadow, now sharply in focus, sunlit against the mass of the Holy Mountain.

In an inlet below the monastery lies the arsanas, the harbour where the ferry drops off and collects pilgrims visiting the monastery. Wandering along the shore by the arsanas, I came across a rock with an iron cross on the top of it that I had seen pilgrims climbing up to.

Suddenly it stirred a memory. Bruce Chatwin! I remembered from reading Nicholas Shakespeare’s excellent biography that in 1985 Chatwin, just 4 years before he died, came on a pilgrimage to Mt Athos with his friend, the artist Derek Hill. He stayed at the Serbian monastery of Chilandari and one day decided to walk down the coast to Stavronikita. Perhaps he was attracted by the stunning sixteenth century mosaics by Theophanis the Cretan that decorate the katholikon. He must have walked along the footpath that my colleagues and I had just been been clearing.

Monastery of Stavronikita

‘He puffed towards it with his heavy rucksack’ writes Shakespeare, and quotes from Chatwin’s notebook: ‘”The most beautiful site of all was an iron cross on a rock by the sea. There must be a God”‘.

Although he neither wrote nor spoke further about what happened it was clear to his friends that he had had some form of religious experience. This led him to consider becoming Orthodox, even having discussions with the late Metropolitan Kallistos about it, and planning a second pilgrimage unfortunately interrupted by his death.

What was it exactly that affected Chatwin so much? We will never know. It was not just the cross on the rock that he encountered, it was the combination of the cross with his personal circumstances and history at that particular point in his life that held some meaning for him. A meaning strong enough to make him start to rethink his life.

The kalderimia (footpaths) between the monasteries we were clearing were mainly created 200 plus years ago by gangs of itinerant workers (bouloukia) from Epirus. But footpaths had already been there for thousands of years. Long before the monks took up residence here settlements had existed on the Holy Mountain going back to Ancient Greek times and beyond that to prehistory.

It is amazing to think how many people, prehistoric, Ancient Greeks, monks, saints, sinners and pilgrims have trodden these paths. Sometimes, out alone on these paths I wondered what I might encounter. Did that rustling sound or breaking twig presage some vision, some revelation, some enlightenment? At one point we got caught in the forest by a tremendous storm, lightning and and thunder directly overhead, heavy rain that drenched and chilled us. Was it a sign or just a heavy storm?

No, the miracle is in the Holy Mountain’s wild beauty, its remoteness, its unspoilt environment, always offering up new vistas, always changing in the Greek light. And in the profound silence of its presence.

Women on the Holy Mountain

The peninsula of Mt Athos (the Holy Mountain) in northern Greece is about 30 miles long and between 4-7.5 miles wide. Monks have been drawn to living lived there since the 4th century, attracted by its remoteness from civilisation, but it was only in the 8th century that the first formalised monastic communities were founded. Since the beginning, the Holy Mountain has been dedicated to the Virgin Mary and women have been forbidden to enter its territory.

It was a surprise then to discover that female bones have been found there. I only heard about this when staying for a week at the monastery of Pantokrator and happened to encounter Phaidon Hatziantoniou, an architect who has been working for about 40 years on restoring buildings on Mt Athos.

He spends half his time on this restoration work and when I met him he was still working on the chapel of St Athnasios at the monastery where he first uncovered the bones four years ago.

The discovery caused a stir and much speculation about the possibility of women having lived on Mt Athos in spite of the strict ban on them entering its confines. He told me that the bones had been buried under the floor of the chapel, but that analysis showed that this had not been their original place of burial. At some point the bones had been moved. His own theory is that the bones belonged to the wife of one of the benefactors of the restoration of the monastery in the 1540s. This benefactor was from Wallachia (part of modern day Roumania) and he had built a house (now ruined) on the rocks outside the monastery.

Phaidon’s theory is that the benefactor’s wife died and was buried in Wallachia and that at some later stage her husband had her bones transferred to the Holy Mountain to be buried in the chapel of the monastery that they had both supported.

This is not a unique occurrence. Apparently St Joseph the Hesychast, a 20th century elder canonised by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2020, kept his mother’s skull in his cell.

According to this report in Greek Reporter, there have been 12 recorded breaches on the ban on women since 382, half of those occurring since the beginning of the 20th century. The very first recorded woman to set foot on the Holy Mountain was Placentia, the daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I. Wherever she went, carpets were laid before her so there was a barrier between her feet and the ground. During her visit she went to the monastery of Vatopaidi where, when walking alongside the katholikon, she encountered the Virgin Mary who spoke to her. The spot is now marked by a miracle working icon of the Virgin.

One woman missing from this list is the daughter of one of the Byzantine military commanders at the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 who escaped and managed to save an icon which she brought to the monastery of Agiou Pavlou. It is now one of their main treasures.

Autumn melancholy in Esenin

Autumn birch trees in Belarus

Esenin, though not well-known in the west, is a very popular poet in Russia. Active in the early 20th century, he is the poet of the countryside and of nostalgia for the beauty of nature. Having achieved early success, he was lionised in St Petersburg society and literary circles. But success brought its own curse and a year after this poem was written, he hanged himself in a room at the Hotel Angleterre in the capital.

The poem seems to express the anguish or conflict he felt in the contrast between his current way of life in the big city and the beauty and simplicity of the countryside.

In Russian the poem has a particular rhythm and also rhymes, this musicality contributing to its distinctive melancholy tone and atmosphere. I have been trying to find a way of rendering this poem into English while maintaining both rhyme and rhythm, but all my attempts overcomplicate it and pack out the lines simply to make the metre work. Here’s one attempt at the first stanza:

The birch wood all in golden autumn dressed
Beguiles me into staying with its song,
And mournful cranes now flying home to rest
Show not a shred of pity for the throng.

So, I’l go with this for now:

The golden trees, speaking
In their own bright birch tongue, dissuaded me,
And sad cranes flying overhead
No longer feel sorry for anyone.

Who should they feel sorry for? For еvery wanderer in the world
Will pass by, call in and then leave home again.
The hemp field dreams of all those who have gone
While the broad moon shines over the blue pond.

Standing alone amid the bare plain,
While the wind carries the cranes off into the distance,
My head is full of thoughts of my happy youth,
But I don’t regret a thing about my past.

No regrets for the years wasted in vain,
No regrets for my soul’s lilac hue.
In the garden the fire of a red rowan burns,
But it can’t consume anyone.

The rowanberry clusters are not burnt,
The grass will not disappear from its yellowness.
As a tree silently drops its leaves,
I let fall sad words.

And if time, scattering them in the wind,
Rakes them all into into one useless heap,
Say this…that the golden trees
In their sweet tongue, dissuaded me.

. [1924]

Remember the Athens Polytechnic uprising of 1973

Athens Polytechnic Uprising, A Day Of Remembrance

Mid November marks the uprising by students of the Athens Polytechnic against the military junta in 1973. The uprising started on 14 November and was brutally suppressed by the regime three days later.

Here’s a tribute to the student rebels by the poet Niikiforos Vrettakos:

Small burial mound
(17 November 1973)

Without rifle or sword, the sun shining on your foreheads,
you were both heroes and poets. You are the Poem.

Stretching out, my hand can’t reach the spot
where the wind of virtue carries in procession
your bodies, beautiful flowers, o my children!

In the face of this Poem, silence is the only worthy response.

Who really owns the Parthenon Marbles?

On his Law and Policy Blog I came across a post recently by the lawyer, David Allen Green, on the issue of who legally owns the Parthenon Marbles. It’s a topic in the news again this week with the Greek Prime Minister raising the issue with Boris Johnson during a visit to the UK to discuss bilateral relations. Johnson in typical ‘not me guv’ fashion stated that it was a matter for the British Museum: another lie! The original purchase of the marbles from Elgin was authorised by an Act of Parliament and so can only be undone with one.

On the issue of ownership, the British Museum position is simply stated as follows:

“Lord Elgin’s activities were thoroughly investigated by a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1816 and found to be entirely legal.”

David Allen Green’s blog provides a link to a fascinating article by an American academic lawyer called David Rudenstine that forensically examines this issue. I will summarise the paper here because it’s a lengthy but enthralling read and it makes me regret that I did not pursue a career in the law.

In 1801 Lord Elgin, then the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople had the the marble frieze and sculptures on the Parthenon removed and taken to England. This was the beginnings of his troubles as the endeavour led him to the verge of bankruptcy. By 1816 he decided to sell the marbles to the British government to be housed in the British Museum, just when the museum was rapidly expanding its collection of Classical artefacts.

In 1816 the House of Lords set up a Select Committee to enquire into the matter. Appearing before the Committee, Elgin was asked repeatedly whether he had any documentation proving his ownership and repeatedly he said ‘ no’. He claimed instead that in July 1801 he had received a document from the Ottoman government connected with the work he was undertaking on the Acropolis that entitled him to ‘draw, model and remove [items}’ as well as excavate in specific places. He had not however kept a copy of it.

Whilst in post in Constantinople Elgin retained as a secretary / chaplain a man called Philip Hunt, responsible for liaising with Elgin’s workmen through their supervisor, an Italian painter called Giovanni Battista Lusieri. It was Hunt who urged Elgin to get a detailed agreement from the Ottomans for the work on the Acropolis.

Hunt was also called to testify to the Select Committee in 1816 and in the course of giving evidence claimed he had an Italian translation of the original Ottoman document called a firman (an imperial decree issued by the Sultan), signed by the Grand Vizier (the Sultan’s chief minister). This clinched it for the Select Committee and their report to Parliament led to the government agreeing to purchase the marbles from Elgin.

There are some striking oddities about these documents. Evidence suggests that some sort of document was issued by the Ottoman authorities in July 1801. Yet no firman on this subject has ever been found in the Ottoman archives and no record of any dealing between Elgin and the Ottoman government on the subject have ever been found in the Foreign Office files. Legal ownership of the marbles therefore turns on this Italian document.

Hunt apparently asked for a literal translation of the Ottoman document, but received a translation (my italics). It begs the question as to why the translation was into Italian, a language that neither Elgin nor Hunt spoke. Hunt’s statement that it was because Italian was the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean is frankly incredible. The document’s introduction refers to it being conveyed to Athens by ‘N.N.’ which mystified people for many years, until legal experts pointed out that this stand for ‘non nullus’, ie someone. It’s a form of words often used in draft legal documents to indicate that a name will be inserted in the final draft.

Despite the findings in the Select committee report, the Italian document is not a firman as firmans are usually issued only by the Sultan. Only the Sultan could authorise anything to do with classical monuments in Ottoman lands.

Could this Italian document be a carefully contrived forgery cooked up by Elgin and Hunt working together? There was a two week gap between Elgin’s appearance before the Select Committee and Hunt’s. In his evidence to the Select Committee though, when he was asked repeatedly about documents proving his ownership, Elgin did not mention it. This suggests that he did not know of its existence. If they had forged a document, why did they not forge something that proved Elgin’s ownership unequivocally? The Italian ‘translation’ does not do this.

David Rudenstine’s conclusion is that the Italian document is a draft that Hunt, acting on behalf of Elgin, had drafted by Pisani a dragoman (interpreter and fixer) employed by Elgin to negotiate with the Ottoman authorities. It is not a translation of the original lost Ottoman document, but a draft request for the work on the Acropolis Elgin wanted the authorities to agree to.

The implication of this is that Elgin did not have any documentation proving that he owned the marbles and that the Select Committee was wrong to accept the Italian ‘translation’ as that document. As Elgin did not therefore legally own the marbles, he could not legally sell them to the British government. Rudenstine implies that the Select Committee jumped at the Italian document as the basis of Elgin’s for ownership and therefore his right to sell the marbles, without further forensic examination of the documentation story, because they were eager to acquire the marbles to display in the British Museum.

What a shabby story of misinformation by Hunt and Elgin and of collusion by Parliament! This story will never go away until the UK hands the marbles back to the country to which they belong and rights this longstanding wrong. That day may be getting closer.

Just a little more

Nick Theodoropoulos shared this poem on Twitter on 20 September 2021, the 50th anniversary of Seferis’s death.

As Nick commented:’A short poem but one that encapsulates so much of the human condition. Despite all the sufferings we face we remain forever hopeful that tomorrow will be better.’

For some reason, I find it very touching and somehow it does gives me hope.

Just a little more

Just a little more
And we shall see the almond trees in blossom
The marbles shining in the sun
The sea, the curling waves.
Just a little more
Let us rise just a little higher.

The Byzantine Church of Panagia Drosiani on Naxos

Right next to the road between the villages of Moni and Khalki on the island of Naxos and in among the olive groves stands this little church, said to be one of the oldest in the Balkans and one of the most revered churches in Greece. It seems incredible, but the oldest part of the church dates back probably to the 6th century, though the little guide to the church claims it dates from the 4th century. Dedicated to the Panagia (Our Lady) Drosiani (the one who cools), it is the only remnant of an old monastery, perhaps giving the village of Moni its name (Moni in Greek means monastery).

Architecturally, the church was built and added to over the course of about a thousand years. The oldest part is the area consisting of the apse, the sanctuary, the iconostasis and the top part of the nave. On the northern side of the church are what look like three side chapels set at an angle to the nave, probably from the 7th century. The main body of the church, the nave, dates from the 12th-14th century.

Here’s a view of the church looking towards the iconostasis and apse:

Marble iconostases, like the one here, at this early stage in the development of Byzantine church architecture were generally low, as was the original one in Haghia Sofia. It was only later that it was raised in height to obscure the view of the sanctuary from the laity.

The church is famous for a miracle-working icon of the Mother of God which is said to perspire whenever the village is at threat. I have to confess I didn’t pay much attention to it in my eagerness to look at the frescoes.

The area around the apse and sanctuary are the only part that has frescoes. What makes them so special is that they date from the period before Iconoclasm (between the early 8th and mid 9th centuries) when the Byzantium turned against the making of images. Not only that, they destroyed many existing ones; very few frescoes or icons survived. Notable examples can be found at St Catherine’s Monastery on Mt Sinai, one of the oldest monasteries in the world. But it is remarkable that this church on Naxos pre-Iconoclasm frescoes. Perhaps its isolation and distance from Constantinople enabled it to preserve them.

On either side of the top of the nave facing each other are frescoes of the military saints on horseback, St George here:

and St Demetrios:

The tympanum of the apse has a seated Christ surrounded by angels that is really hard to make out and certainly too faint to photograph (even for me).

In the sanctuary there is a beautiful Virgin holding the infant Jesus in a circle in her breast, called the Nikopoios type in Greek (meaning Victory-making):

On either side of the Virgin are roundels of the healing saints, Kosmas and Damian:

In the space beneath the apse depiction of the Virgin, it is customary to depict four saints, usually the Three Hierarchs, the great teachers of the Orthodox Church (Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrysostom), plus usually in Greece, St Nicholas. In this case, there is an unusual selection.

In the centre is Christ standing on a footstool:

To the left of Christ are the Virgin also standing on a footstool, with hands held out in supplication:

and next to her is what the guidebook says is Solomon holding a cross, a really strange choice. To me he looks more like a Byzantine Emperor: his imperial purple clothes are studded with pearls and he wears a pearl-encrusted crown. I don’t know how to explain the halo though. To the right of Christ is the figure of St John the Baptist and next to Christ what looks to me like a Byzantine Empress (not a female saint as the guidebook says) with a pearl and jewel-encrusted crown and pearl pendilia (pendants hanging down from the crown). Maybe she is the companion of the Emperor depicted on the left. Could they be Justinian and Theodora or Constantine and Helena?

In the dome are two very badly damaged portraits of Christ, symbolising the human and divine natures of Christ:

On one of the arches are inscriptions referring to the donors who paid for the church to be built:

The arches also have damaged full length depictions of saints, most unidentifiable, such as this female saint with a bag of healing medicines:

and this one:

This is the Holy Martyr Julian in a very badly damaged fresco:

On the north wall are these two striking head fragments:

On the south wall is a very naïve depiction of the Mother of God, looking cross-eyed:

On the north and south walls under the frescoes of SS George and Demetrios are red crosses that looks as though they may date back to the time of Iconoclasm:

Of the three side chapels, one was used as an ossuary and one as a ‘secret’ school, a church school that taught Greek to local children during Ottoman rule. The Ottomans though had a light presence on the island and left the Venetians to administer it, so it may be that this is a piece of myth-making.

I had asked the old lady guardian if I could take photographs inside the church and she quite willingly me agreed to let me do it. However, as I got to the end of shooting the frescoes, I suddenly heard her shout at me ‘Stop!’ in a very angry voice. Of course, I stopped taking photographs, but I couldn’t understand why she had suddenly turned against me.

A very old olive tree near the entrance gate to the church:

Finally, a view of the church of the Panagia Drosiani at the bottom of the valley with Mt Fanari in the background: