Truth in Art Vol. 1 (Autumn) 2017

Surrealist Elements in Byzantine Painting

Note 08-28-2017 Fr. Stamatis: This idea began with Nikos G. Penzikis who pointed out to me that there are surrealist elements in Byzantine painting. From my experience as an iconographer I noticed that the basis of Byzantine surrealism is found in the icon of the resurrection, which presents the most surrealistic of events.

The whole rhythm of this art is hyper-realistic (surrealist) and is unique in terms of natural laws; it introduces reverse perspective and artfully rephrases the elements of artistic painting such as the use of the light of the body, of depth, of the sense of weight, time, and space (see Stamatis Skliris: “Ritmoloski Problem Byzantijskog slikarstva od 13-14 Century,” (“Rhythmological Problems in Byzantine Painting of the 13th and 14th Centuries”), in the volume U Ogledalu I Zagonetki (In a Mirror and in an Enigma, 2015, p. 185-213) Publication of Belgrade University Theological School. See also In the Mirror, Gregoris Publications, 1992: “The Problem of Visual Space in Byzantine Painting,” p. 161-190.

Surrealist elements can be found: a) In icons and frescoes, the sky is usually represented as gold, dark blue, or black. This makes the Byzantine landscape superfluous. The entire cosmos is represented in the icon; the cosmos begins and ends in the icon. In secular painting, the scene is interrupted by the edges of the canvas and it’s understood that it continues out of the frame. (B) The faces have a supernatural glow due to the psymithia [the tiny brush strokes of pure white used in icons – Tr.] (c) The texture of the garments is not attributed to the cloth of the garments. All garments may be shiny, but it is not discernable if they are made of wool, silk, etc.. d) The colors and shapes of the buildings are dreamlike, and the balconies and other architectural elements are as though postmodern. They take on an intense magical and unrealistic character, as there are no such buildings in reality. e) The events that are recorded in an icon, while taking place in the interior are represented as if they are going on in front of the buildings, as though we were entering a hypothetical front yard. Great painters (such as Picasso) used these paradoxical illustrated solutions for the representation of space and I think they can be used in the set design of the theater (to this end, see also the statement made by Joseph Vivliakis, professor of theater). f) The scale of sizes does not follow the logic of things, for example the pitcher held by the Samaritan woman may be wider than the opening of the well (observation of Nikos G. Penzikis).

Fr. Stamatis Skliris

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