Tsromi, Murals of the Church of the Ascension
|Building:||Tsromi, Church of the Ascension|
|Layer of the Murals:||One Layer|
|Date/Period:||20s-30s of 7th century|
of the Donor(s)
of the Painter(s)
The monumental composition adorned the upper half of the chancel apse, namely, the conch and part of the apse along the window, whereas in the hall – only the eastern face of the north-west pier. The chancel conch was decorated with mosaic, while the walls of the apse were embellished with frescos. The image on the north-west pier was also colored. Fragments of the conch mosaic, which suffered deterioration, had been preserved by the beginning of the last century.
In 1932 the mosaic fragments were removed and transferred to the Metekhi Museum (later – Georgian State Museum of Fine Arts; presently – Shalva Amiranashvili State Art Museum of the Georgian National Museum). The chancel conch still preserves special notches intended for holding mosaic, as well as fragments of preparatory drawings outlined in red and black paint under the mosaic. The latter make it possible to reconstruct the general scheme of the composition.
Traces of plastering had been preserved until recently on various sections of the hall of the church, but those of painting cannot be observed on their surface.
In the chancel Christ in Majesty was depicted in two registres: the conch composition was executed with mosaic, while the lower, second registre – with painting. In the conch the figure of Christ standing on a pedestal was represented with the right hand raised in blessing and holding an unrolled scroll in the left hand (John 8:12, 11:25). The Savior was flanked by full-length supplicant archangels. The registres were separated from each other by a wide frieze ornamented with acanth leaves. A three-line mosaic asomtavruli inscription of historical content was outlined below the frieze (it is impossible to reconstruct the text).
Although fragmentary, a painted composition can be observed in the second registre; the Virgin Orans is depicted above the chancel window, against the background of a structure with a curtain. Mother of God was flanked by six figures of the apostles. Among them relatively complete are the figures of St. Peter (south of the window holding the key of Paradise; fragment of a thick asomtavruli inscription is legible: [Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ ႮႤ]ႲႰႤ – Saint Peter) and St. Paul (north of the window, holding a book; the inscription is obliterated).
The window arch of the chancel is decorated with an equal-armed cross inscribed in a circle. A half-figure of a martyr with a cross in the right hand and contained in a medallion is depicted on each side of the cross.
According to technical characteristics of executing the painting, a fragmentary image preserved on the eastern face of the north-west pier is similar to the murals of the second registre of the chancel (only the middle part of the waist and the right part of the chest can be discerned). The secular person is represented frontally with the hands raised in praying and directed towards the memorial niche situated between the chancel and the prothesis. The secular person is wearing a patterned garment – Semurvs inscribed in circles – fitted tightly at the waist. Vertical, radial lines are fashioned in plaster on the surface of the garment. The lines are covered with a coat of paint and, on the whole, create special artistic appearance.
There are two opinions about the identity of the person depicted on the pier: given the position of the image, the mode of expression and the type of clothing, the figure might represent a secular person, builder of the church, probably a governor or his subordinate.
It is less likely but possible that the fresco featured St. Razhden the Protomartyr; in this regard it must be taken into account that the image is not represented with a traditional posture and attribute of the saint martyr – holding a cross at the chest. However, the figure could be holding the cross in the raised hand.
It is probable that there is a short chronological gap between decorating of the conch with mosaic, and the second registre of the apse and the pier in the hall; however, given the metaphorical system and the artistic rendering, they must be conceptualized and created as united into a whole.
Jakov Smirnov, Tcromskaja mozajka [Mosaic of Tsromi] (Tiflis, 1935)
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Leila Khuskivadze, Gelat’is mozaika [Mosaic of Gelati] (Tbilisi, 2005), 59–60.
Tinatin Virsaladze, “Tcromskaja mozaika: Voprosy ikonografii” [“Mosaic of Tsromi: Issues of Iconography”], in id., Izbrannye Trudy [Selected Stiudies] (Tbilisi, 2007), 262–311.
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Zaza Skhirtladze, “P’reskis p’ragmenti ts’romis tadzarshu” [“Fragment of a Fresco in the Tsromi Church”], in Dali Chitunashvili ed., Kavkasia aghmosavlet’sa da dasavlet’s shoris: istoriul-p’ilologiuri dziebani midzghvnili zaza aleksidzis dabadebis 75 ts’list’avisadmi [Caucasus Between East and West: Historical and Philological Studies in Honour of Zaza Aleksidze] (Tbilisi, 2012), 395–414.