Ishkhani, Murals of the Cathedral of Holy Apostles
|Building:||Ishkhani, Cathedral of Holy Apostles|
|Layer of the Murals:||One Layer|
of the Donor(s)
Donor inscriptions of the Donor Archbishop Anton of Ishkhani are outlined on the façade of the south wall of the west arm of the church; it is distributed over the tympanum of the south door, around the window cut above this door and under the cornice of the same wall. The main inscription is distributed around the middle window of the façade of the south wall of the west arm: Ⴕ. Ⴑ(Ⴀ)Ⴞ(Ⴄ)ႪႨႧႠ Ⴖ(ႫႰႧႨႱႠ)ჂႧႠ ႫႤ | Ⴀ(Ⴌ)Ⴒ(Ⴍ)ႬႨ ႨႸႾ(ႬႤ)Ⴊ ႫႧ(Ⴀ)Ⴅ(ႠႰ)ႤႮ(ႨႱ)Ⴉ(ႭႮႭ)ႱႫ(Ⴀ)Ⴌ Ⴂ(ႠႬ)Ⴅ(ႠႠ)ႾႪႤ ႣႠ Ⴂ(Ⴀ)ႬႥ(Ⴀ)ႱႰ(Ⴓ)|ႪႤ Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ ႤႱႤ Ⴒ(Ⴀ)Ⴛ(Ⴀ)ႰႨ Ⴖ(ႫႰႧႨႱႠ)Ⴢ Ⴉ(Ⴀ)Ⴇ(Ⴍ)Ⴊ(Ⴈ)ႩႤ ႤႩႪ(Ⴄ)Ⴑ(ႨႠ)Ⴢ | ႱႠႣ(Ⴈ)Ⴃ(Ⴄ)Ⴁ(Ⴄ)Ⴊ(Ⴀ)Ⴃ Ⴁ(Ⴀ)Ⴂ(ႰႠ)Ⴒ Ⴉ(ႳႰႭ)Ⴎ(Ⴀ)Ⴊ(Ⴀ)Ⴒ(Ⴈ)ႱႠ | Ⴑ(Ⴀ)Ⴊ(Ⴍ)ႺႥ(Ⴄ)Ⴊ(Ⴀ)Ⴃ ႣႠ Ⴑ(Ⴀ)ჄႱ(ႤႬႤ)ႡႪ(Ⴀ)Ⴃ | Ⴑ(Ⴓ)Ⴊ(Ⴈ)ႱႠ ႹႤႫႨႱႠ ႣႠ | Ⴚ(Ⴍ)ႣႥ(Ⴀ)ႧႠ ႹႤႫႧႠ | Ⴘ(Ⴄ)ႬႣ(Ⴍ)ႡႨႱႠႧჃႱ | Ⴕ(Ⴍ)Ⴐ(ႭႬႨ)Ⴉ(Ⴍ)ႬႱႠ ႱႬႡ | ႣႠ Ⴅ(Ⴀ)Ⴘ(Ⴄ)ႬႤ ჄႤႪႨႧႠ Ⴈ(Ⴍ) |Ⴅ(Ⴀ)ႬႤ ႫႭႰႹႠჂႱႻႨ|ႱႠჂႧႠ – In the name of God, I, Archbishop Anton of Ishkhani, had this church renovated and perfected to glorify Bagrat Kuropalates, to pray and commemorate my soul and to forgive my sins in koronikon SNB and had it built by Iovane Morchaisdze (Ekvt’ime Taq’aishvili, 1917 ts’lis ark’eologiuri ek’speditsia samkhtret’ sak’art’veloshi [1917 Archeological Expedition in Southern Georgia] (Tbilisi, 1960), 18–24; reprinted in id., Tkhzulebani [Collected Studies] 1 (Tbilisi, 2018), 280-1).
of the Painter(s)
The cathedral of Ishkhani was fully covered with murals. Nowadays, the painting is fragmentarily preserved in various sections of the church; murals in the dome are best preserved.
Ascension of a decorated, equal-armed cross wrapped in aureole is depicted in the dome vault covered with stars. Four chariots drawn by horses into four sides of the world, directed left to right, are depicted in the lower section of the vault. They are based on the vision of Zachariah the Prophet (all four of them bear inscriptions extracted from Zachariah 6:2-3); a disc-like figure is depicted above the south and the north chariots; personification of the sun is depicted in the south disc, and that of the moon – in the north one.
The drum is articulated by16 arches. Half-length figures are set in the medallion embellishing the upper section of each arch – unity of 16 medallions forms a variety of a host of angels, as the central medallion has an image of the Savior surrounded by fifteen figures of angels (some of them have preserved asomtavruli explanatory inscriptions).
A full-length figure of saint prophets is depicted under the medallions, in the rest (eight) of the arches (without tall windows). The prophets are holding open scrolls: seven of them have Georgian asomtavruli inscriptions, and one – a Greek inscription (the texts of the inscriptions have not been interpreted yet). Upper bodies of all eight prophets are lost – they succumbed to removing the filler of the circular walled-up windows.
Lintels of the eight tall windows in the drum are occupied by half-length figures of holy martyrs (from the west clockwise: St. Sergius (Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ || ႱႤႰႢႨႱ – Saint Sergius), St. Conon (Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ || ႩႭႬႭႬ – Saint Conon), St. Phocas (Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ || ႴႭႩႠ – Saint Phocas), St. Menas (Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ || ႫႤႬႠ – Saint Menas), St. Orent (Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ || ႭႰႤႬႲႨ – Saint Orentios), St. Demetrios (Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ || ႣႨႫႨႲႰႨ – Saint Demetrios), St. Procopius (Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ || ႮႰႭႩ|ႭႮႨ – Saint Procopios), St. Theodore (Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ || Ⴇ(ႤႥႣႭႰ)Ⴄ – Saint Theodor), while the jambs are covered with full-length figures of holy martyrs (no explanatory inscriptions have survived next to them).
Wall painting is almost completely destroyed on a vast area between the drum and the pendentives – only small fragments can be observed here (apparently, a long asomtavruli inscription arranged in one line ran along this section as a band; Ek’vt’ime T’aq’aishvili mentioned a similar inscription in the church of St. John the Baptist in Oshki). It is impossible to identify whatness of these fragments.
The wall painting in the Chancel of the church was composed of three registres. Christ in Majesty was depicted in the conch: the Savior seated on a richly adorned throne with a pedestal and surrounded by hosts of angels was represented in the center of the composition. The conch composition was detached from the second registre by a broad ornamental frieze composed of floral ornament – this ornament was folded on the lintels of the main window of the chancel too (a large medallion was inserted in the ornamental frieze in the window arch between the lintels).
The second registre of the painting was dedicated to a row of saint apostles. The registre was rather articulated: three figures were distributed on each of the areas between the main window and the double side arches; afterwards, two figures were depicted on each of the double arches and the edges of the apse, while the last two figures were painted on the walls of the bema. There must have been a total of 14 figures represented in this registre. Explanatory inscriptions were observable only on the eight outermost figures. These inscriptions were executed in a vertical line in Georgian asomtavruli and Greek. The second and the third registres were separated from each other by an ornamental frieze of a geometric motif (a spatial folded ribbon).
The third registre of the painting was occupied by a row of holy bishops: it was made up of fourteen frontal figures; presently, one can observe only the second figure from the right of the north wall of the apse – he is holding an open codex with an asomtavruli text outlined on it (the text has not been interpreted). Alongside the row of the church fathers, on the south and north walls of the bema, a medallion was depicted above the arches leading from the chancel apse to the sides; among them the south figure was better discernable – it was an image of a holy mother (St. Queen Nana – according to Ek’vt’ime T’aq’aishvili). The medallion had an eight-line asomtavruli inscription on the right. The medallion on the north wall had long been lost (Ek’vt’ime T’aq’aishvili presumed presence of the image of Queen Akhshen of Armenia here); a seven-line Armenian inscription was depicted on the left of this medallion.
Murals in the hall of the church were constructed in different numbers of registres according to the walls.
In the south arm the painting was composed of four registres. The first registre covered the lunette of the south wall of the arm, the second covered the section between the round window and the lintel of the main window of the arm (in the arch of this window there is a personification of the sun contained in a medallion; one figure must have been depicted on the lintels of each window); the third registre covers the area between the arch of the main window of the arm and the lower edge of the second window (a half-length figure of an unknown saint had been depicted in the arch of this window); the fourth registre covered the section below the second window. On the east wall of the arm the arched face of the double arch of the second floor has a scene of the annunciation of the Savior’s resurrection to the apostles; a scene unidentified so far had been represented below this double arch too.
The painting in the north arm was composed of five registres. The first registre covered the lunette of the south wall of the arm, the second – the section between the lower edge of the lunette and the lintel of the second window of the arm; the third had the same width as the second window of the arm; the fourth – width of the scene of the crucifixion; the fifth was added by Archbishop Egnate of Ishkhani; this registre contained frontal figures of some saints and a multi-line asomtavruli inscription. The Annunciation was represented on the eastern panel of the arm vault; the lunette of the south wall depicted the Nativity; below the Annunciation was the Presentation. One more scene was depicted below the Presentation, below which, on the arched face of the double arch the Flight into Egypt was represented, and below the double arch -the Crucifixion. Several scenes were depicted down along the Nativity. Among them Ek’vt’ime T’aq’aishvili managed to identify the Dormition. The fourth registre of the painting across the whole width of the arm was dedicated to the cycle of Christ’s passions which, apparently, started from the west wall of the arm.
Arranging the mosque in the west arm caused severe damage to the frescos. Murals of the vault and the walls of the arm are completely destroyed. Only the ornamental motifs decorating the lintels of some windows can be discerned. Faces of the inner arches on the north and south walls of the west arm have preserved some painting in the form of numerous ornamental motifs (images of single figures can be identified in some of them; for instance, there is a frontal image of St. Archangel Michael in the eastern arch of the south wall; a similar frontal figure can be discerned in the eastern arch of the north wall too). Separate images of saints have been preserved on the pilasters as well. Groups of figures have been preserved in the upper section of the west wall of the arm; only parts of their heads can be observed. They are thought to be part of the composition of the Last Judgment. A row of donors must have been depicted in the lower section of the west wall.
The west gate, which was arranged in front of the west door, seems to have been painted. The composition of Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace is represented on the north-east area of the spherical vault of the gate.
A lot has been written about the fragments of the painting of the cathedral, but its special and thorough research is the matter of the future. Based on the donor portrait of the west arm, Ek’vt’ime T’aq’aishvili presumed that the main stage of painting of the church took place prior to the year 966 (Ekvt’ime Taq’aishvili, Arkheologicheskaya ekspeditsiya 1917-go goda v yuzhnye provintsii Gruzii [1917 Archeological expedition in the Southern Historical Provinces of Georgia] (Тбилиси, 1952), 33-9; Ekvt’ime Taq’aishvili, 1917 ts’lis ark’eologiuri ek’speditsia samkhtret’ sak’art’veloshi [1917 Archeological Expedition in Southern Georgia] (Tbilisi, 1960), 18–24; reprinted in id., Tkhzulebani [Collected Studies] 1 (Tbilisi, 2018), 293-4); Shalva Amiranashvili attributed the painting of the dome of the church to the ninth century (Shalva Amiranashvili, Istorija gruzinskoj srednevekovoj monumental’noj zhivopisi [History of Medieval Georgian Monumental Painting] I (Tbilisi, 1957), 105-7); Nicole and Jean-Michele Thierry considered the painting to have been executed in several stages, between the years of 958/66 and 1032 (Nicole et Jean-Michel Thierry, “Peintures du Xe siècle en Géorgie méridionale et leurs rapports avec la peinture byzantine d’Asie Mineure Thierry”, Cahiers Archéologiques XXIV (1975), 86-113 = Nicole Thierry, Peintures d’Asie Mineure et de Transcaucasie au Xe et XIe s. (London, 1977), chap. V). Tinatin Virsaladze suggested that painting of the church had been executed in one stage (except for the insert of Egnate Ishkhneli) and that it must have been commissioned by Archbishop Anton of Ishkhani; painting must have been finished by 1032, on accomplishing dressing of the church (T’inat’in Virsaladze, “Iskhnis tadzris mokhatulobis dat’arighebisat’vis” [“Concerning the Dating of the Murals in Iskhani Cathedral”], in K’art’uli khelovnebis istoriis institutis XXVII sametsniero sesia. mokhsenebat’a t’ezisebi [Abstracts of the Twenty-Eighth Session of the Institute of Georgian Art History. Abstracts of the Communications] (Tbilisi, 1981), 18-22; T’inat’in Virsaladze, “X–XI saukuneebis zogiert’I tao-klarjuli mokhatuloba”, in id., K’art’uli mkhatvrobis istoriidan [From the History of Georgian Painting] (Tbilisi, 2007), 48-103) – it is a commonly accepted opinion; Ekaterina Privalova also believes the murals had been painted in different periods – in her opinion, the majority of the frescos must have been painted following the renovations of 1032, and the second part – in the late eleventh century and the twelfth century (Ekaterine Privalova, “Notes on the Murals of Tao-Klardjeti (X–XIII cc.)“, in Ἅγιον Ὄρος: Φύση – Λατρεία – Τέχνη II (Θεσσαλονίκη, 2001), 68-70); however, in her essay Didebulidze names late tenth century, early eleventh century, the first half of the twelfth century as the stages of creating the murals (Mariam Didebulidze, “Shua saukuneebis k’art’uli kedlis mkhatvrobis dzeglebi tao-klarjet’shi” [“The Monuments of the Georgian Medieval Wall Painting in the North-East Turkey”], Sak’art’velos sidzveleni [Georgian Antiquities] 19 (2016): 51).
Accurate definition of the stages of painting Ishkhani Cathedral remains the matter of the future. Regrettably, in 2013 the painting was considerably damaged by Turkish restorers – due to intense interference much was lost for good and all. Research of the murals of Ishkhani Cathedral should largely be based on the rich photo material provided by the expeditions of Ek’vt’ime T’aq’aishvili and Nikolai Okunev (both were conducted in 1917) which acquired the significance of the original source because of substantial damage inflicted on the painting.
Ekvt’ime Taq’aishvili, 1917 ts’lis ark’eologiuri ek’speditsia samkhtret’ sak’art’veloshi [1917 Archeological Expedition in Southern Georgia] (Tbilisi, 1960), 18–24; reprinted in id., Tkhzulebani [Collected Studies] 1 (Tbilisi, 2018), 290-8.
Shalva Amiranashvili, Istorija gruzinskoj srednevekovoj monumental’noj zhivopisi [History of Medieval Georgian Monumental Painting] I (Tbilisi, 1957), 105–7.
T’inat’in Virsaladze, “Iskhnis tadzris mokhatulobis dat’arighebisat’vis” [“Concerning the Dating of the Murals in Iskhani Cathedral”], in K’art’uli khelovnebis istoriis institutis XXVII sametsniero sesia. mokhsenebat’a t’ezisebi [Abstracts of the Twenty-Eighth Session of the Institute of Georgian Art History. Abstracts of the Communications] (Tbilisi, 1981), 18–22.
Ekaterine Privalova, “Notes on the Murals of Tao-Klardjeti (X–XIII cc.)“, in Ἅγιον Ὄρος: Φύση – Λατρεία – Τέχνη II (Θεσσαλονίκη, 2001), 68–70.
Ekaterine Privalova, “Zogi ram tao-klarjet’is mokhatulobebis shesakheb” [“Regarding the Wall Paintings of Tao-Klarjeti”], in Valeri Asatiani ed., Akhaltsikhisa da tao-klarjet’is epark’ia [Diocese of Akhaltsikhe and Tao-Klarjeti] (Tbilisi, 2013), 739–40.
T’inat’in Virsaladze, “X–XI saukuneebis zogiert’I tao-klarjuli mokhatuloba”, in id., K’art’uli mkhatvrobis istoriidan [From the History of Georgian Painting] (Tbilisi, 2007), 48–103.
Mariam Didebulidze, “Shua saukuneebis k’art’uli kedlis mkhatvrobis dzeglebi tao-klarjet’shi” [“The Monuments of the Georgian Medieval Wall Painting in the North-East Turkey”], Sak’art’velos sidzveleni [Georgian Antiquities] 19 (2016): 41–2.
Nana Burch’uladze, “Tao-klarjet’is kedlis mkhatvroba” [“Wall Paintings of Tao-Klarjet’I”], in Buba Kudava ed., Tao-Klarjet’i. istoriul-kulturuli narkvevi [Tao-Klarjeti. Historical and Cultural Essays] (Tbilisi, 2018), 431–2.
Anna Zakharova, Svetlana Mal’tceva, “Novye dannye o rospisjakh X–XI vv. v Tao-Klardzheti po materialam ehskspeditcii N. L. Okuneva 1917 g.” [“New Materials on the 10th–11th Century Tao-Klardjeti Wall Paintings from N. Okunev’s Expedition of 1917”], Vizantijskij vremennik [Βυζαντινά Χρονικά] 102 (2018): 288–317.
Anna Zakharova, “Rospisi ishkhanskogo sobora i vizantijskoe iskusstvo X–XI vv.” [“Wall Paintings of Iskhani Cathedral and Byzantine Art of the 10th–11th Centurie”s], in Zaruhi Hakobyan, Nazenie Garibian, Arpine Asryan eds., Historical Tayk’. History, Culture, Confession. Collected Papers (Yerevan, 2019), 366–87.
Natalia Turabelidze, “Utsnobi gamosakhuleba ishkhanis sakat’edros tadzris gumbat’is mokhatulobashi” [“Unknown Image in the Murals of the Dome of the Ishkhani Cathedral”], Dzveli khelovneba dghes [Ancient Art Today] 10 (2019): 38–42.