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Khakhuli, Murals of the Cathedral of the Virgin

Building: Khakhuli, Cathedral of the Virgin
Layer of the Murals: One Layer
Date/Period: Second half of 10th century
Donor(s): Unknown
Painter(s): Unknown
Building Gallery


of the Donor(s)
of the Painter(s)


The church is likely to have been fully painted immediately after its construction. Presently, fragments of the paintings can be observed on various sections of the interior of the church.



The vault features Revelation of the Holy Cross – a two-color, equal-armed cross abundantly set with gems. It is encircled in an aureole and depicted against the starry sky. A scene of St. Elias’ Ascension with the figures of Archangel Rafael (ႰႠႴႠႤႪ – Raphael) and Prophet Elise (ႤႪႨ[ႱႤ] – Elise) has survived above the minor squinches on the eastern section in the lower part of the dome vault. Fragments of ornamental motifs can be discerned on the lintels of the windows of the drum. Personifications of the sun and the moon were represented in the southern and northern parts of the subdome vault (nowadays, only the disc of the sun is observable).



In the chancel paintings seem to have been distributed in three registres. Christ in Majesty must have been represented in the conch (only fragments of enthroned Christ flanked by hosts of angels and archangels have survived).

The conch composition of the chancel is marked off the second registre of the murals by a wide ornamental band made up of geometrical motifs. In the center of the second registre, the Virgin was accommodated between single figures of archangels (only the left figure is identifiable now; according to Ekvtime Taq’aishvili Ⴋ(Ⴈ)Ⴕ(ႠႤ)Ⴊ Michael). The figure of the Virgin must have been flanked by six apostles on each side. Today only four figures have survived on the north wall of the apse (at the time Ekvtime Taq’aishvili visited Khakhuli, all six figures were visible with explanatory inscriptions: Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ Ⴈ(ႳႠႬ)Ⴄ, Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ ႫႠႧႤ, Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ ႫႭႣႨႱႲႳႱ, Ⴜ(ႫႨႣႠ)Ⴢ ႡႠႰႧႪႭႫႤSaint John, Saint Matthew, Saint Modistos, Saint Bartholomew. Fragments of painting had been preserved on the lintel of the only window of the chancel.

The third registre of the painting of the chancel was separated from the second registre by an ornamental frieze composed of the motifs of the horn of abundance which extended into and unified the minor conches of the high-backed niches cut into the wall of the chancel. The third registre was laid out in the upper part of these niches: a frontal figure of a saint prophet is likely to have been depicted in each niche (now fragment of only one figure can be discerned in the extreme northern niche).

In the south arm paintings have been preserved only on the south wall. Painting seems to have been laid out in three registres. According to Ekvtime Taq’aishvili, the tympanum of the wall featured the Presentation. The second registre was spread out below this scene – on both sides of both windows one can observe a figure wearing imperial clothing; the eastern figure is holding an unrolled scroll with an inscription (the text is unreadable). It is presumed that these were figures of the prophets. In the third registre of the painting, at the whole width of the arm was a large scene of Entry into Jerusalem, whose upper part featured a vast, multi-line Greek inscription (the text is unreadable).

Composition of the registre in the north arm was probably similar to that in the south arm. Presently, fragments of paintings can be discerned below the only window of the north wall (fragment of a large-size, wide scene has been preserved), on the left (fragment of a figure wearing imperial clothing can be observed) and, very dimly, above the window, in the western section. Fragments of painting can also be seen on the southern jamb and the lintel of the window. Painting has been preserved on the niche cut into the eastern face of the north-west pier – there is an image of a ciborium, which was later added a fresco inscription commemorating the father superior. Painting was discernible on the south wall of the pier as well: prior to covering the wall with a thick coat of oil paint, it was possible to identify a large full-length body of the Virgin Hodegetria. Traces of fragments of flying angels (?) and framing could also be observed. Painting had been preserved on the inner face of the east arch of the north wall of the west arm too, which is still partly observable. Right of the image of the Mother of God, on the semicircular pilaster of the pier, there were fragments of asomtavruli inscription contained in a cartouche. According to Ekvtime Taq’aishvili, it was a seventeen-line inscription.

In the west arm of the church, fragments of painting have been preserved on the north section of the west wall – here an image of a donor accommodated in a special frame is represented: one can discern a crowned male figure with a halo wearing rich clothing; he is standing in orans position in front of the icon of Christ Pantocrator rested on a column executed in marble imitation. It is presumed that the fresco features David III Curopalates. At the head of the figure, on the left, one can discern remnants of an asomtavruli inscription outlined in white paint: […] [-] […]s a[-]. It is impossible to estimate the content of the inscription.



The conjectural date of creating the murals of the cathedral is a controversial issue, although its chronological frame does not go beyond the second half of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th century. According to the donor image depicted on the west wall, and given the artistic-stylistic characteristics of the painting, the church was decorated with painting in the second half of the 10th century and, accordingly, it joins the cluster of important pictorial ensembles created in Tao on the order of King David III Curopalates.


Ekaterine Privalova, “Zogi ram tao-klarjet’is mokhatulobebis shesakheb” [“Regarding the Wall Paitings of Tao-Klarjeti”], in Valeri Asatiani ed., Akhaltsikhisa da tao-klarjet’is epark’ia [Diocese of Akhaltsikhe and Tao-Klarjeti] (Tbilisi, 2013), 738–9.

Nikolai Shugurovi, Khakhulis k’art’uli monasteri [Georgian Monastery of Khakuli], rusulidan t’argmna revaz diasamidzem [Translated from Russian by Revaz Diasamidze] [istoriuli Samkhret’ sak’art’velos q’op’a da kultura: 4 [Habitat and Culture of Historic Southern Georgia: 4] (Batumi, 2015).

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): 42–4, pict. 9–12.

Neli Chakvetadze, “Utsnobi sak’titoro gamosakhuleba khakhulis sakat’edro tadzarshi” [“Unknown Donor Image in the Khakhuli Cathedral”], Saistorio krebuli [Historical Collections] 6 (2017): 259–92.

Ekvt’ime Taq’aishvili, “1917 ts’lis ark’eologiuri ek’speditsia samkhtret’ sak’art’veloshi” [1917 Archeological Expedition in Southern Georgia], in Id., Tkhzulebani [Collected Studies] 1 (Tbilisi, 2018), 367–8.

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), 424–5.