Ateni, Murals of Sioni Church. First Layer
|Building:||Ateni Sioni Church|
|Layer of the Murals:||First Layer|
of the Donor(s)
of the Painter(s)
The church was embellished with incomplete aniconic decoration shortly after its construction, in the seventh century (not later than the first half of the eight century), which, on the whole, served as an interior ornament to the accurate stonework of hewn blocks. The church was faced with a light-colored thin coat of plaster against which reddish-brownish aniconic décor – stylized images of masonry and flourishing crosses – were depicted.
The relief arms of the stone-built cross in the dome vault of the church had been painted red, while four large squinches were decorated with alternating trapezoid segments spread fan-like.
In the chancel of the church the triumphal arch, conch and windows were decorated with murals. The conch composition provided for the level of the conch foot. The triumphal arch was covered with a red line. In the conch semi-circles increasing in breadth spread out of the keystone in the conch. The semi-circles were articulated by the décor based on chess motif.
Lintels of the three windows of the chancel also represented the décor of masonry – narrow, red, parallel longitudinal lines were joined by narrow transverse ones. Moreover, red lines ran along the edges of the chancel windows.
Images of flourishing crosses were depicted on the lower sections of the western faces of the east arm of the tetraconch (there would have been a total of twelve such crosses in the interior of the church of which five can be discerned presently; these crosses are alike, but their details differ). Similar kind of crosses were depicted above the doorways of the rooms of the eastern corner. Conches of the semi-circular niches leading from the hall of the tetraconch into the corner rooms were also ornamented – here segments of the sun with rays radiating from it were depicted against the greyish-bluish background.
The pattern of the aniconic decoration of the southern apse repeated that of the chancel apse; in addition, imitation of masonry embellished the arch and the jambs of the door in this arm.
The pattern of the aniconic decoration of the western apse was similar to that of the chancel apse. Flourishing crosses must have been depicted above the doorways of the rooms in the west corner too.
According to the extant fragments, the pattern of the aniconic decoration of the south apse was constructed in accordance with the décor of the rest of the arms; like the south apse, the arch and the jambs of the door of this arm were decorated by imitation of masonry executed with graphic drawing.
Dating and stratification of the original aniconic decoration of Ateni Sioni is a controversial issue. According to Tinatin Virsaladze, embellishing of the church with such a décor must have occurred in two phases – at first, simultaneously with constructing, in the seventh century (she attributes the images imitating masonry to this layer), and later, probably in the eighth century, images of flourishing crosses specially painted on the plaster were added to the decoration of the church. However, in the eleventh century, both of these decorations must have been covered with the third, complete layer of murals (T’inat’in Virsaladze, “Atenis Sionis mokhat’uloba” [“The Murals of Ateni Sioni”], in id., K’art’uli mkhatvrobis istoriidan [From the History of Georgian Painting] (Tbilisi, 2007), 112-26).
According to Guram Abramishvili, the aniconic decoration of Ateni Sioni has only one layer to which both the imitation of masonry and flourishing crosses should be attributed. The scholar considered the beginning of the eighth century as the date of creating this painting (Guram Abramishvili, Atenis Sioni. Adreuli shua saukuneebis tsentralur-gumbat’ovani khurot’modzghvruli tipis istoriidan [Ateni Sioni. From the History of Early Medieval Central-Domed Architectural Type] (Tbilisi, 2012), 157-8).
Tatjana Shevjakova, “K voprosu o vozniknovenii i kharaktere freskovjkh rospisej v Gruzii VIII–IX vv.” [“Concerning the Origins and Character of the Fresco Decorations in 8th-9th-Century Georgia”], sakart’velos metsnierebat’a akademiis sazogadoebriv metsnierebat’a ganq’op’ilebis matsne [Bulletin of the Section of the Social Sciences of the Georgian Academy of Sciences] 1 (1962): 259.
Tinatin Virsaladze, “Pervonachalnaja rospis’ Atenskogo Siona” [“The Initial Wall Paintings of the Ateni Sioni”], in Tezisy dokladov VII vsesojuznoj konferentcii vizantinistov [Abstracts of the Seventh All-Union Conferece of Byzantinists] (Tbilisi, 1965), 64–6.
T’inat’in Virsaladze, Atenis sionis mokhatuloba [Murals of Ateni Sioni] (Tbilisi, 1984).
Zaza Skhirtladze, “Sakart’veloshi anikonur mokhatulobat’a arsebobis problemisat’vis” [“Towards the Issue of the Existance of Aniconic Decorations in Georgia], Khelovnebat’mtsodneoba [Studies in Art History] 6 (2005): 198–246.
T’inat’in Virsaladze, “Atenis Sionis mokhat’uloba” [“The Murals of Ateni Sioni”], in id., K’art’uli mkhatvrobis istoriidan [From the History of Georgian Painting] (Tbilisi, 2007), 112-26.
Zaza Skhirtladze, Adreuli shua saukuneebis kart’uli kedlis mkhatvroba. T’elovanis jvarpatiosani [Early Medieval Georgian Monumental Painting. Telovani Church of the Holy Cross] (Tbilisi, 2008), 63.
Guram Abramishvili, Atenis Sioni. Adreuli shua saukuneebis tsentralur-gumbat’ovani khurot’modzghvruli tipis istoriidan [Ateni Sioni. From the History of Early Medieval Central-Domed Architectural Type] (Tbilisi, 2012), 157–8.