Lorenzo Riccardi (Sapienza Università di Roma)
Out of Necessity Comes Virtue: A Preliminary Index of ‘Hagiographical Icons’ in the Byzantine and Medieval Wall-Painting in Southern Italy
In the 13th c. a new type of icon became widely-circulated in the Mediterranean, though nowadays there are about twenty works left: they are hagiographical icons, also called ‘Vita icons’, wherein the image of a saint (standing or half-length portrait) is surrounded by several scenes on all four sides, in which there are the stories of his/her life. These panels may be of all sizes (from approx. 70 cm to 2 m in height). The number of scenes is generally between twelve and twenty “and the cycles of any one saint vary remarkably little from icon to icon” [42, p. 150]: normally, “they start with a birth scene and end with a death scene”, yet post mortem-miracles aren’t included, because there are “no obvious connection to any particular sanctuary or to the saint’s relics” [42, p. 151]. Their iconographic and typological origin is often debated [12, 41, 42], even if it seems to depend on the ‘kekosmêmenai eikones’, that are ‘decorated’ icons, an expression which in the monastic documents of the 11 th ‒ 12th cc. is used “to distinguish them from the plain painted icons” [42, p. 63]: “many of the characteristics of the so-called ‘decorated’ icons — a holy figure surrounded by various smaller images; the use of silver haloes and cuffs on the painted surface, and the chased backgrounds — begin to be imitated on contemporary painted icons as substitute for the costly metalwork” [42,p. 65, 67]. Besides that, the ‘Vita icons’ owe their features to the cultural and artistic context where they developed. Whatever their origin, these types of icons, according to Patterson- Ševčenko, “offered a fresh and versatile medium for hagiography, appropriate to the mixed society of the thirteenth-century Levant”: they almost serve as the written lives of the saints, that have — compared to the power of the images — a wider circulation in the multicultural environment of the Eastern Mediterranean [42, p. 161]. However, in the same century the ‘Vita icons’ also spread very quickly in the other regions, both within and outside the Byzantine Empire, like Greece, Cyprus, Russia and Italy. Even if the relationship between the ‘oriental’ and the ‘Italian’ icons has not yet been understood, the panels made in Central Italy, more specifically Tuscany, are dedicated to the new saint par excellence of the Roman church in the 13th c., that is St. Francis [16, passim], and are very important because they hand down and normalize his iconography [26, p. 321‒356]. In Italy, these types of panels usually included more canonical saints, venerated and represented also in the Eastern Mediterranean, like Catherine and Nicholas [15, passim], until the end of 13th c. when another new ‘roman’ saint, Dominic, was included [21, tav. XLVIII]. In Italy, the only two panels that clearly show their oriental background are kept in the Pinacoteca Provinciale of Bari, but they originally came from the church of S. Margherita in Bisceglie (Bari). The scholars aren’t unanimous about their chronology, which varies from the end of the 12th c. (1197, when this church was built) to the middle of the 13th c. [24, p. 205; 37, p. 318‒335; 43, p. 54‒61].
In Southern Italy, however, there are several ‘mural icons’ (Fig. 1, 2), that seem to be close relatives of panel ‘Vita icons’, which could be painted or in relief, like the image of St. George of Mariupol’ . I would like to propose a first and preliminary index of these wall paintings, because I believe that they share — in spite of their differences — the same typology and function of the aforementioned icons.
First of all a leading position is given to the figure of the saint, not only referring to its central position in the composition. This figure is depicted as independent according to the codified iconography with some inevitable Occidental variations, especially in the case of St. Marina/ Margaret (I.a, I.f. I.o, I.t, II.a, II.c, III.c, V.a) (Fig. 76, 77). In fact, many of the ‘mural icons’ are dedicated to the Antiochene martyr, while fewer are those of St. Nicholas (II.b, I.q, I.s), St. Catherine (I.i, I.l, I.r), St. Anthony the Abbot (I.c, I.g?, II.d, V.b) and St. James (I.p, IV.a). There are also isolated cases such as St. Sebastian (I.d), St. Peter Martyr (I.h), St. Peter Apostle (I.n), St. Mary Magdalene (I.m), St. Lucy (II.b), St. John Terista (III.a) and St. Thomas Apostle (IV.c). An unidentified wall painting with monks is also interesting (III.b).
The frames including the scenes of the saint’s life — which are condicio sine qua non of the ‘Vita icons’ — are always placed side by side with the figure of the saint, usually on the lateral sides (I.a, I.d, I.e, I.i, I.l, I.o, I.q, II.c, IV.a, IV.d)1 (Fig. 77), but sometimes they also appear on the top and bottom (III.a, V.a, V.b). It is also possible that the framed scenes are placed only on one of the two sides and in this case they flow vertically along one column (I.b, I.c, I.f, I.g, I.r, I.s, II.a, II.d?, III.b, IV.b, IV.d) or two (III.c) (Fig. 76). In some examples there are two (I.m, I.t) or three (V.b) horizontal columns on one side of the figure. Other times the geometrical articulation can be unusual depending on the characteristics of the place or it can be impossible to identify it because of «disintegration» of the narration that breaks up in many scenes arranged on the walls in a disorganized way. These compositions are not coherent with the hagiographic icons previously described (I.h, I.n, I.p). With respect to the panels the number of framed scenes is reduced to no more than ten (I.d, II.b, III.c, V.b) (Fig. 76) or twelve (I.t, V.a) although more often we find six scenes (I.a?, I.b, I.m, I.o?, IV.a, IV.d) or eight (I.a?, I.e, I.i, I.o?, I.q, II.c) (Fig. 77) or nine (I.l). In some cases the number of the framed scenes is drastically reduced to three (I.c, I.g, IV.a, II.d?, IV.b, IV.d), four (I.s) or five (I.f), so that they can also reach a considerable size. In some cases it is impossible to specify their number for various reasons (I.h, I.n, I.p, II.a, III.b). There are sporadic examples in which the framed scenes are fourteen or sixteen (III.a).
The narrative scenes are organized in a geometric grid that tends to uniform their dimensions — with some rare exceptions — and also serves to distinguish them from one another. Sometimes it may occur that two different episodes are depicted in the same frame with or without a dividing line. A clear balance is then established between the framed scenes and the figure of the saint without one prevailing over the other. There are, however, remarkable differences with respect to the panels mainly due to the way in which the saint is related with the stories of his/her life. In the ‘iconic’ part of the panel the saint is usually standing or represented according to an iconography that refers to episodes of his/her life. Margaret, for example, may be portrayed with a hammer in her hand (I.o) or St. Nicholas with the Virgin and Christ giving him both the ômophorion and the Gospels (I.s, according to an iconography also known in the Bisceglie’s ‘Vita icon’). Besides these limited cases there are more complex representations that almost defy the characteristics of the ‘Vita icon’. St. James in Laterza is portrayed three-quarter while blessing some pilgrims located on his left (I.p). In Brindisi (I.h), St. Peter martyr is represented in three-quarters on his knees and while he is about to be decapitated by a little soldier depicted in a frame on the left. In this last case, the larger figure of the saint is fused with the scene of his martyrdom. Although this is unimaginable for the icons, it is certainly more coherent with the wall paintings, especially with the Occidental ones.
Just like the panels, the ‘mural icons’ also have different dimensions, strictly linked to the place they occupy. Therefore they may have slightly irregular outlines since they have to adapt to arched surfaces (II.b, II.c, III.a, IV.a, IV.d) (Fig. 76) or they may be distributed on walls that are of various shapes or give light to blind niches (I.n, I.p). These wall paintings are usually rectangular (I.a, I.b, I.c, I.d, I.e, I.f, I.g, I.8, I.l, I.o, I.q, I.r, I.s, I.t, II.a, II.d, III.b, III.c, IV.b, IV.c, V.a, V.b)
(Fig. 76) or square-shaped (I.i) and they may reach 2‒3 m in height and width, depending on the surface and on the typology of the churches in which they are located.
A preliminary index
I.a-I.b) Andria, S. Maria dei Miracoli: St. Margaret (late 13th c.?), St. Nicholas (late 13th ‒ early 14th cc.) [20, p. 80‒83, figs. 4‒12; 22, p. 8‒13].
Typology: sanctuary built over a cave, where the fresco is located.
Fresco’s location: W wall. Size: 220 x 160 cm.
Description: the shabby fresco, which is inside a ‘tribunetta’, has a rectangular-shaped exterior and a particular internal partition. On the top, extending across the entire length of the fresco, is a phytomorphic frieze; St. Margaret is standing in the center, as the only three surviving frames are on her lateral sides (originally there had to be at least six or eight). Inscriptions: in Latin. A seventeenth-century source mentions an inscription at the feet of the saint (“Memento domine famuli tui Joannis, et uxoris eius Gemmae”) [22, p. 9].
Fresco’s location: S wall. Size: 220 x 120 cm.
Description: the shabby fresco has a rectangular-shaped exterior and a regular internal partition. St. Nicholas is standing on the left; on his right six frames flow vertically along one ‘column’. Inscriptions: in Latin.
I.c-I.d) Barletta, Santo Sepolcro: Sts. Sebastian and Anthony the Abbot (late 13th c.) [4, p. 348; 17, p. 64; 36, p. 391, fig. 511].
Fresco’s location: in a room above the entrance. Size: 140 x 430 cm (entire wall painting).
Description: made during the same decorative phase, on the wall from left to right: a standing St. Sebastian and stories of his life (I.c) the Annunciation to the Virgin and a standing St. Antonio among episodes of his life (I.d). The framed scenes of St. Sebastian’s life are on his left: only two of the large frames remain, but they were originally meant to be three. The framed scenes of St. Antonio’s life are more or less of the same size and flow vertically along two ‘columns’ on his lateral sides: only seven of these are left (three on the left and four on the right, fragmentary), but they were originally meant to be at least ten. Inscriptions: in Latin.
I.e) Bisceglie, S. Maria di Giano: St. James (first half of the 14th c.) [9, p. 51‒53, fig. 9; 38].
Fresco’s location: S wall. Size: 170 x 160 cm.
Description: the fresco has a rectangular-shaped exterior and a regular internal partition. St. James is standing in the center and eight framed scenes of his life flow vertically along two ‘columns’ on his lateral sides, four on each side. Inscriptions: in Latin.
I.f) Brindisi, S. Anna: St. Margaret (mid-late 13th c.) [28, p. 114‒115].
Fresco’s location: left wall, on the left of the entrance. Size: 209 x 52 cm.
Description: the shabby fresco has a rectangular-shaped exterior and a regular internal partition. St. Margaret is standing on the right; on her left six framed scenes flow vertically along one ‘column’. Inscriptions: in Latin.
I.g) Brindisi, S. Benedetto: St. Anthony the Abbot (?, 14th c.) [39, p. 52‒53]2.
Fresco’s location: cloister. Size: unregistered.
Description: the shabby fresco could have a rectangular-shaped exterior and a regular internal partition. On the left, there is an unidentifiable standing saint; on the right only three framed scenes remain in one vertical ‘column’. Inscriptions: unregistered.
I.h) Brindisi, S. Lucia: St. Peter Martyr (early 14th c.) [28, p. 72‒73; 36, p. 371‒373, fig. 489].
Fresco’s location: counter-façade of the main church, on the right of the entrance. Size: unreg- istered.
Description: the fresco has an exterior frame and a very irregular internal partition. In the cen- ter St. Peter Martyr is represented on his knees in three-quarters while he is about to be decapi- tated by a little soldier depicted in a frame on the left. The stories are arranged in several frames, some of which were probably lost (especially in the upper portion), five frames that surround the saint have been preserved, but they were originally meant to be more. They vary both in size and in shape. Inscriptions: in Latin.
I.i-I.l) Brindisi, S. Maria del Casale: St. Catherine (mid-14th c.) [40, p. 31‒33, figs. 26‒27].
Fresco’s location: presbytery. Size: approx. 300 x 300 cm.
Description: the fresco has a square-shaped exterior and a regular internal partition. St. Cath- erine is standing in the center and eight framed scenes flow vertically along two ‘columns’ on her lateral sides, four of them on each side. Inscriptions: in Latin.
Fresco’s location: presbytery. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco has an exterior frame that is almost rectangular-shaped and an irregu- lar internal partition, due to its position above an arch. From left to right we find four ‘columns’: in the first, in the third and in the fourth there are three framed scenes on each ‘column’, in the second — which is a little wider — a standing St. Catherine. Inscriptions: in Latin.
I.m) Brindisi, S. Paolo: St. Mary Magdalene (?; late 14th c.) [28, p. 136‒137].
Fresco’s location: S wall. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco is very damaged. On the left, inside a painted arcade, could be a standing saint; on the upper right half, there are two horizontal rolls with at least three frames in each level. Inscriptions: unregistered
I.n) Grottaglie (loc. Masseria Lo Noce), S. Pietro: St. Peter Apostle (14th c.) [46, p. 84, figs. 42‒43, 50‒52, 54].
Typology: cave church.
Fresco’s location: left wall, first niche. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco has an exterior frame and a very irregular internal partition. St. Peter enthroned and three scenes of his life (of which only two are identifiable) are painted on the sur- face of a shallow niche, whereas the other scenes (at least three) are in its intrados. Inscriptions: in Latin, inscribed among them is the dedication (‘Me(m)ento D(omi)ne Famul/[i tu]i Da[ni]hel…/ … lonia q(u)i fie[ri fe]/cit ho[c opu]s’).
I.o) Laterza, S. Antonio del Fuoco (or de Vienna o Abate): St. Margaret (first half of the 14thc.) [7, tav. 12; 18, p. 40‒50, figs. 8‒9].
Typology: cave church.
Fresco’s location: left wall, next to the main entrance. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco, that was originally meant to have a rectangular-shaped exterior frame, does not have a very regular internal partition: a standing St. Marina/Margaret is in its center, whereas four framed scenes (of the original six or eight) flow vertically along two ‘columns’ on her lateral sides. Only one of them is identifiable. Inscriptions: in Latin.
I.p) Laterza, S. Giacomo I: St. James (late 14th c.) .
Typology: cave church.
Fresco’s location: right aisle, first bay. Size: approx. 160 x 260 cm.
Description: the fresco has an exterior frame and a very irregular internal partition, since it is painted on a wall that has a shallow niche in the middle. In the center of the plain surface St. James is portrayed three-quarter while blessing some pilgrims located on his left. The episodes of his life, originally at least five, are arranged in several frames of different dimensions and ir- regular shapes. Inscriptions: unregistered.
I.q) Monopoli, S. Maria Amalfitana: St. Nicholas (early 14th c.) [25, p. 140‒142, figs. 25‒26; 29, p. 126].
Typology: church built over a cave where the fresco is located.
Fresco’s location: wall that overlooks the two apses, next to the rooms in which there are some tombs. Size: 87 x 130 cm.
Description: the fresco, that was originally meant to be externally rectangular-shaped, has a regular internal partition. A standing St. Nicholas is in its center and the seven (originally eight) framed scenes flow vertically along two ‘columns’ on her lateral sides, four on each side. Inscrip- tions: unregistered.
I.r) Monopoli, Cripta della ‘villa De Martino’: St. Catherine (14th c.?) [29, p. 115‒116, fig. 135].
Typology: cave church.
Fresco’s location: right wall. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco is rectangular-shaped on the exterior and has a regular internal parti- tion. St. Catherine is standing in its center and the three framed scenes flow vertically along one ‘columns’ on the left. Inscriptions: in Latin.
I.s) Monte S. Angelo, S. Maria Maggiore: St. Nicholas (early 14th c.) [32, p. 81, 89; 33, p. 96].
Fresco’s location: counter-façade, on the left of the entrance. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco has a rectangular-shaped exterior frame and a presumable regular in- ternal partition. St. Nicholas is portrayed standing with the Virgin and Christ giving him the ‘omophorion’ and the Gospels back; on his left, three framed scenes (originally four) can be identified and flow vertically along one ‘column’. Inscriptions: unregistered.
I.t) Mottola, S. Margherita: St. Margaret (mid-13th c.) .
Tipologia dell’edificio: cave church.
Fresco’s location: right wall of the apse. Size: 160 x 430 cm.
Description: the fresco has a rectangular-shaped exterior frame and a particular internal parti- tion. A standing St. Margaret is at the far left of the panel, whereas the twelve frames flow hori- zontally in two levels. The scenes give the impression of a continuous tale. Inscriptions: in Latin. A dedicatory inscription is at the foot of the saint (“Meme(n)to D(omi)n(e) / famuli tui / Saruli [Sa]/cerdot(is)”).
II.a) Matera (loc. Bradano – Petrapenta), S. Stasio (or S. Lucia alla Gravina): St. Margaret (?; late 14th c.?) [13, p. 128‒129; 14, p. 265‒266; 27, p. 207‒212, fig. 106]3.
Typology: cave church.
Fresco’s location: right wall. Size: unregistered.
Description: St. Margaret is at the far right of the painted wall, next to St. Leonard. On her left, there is the space in which some scenes of her life could be represented. An unidentifiable female saint is at the far left of the painted wall. The state of preservation doesn’t allow any suggestions to be made about the internal partition of the frames and the identification of these episodes. Inscriptions: unregistered.
II.b) Melfi, S. Lucia: St. Lucy (1292) [1, p. 130‒132, 259‒260].
Typology: cave church.
Fresco’s location: apse wall. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco is inside a big lunette, in which the Virgin with the Child and the small donor are depicted on the left, in the center is standing St. Lucy and on the right the scenes of her life. The ten framed scenes flow horizontally in three levels (three frames in the first and second level, four in the third). All the frames are of the same size, with the exception of those on the far right. Inscriptions: in Latin.
II.c) Melfi, S. Margherita: St. Margaret (late 13th c.) [1, p. 127‒130, 262].
Typology: cave church.
Fresco’s location: apse wall, above the altar. Size: approx. 170 x 120 cm.
Description: the fresco (Fig. 2) has a rectangular-shaped exterior frame, but the upper outline is slightly arched, since it is inside a big lunette. However, it has a regular internal partition. St. Margaret is standing in the center and the eight framed scenes flow vertically along two ‘columns’ on her lateral sides, four on each side. Inscriptions: in Latin.
II.d) Venosa, SS. ma Trinità: St. Anthony the Abbot (mid-15th c.) [unpublished]4.
Typology: old monastery.
Fresco’s location: fresco detached from the left aisle. Size: 175 x 156 cm.
Description: the fresco, which was originally meant to have a rectangular-shaped exterior frame, has a regular internal partition, but its left portion isn’t preserved. The standing St. Anthony the Abbot is in its center and the four framed scenes flow vertically along one ‘column’ on his left lateral side: three of the frames show scenes of the saint’s life, but the last on the bottom contains only his name. Inscriptions: in Latin.
III.a) Bivongi, S. Giovanni Terista: St. John Terista (first half of the 15th c.) [30, p. 26‒27; 31, p. 45, fig. 11].
Fresco’s location: N transept, N wall. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco has an elaborate internal partition. Its upper outline is arched and in the center is the standing figure of St. John Terista. Thirteen framed scenes surround the holy figure on all sides: they might have originally meant to be fourteen or sixteen and to be located on the top of the panel. Inscriptions: unregistered.
III.b) San Donato di Ninea, S. Donato al Pantano: unidentifiable monks (late 12th – early 13th cc.) [45, p. 53, fig. 5].
Fresco’s location: SO wall. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco is painted on the right wall between a large Koimesis and the counter- façade. It was originally meant to have a rectangular-shaped exterior frame and a not very regular internal partition, but it remains difficult to reconstruct it with accuracy. On the right part of the panel there are two big standing monks, on the left there are two scenes remaining, which were originally meant to flow vertically in one ‘column’. It is impossible to know how many framed scenes were painted. Inscriptions: in Greek.
III.c) Sant’Andrea Apostolo dello Jonio, Chiesa di Campo: St. Marina/Margaret (first half of the 13th c.) .
Fresco’s location: right wall, next to the counter-façade. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco (Fig. 1) is painted on the right wall between the counter-façade and the door, now walled-up. It has a rectangular-shaped exterior frame and a particular internal partition. St. Marina/Margaret is standing on the left part, whereas all seven framed scenes (originally ten) are on the right and flow vertically along two adjacent ‘columns’. Inscriptions: in Greek.
IV.a) Padula, S. Michele alle Grottelle: St. James (first half of the 15th c.) [8, p. 163‒164, figs. 141‒142].
Typology: cave church.
Fresco’s location: inside a niche. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco has an arch-shaped exterior and a regular internal partition. St. James is standing in the center and the six framed scenes flow vertically along two ‘columns’ on his lateral sides, three on each side. Inscriptions: in Latin.
IV.b-IV.c) Teggiano, S. Francesco: unidentifiable saints (second half of the 14th c.) [unpub- lished, for the church: 2, p. 195‒208]5.
Fresco’s location: counter-façade, on the right of the entrance. Size: 210 x 368 cm (entire wall- painting).
Description: the counter-façade and the right wall were painted in the same decorative phase with several saints, ‘Vita icons’ and large framed scenes of St. Francis’ life. The fresco has an arch- shaped exterior frame and a regular internal partition: an unidentifiable female saint (Catherine o Margaret) is on the left and three framed scenes flow vertically along one ‘column’ on its right side. Inscriptions: unregistered.
Fresco’s location: left wall. Size: 215 x 190 cm.
Description: the fresco has an almost square-shaped exterior and a regular internal partition: an unidentifiable bishop is in its center and the frames flow vertically along two ‘columns’ on his lateral sides, three on each side. Inscriptions: unregistered.
IV.d) Teggiano, Museo Diocesano (from S. Michele Arcangelo): St. Thomas Apostle (first half of the 15th c.) [unpublished, for the church: 2, p. 135‒148].
Fresco’s location: originally in the crypt. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco has an arch-shaped exterior and a regular internal partition. St. Thomas is standing in the center and the three framed scenes flow vertically along one ‘column’ on his left; there is another saint on his right, without scenes. Inscriptions: in Latin.
V) Appendix: Sardegna
V.a-V.b) Orosei, S. Antonio Abate: Sts. Margaret and Anthony the Abbot (mid-14th c.) [44, p. 411‒449, figs. 2‒5]6.
Fresco’s location: left wall, between the first and the second bay. Size: 220 x 330 cm. Description: the fresco is very damaged by the application of a pilaster to the wall. It was originally meant to be rectangular-shaped on the exterior and to have a regular internal partition: St. Margaret is standing in its center, whereas the framed scenes are on her lateral sides and in the upper part. They were originally meant to be sixteen (of which ten are left): two are above the saint, the other twelve are composed in four ‘columns’, two on each lateral side. Inscriptions: unregistered.
Fresco’s location: left wall, between the first and the second bay. Size: unregistered.
Description: the fresco has a rectangular-shaped exterior frame and has a regular internal par- tition. St. Anthony the Abbot is enthroned in its center, whereas ten framed scenes surround him: two of them are above the saint and the other eight flow vertically along two ‘columns’ on his lateral sides, four on each side. Inscriptions: unregistered.
Most of the aforementioned examples date back to the second half of the 13th c. and mainly appear to be characteristic of Southern Italy wall-painting, considering that other works from the Byzantine oikoumenê appear later on, at least from the 14th c., and have a strong Western influ- ence . The well-known fresco of St. Francis in Kalenderhane Camii, dating back to the Latin domination of Constantinople, around 1230‒1250, is indeed unusual both for its position and composition: the saint is painted in the center of the semi-dome of the apse in an unsuspected chapel in the diakonikon, discovered in 1967. St. Francis was surrounded by ten scenes of his life, which were adapted to the available space and vary in their size and shape. The saint, as already mentioned, is connected to the Western tradition and the entire cycle is configured as unrelated to the Byzantine culture [49, p. 128‒142].
In Southern Italy, the hagiographical scenes are rather common, although they are not usually composed as a cycle7, but more frequently they are isolated framed compositions that often are not put next to the portrait of the respective standing saint, as it happens in the examples of S. Cecilia in Monopoli (Sts. Stephen and Lawrence) [25, 122‒125, figs. 1‒5], S. Angelo and S. Apol- linare in Mottola (St. Bartholomew) [47, p. 83‒84, figs. 37‒38, 40] and S. Biagio in San Vito dei Normanni (St. Blaise) [48, p. 160‒165, fig. 101].
It is therefore clear that the diffusion of this type of ‘hagiographical icons’ has been carried out on panels and among them the two works of Bari are the most famous and important examples in Italy. These mural icons had a great fortune, not only for their considerable number, but also because they were extended to non-byzantine saints, like James and Peter Martyr. Their fortune is also evident in their prolonged life, as they were used in the 15th c., such as the beautiful fresco of Bivongi (III.a). This work is particularly interesting because it shows how this typology was used in the representation of a local saint, that still didn’t have — at least as far as I know — de- termined iconography. Anyway, these frescoes are related and show how it was possible to adapt the ‘hagiographical icon’ to different and more ‘Occidental’ contexts. After all, the style of many of these paintings is far from Byzantine art, as it is marked not only by strong Western variations, but also by influences that are external to the local ‘mixed’ art too. This is especially true for the Angevin example, as is shown by the frescoes in Melfi (II.c), which are attributed to a Catalan master [6, p. 43, 60‒62] (Fig. 2). In fact, starting from the 14th c. we have witnessed the course of a painted typology of Oriental origin, that was then a common property for all of Southern Italy with all the variants we have already identified and that often show a more updated style, also based on Giotto’s works, as in Teggiano or Orosei (IV.b, IV.c, IV.d, V.a, V.b). The oldest cases ex- hibit a superior fidelity to the Byzantine prototype, except some ‘anomalous’ solutions such as the arrangement of scenes only on one side of the saint. We do not know the reason for this variance in composition. It could have been required by several factors, linked to the place in which these frescoes were painted or to unknown specific needs of the patrons. In order to understand it, we have to investigate the place in which these icons were addressed, but we should always think that each work has a specific status, that makes them different from each other.
Our index should demonstrate that the typology of ‘hagiographical icons’ was widespread in Southern Italy both in cave churches and in churches built above ground: almost all of them belonged to rural and quite poor contexts or to monastic environments. They are never placed in major centers, with the exceptions, for example, of Brindisi and Barletta. The adoption of the ‘Vita icons’ appears regardless of the type of church, in which they normally hold a privileged and clearly identifiable position, despite of its transformations during the centuries. In S. Margherita in Melfi, for example, the fresco is on the apse wall above the altar and has an obvious iconic value (Fig. 2), that is indirectly strengthened by what happens in the first chapel on the left of the same church, in which — above the altar — there is a ‘mural icon’ of an archangel. It is also the case in S. Lucia in Melfi (II.b), where the stories and the saint share the same space of the Virgin with Child, in a lunette that is above the altar. Even in Mottola (I.t), which is a rare exception because of its internal partition, the fresco is located on the right wall of the apse, as well as in S. Maria del Casale in Brindisi, the two ‘icons’ of the homonymous saint are placed in the presbytery (I.i, I.l). Other times, however, their arrangement is made favorable by architectural solutions, which are possible in cave settlements through gauging blind arches (I.n) or rectangular niches (I.a). If it is impossible to highlight the ‘icons’ through these architectural solutions, they are given particular prominence through being located in an isolated place, as in Sant’Andrea Apostolo dello Jonio (III.c) (Fig. 1). The arrangement next to the main entrance, on the counter-façade or on the long walls is nevertheless most frequent (I.a, I.f, I.h, I.m, I.p, I.q, II.c, II.d, III.a, III.b). The placement of these frescoes is not always prestigious, in some cases, in fact, they are within wider panels, next to other standing saints or other images (I.c, I.d, I.f, I.g, I.i, I.q, I.s, III.a, III.b), but they al- ways maintain a discreet visibility.
In any case, the ‘hagiographical icons’ required a well-defined space (even if it is not always isolated) inside the church, which could be abstracted from the general plain decorative fresco and could be therefore ‘outsourced’ to a ‘buyer’. The panels, e.g. those of Sinai, even have at the feet of the saints small figures of donors, some of which seem to be foreigners: for example, John the Iberian in St. George icon and a Georgian cleric in St. John the Baptist icon [12, 41, 42]. However, besides the painted representation of patrons, another way to show sponsorship could be through the use of the name of the benefactors in an inscription that began, for example, with the Latin formula: “Memento domine famuli tui...” , like in Mottola, where at the feet of the saint it is legible: “Meme(n)to D(omi)n(e) / famuli tui / Saruli [Sa]/cerdot(is)” (I.t) or in Andria, where in an inscription currently lost it was possible to read: “Memento famuli tui Joannis et uxoris ejus Gemma” (I.a). In S. Lucia in Melfi the small figure of the donor is placed next to the Virgin with Child, but he was responsible for the entire painted lunette (II.b). So they were private patrons who could commission not only the images of standing saints, but also more elaborate ‘hagiographical icon’. The private patronage is also suggested in some cases by the particular arrangement of the fresco in the church, such as the blind niches which are possibly arcosolia (I.l) or in their proximity (I.o). It confirms that this type of iconography was also adopted in funeral contexts (such as S. Maria dei Miracoli in Andria) [5, p. 43]. In the case of Bivongi, the fresco was probably intended to indicate where the bones of the saint were buried on the site which functioned as a chapel (II.b). Private patrons, for the ‘burial’ meaning of the painted stories, can be assumed also in the case of S. Giacomo in Laterza (I.n).
It is therefore plausible that, besides other reasons, the donors made use of this typology for the needs of worship and devotion, all the while having to adapt it to the space at their disposal, which was usually larger than a panel, but morphologically very different. Patrons and artists, who actually ‘made up’ the pictures on the wall, answered these contingent bonds, expanding and enriching the ‘hagiographical icons’, which were originally on panel, to include them in the largest and most complex decorations. However, it is much more common that the donors and the artists carried on with their major or minor simplifications for economic reasons (in terms of money and space), and these were not conscious attempts to depart from the iconographical tradition, but rather solutions made due to other reasons. We do not know yet if all the hagiographic frescoes had a panel model or if in the meantime, as it seems more likely, this iconography had won its autonomy independently. We can understand this if we consider an extreme case: in the cave church of Madonna delle Sette Lampade in Mottola, within a semi-circular arch, in the center there is a female saint, but the space on either side, which in other compositions, such as St. Margaret in Melfi [19, p. 226‒227] (Fig. 2), was reserved for the hagiographic scenes, here is occupied by a geometric pattern that almost simulates marble slabs. It is a cheaper solution, in a space that might have been intended for another composition (a holy warrior on horseback or a ‘Vita icon’). It is therefore clear that the donor consciously chose these images and introduced these changes in collaboration with the artist, in compliance with an Italian motto that says “di necessità virtù”, that in English sounds like “out of necessity comes virtue”.
- There are also some ‘vita icons’ in which the scenes are placed on the lateral sides of the saints: for example, the relief panels of Mariupol and Athens, , and two painted icons of Cyprus: [35, p. 38‒48, figs. 48‒49].
- A. De Pascale (2000), Scheda OA 1600209274. Hereafter, besides the published materials, I also refer to the unpublished catalogue entries (‘scheda’ in Italian) on certain murals, kept in the archives of respective local departments of Cultural Heritage Service. I cite the catalogue entry’s call number, the year of its compilation and the author’s name.
- N. Lavermicocca (1979), Scheda OA 1700034977‒78.
- L. De Rosa (1993); Scheda OA 1700129886.
- G. Borrelli (1982); Scheda OA 1500658366-4 and OA 1500658366-1.
- A. Orrù (1982), L. Pulina (1994), in Scheda OA 2000043141-1 and OA 2000043141-7.
- With few exceptions, like in S. Maria d’Anglona, where there was probably a cycle of the apostles’ martyrdom: .
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