Panagia of the Catalans (middle of the 15th century), 117x157 cm. Church of Prophet Elias in Staropazaro, Athens-Donation of the National Technical University of Athens


Area: Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens
Date: middle of the 15th century


The wall painting comes from the church of Prophet Elias in the area of Staropazaro, where the Agora used to be. The Byzantine church with the characteristic fold dome, as we know it by Paul Durand’s sketch, was repaired in the middle of the 15th century, and its interior was decorated with wall paintings. In the middle of the 19th century Athens, as the capital of the newly established Greek state, is on the one hand characterized by a great building activity in order to meet the new needs. On the other hand it becomes the object of admiration among the Europeans, who discover once again the charm of the ancient classical ideal. In such an environment the middle-byzantine church of Prophet Ilias is demolished, along with other churches, so that the excavations in the area of the ancient Agora are completed. The demolition took place around 1843 by L. Kautatzoglou. The wall painting of the enthroned Theotokos had been removed before that time, probably from the tympanum of the door of the church. The wall painting was handed over to Metsovion Polytechneio. Later it was donated, along with other objects of Byzantine art, to the collection of the Christian Archaeological Society. Panagia, who is depicted on a heavenly scenery, as the Odigitria, sits in a frontal position on a big cylindrical cushion. She holds the Christ-Child with her left hand, while with her right one she touches his knee in a relaxed manner. Christ twisted in three quarters raises his head towards her, blesses with his right hand in front of his chest, and holds a closed eilitarion in his left hand. The posture of both figures makes them look grandiose. On their left and on their right, they are surrounded by two escutcheons on a tree, which are respectively decorated with a chess and a lion. The blue-green ground of the wall painting is studded with bushes, trees and rich low vegetation. The rather disproportional figures with the geometrically pleated dresses combine elements from the Byzantine tradition and gothic art. The representation is known as the Panagia of the Catalans, since at the beginning the two escutcheons were related to the Catalan notables of 14th century Athens. However, D. Kampouroglou identifies the Latin initials F.A. and L.S., which are written in gothic characters on the dark blue background next to the blazons, with those of the genoese Francesco Acciajuoli, Duke of Athens between 1441-1460, and those of noble Lorenzo Spinola, who died in 1453. It is common knowledge that the Genoese community had its own temple in the town’s trading center next to the entrance of the Agora. Thus, in all probability Lorenzo Spinola is the donator of the wall painting, which can be dated around the middle of the 15th century, provided that the assumption is correct.

Bibliography: S. Sinos, Die Sogenannte Kirche der Hagios Elis zu Athen, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 64 (1971) 360-361,  Art and culture around 1492, Catalogue of the exhibition, Seville International Exposition, Seville 1992, no. 178 (M. Acheimastou-Potamianou).