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Friday, 10 December 2010

Artwork of the day

St George, 17th century, Chalandri, Athens, Greece

This small church is probably unknown even for the inhabitants of Chalandri, a suburb of Athens. However, buildings like this can be found all over the country and a close examination of their construction and style is important when examining the Post-Byzantine, Ottoman history of the Greek world.  
St George is a one-aisled basilica, an architectural type that began in the Roman period and was adapted with minor changes in Christian architecture. It is a small church, obviously constructed to serve the needs of a parish in the outskirts of Athens. At the moment of the chapel’s construction, Chalandri was no more than a village whose inhabitants were peasants and shepherds. No influence from Islamic art can be seen, although the Ottomans occupied the area in the 17th century when the building was constructed. The simple basilica plan was very popular in the Greek mainland throughout the Byzantine period. It is suggested that it was used until the 15th century, however the presence of this and a number of other basilicas in Attica shows that in a local level it never ceased to be a popular plan. 
Another interesting feature is the interior decoration of the church. It consists of wall paintings representing saints of the Orthodox pantheon.  
Looking at the chapel’s wall paintings it is impossible to speak of any humanism in the bodies or the faces of the figures that would denote Western influences. Instead, they are represented ascetical, thin with no emphasis on personal characteristics or emotions. Even the figure of baby Christ looks like that of a small adult. The emphasis is therefore placed not in the figures’ humanity, but in their symbolic nature as ambassadors of God on earth. This austerity and rigidity is typical of the austere Byzantine style which once again seems to have survived even in the Ottoman period.
A final important point to be discussed in connection to style is the presence of a considerable number of parts of ancient structures, whether on the building or at its courtyard. The whole northern wall consists of a mixture of stone and ancient structures. (look at the third picture).
In front of the façade one can easily identify parts of columns. Inside the building there two more ancient decorations, while an altar has been found at its courtyard. Although the use of spolia is common all over the Greek world, its presence in a small chapel in a suburb of Athens is more than interesting. It can denote another attempt to connect the parish with its past, albeit this time, the classical past of the 5th century BC and also shows that the area could have been a place of worship even in antiquity.  

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