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Cormack, Rediscovering The Christ Pantocrator At Daphni





  Rediscovering the Christ Pantocrator at DaphniAuthor(s): Robin CormackSource: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 71 (2008), pp. 55-74Published by: The Warburg Institute Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/05/2014 11:58 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].  . The Warburg Institute  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  Journal of theWarburg and Courtauld Institutes. This content downloaded from on Fri, 9 May 2014 11:58:06 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  REDISCOVERING THE CHRIST PANTOCRATOR AT DAPHNI Robin Cormack T he paradox of the Byzantine mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the dome of the eleventh-century church at Daphni outside Athens is that it might be said to be the Byzantine image best known to non-specialists and least well studied by specialists (Fig. i).' It was the Daphni Pantocrator that immediately came to mind when the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor wanted to make a conceptual point about the nature of Byzantine art in his travel ook Mani of I958.2 His thesis was that Byzantine art represented the 'Hellenic' trend in Christian art, a form of expression, he argued, that was moderate and understated ('passionless detach ment'), in contrast with the exaggerated and overstated images that he connected with western Catholic art. But he instantly nticipated that any critic could quote examples against him; he therefore laimed they ould be only exceptions, and not serious objections. He anticipated that the most obvious 'exception' would be the 'stupendous mosaic of Christ Pantocrator' at Daphni: [...] whose great eyes, dark and exorbitant and cast almost furtively over one shoulder, at total variance with His right hand's serene gesture of blessing and admonition, spell not only pain but fear, anguish and guilt, as though He were in flight from an appalling doom. The only fit etting for such an expression is the Garden of Gethsemane; but this is a Christ-God in His glory, the All-Powerful One. It is tremendous, tragic, mysterious and shattering. The dome at Daphni has been as much the inspiration for fine writing as the prop for theoretical positions. For Ernst Diez, 'there is only one other figure n art, the Moses of Michelangelo, which can be compared to this figure n spiritual power'.3 For Otto Demus, the dilemma of the Daphni mosaics was that they signalled the end of his 'classical system' of Byzantine church decoration, since instead of displaying 'hieratic grandeur', the mosaics' narrative style and layout were designed, so he thought, to delight the viewer rather than properly to serve Orthodox dogma and faith.4 His theory, however, hardly does justice to the i. The often-quoted monograph is still that of G. Millet, Le Monast?re de Daphni, Paris 1899, which itself owes a great deal to G. Lambakis's descriptive publication of the church, XpioziaviKrj 'Apxaio?oyia ttj? ju?vrjc Aacpv?ov (Christian Archaeology of the onastery of Daphni'), Athens 1889. Millet started to collect materials in Athens in 1892, but only completed his work after a break, in 1898-99. He did not use the next publication of George Lambakis (at this time the personal secretary of Queen Olga), H ju?vrf a?viov juera r?? ?moKsv?? xov 1891-1897 {'The Monastery of Daphni after the Restorations of 1891-1897'), Athens 1899, which reported on the works undertaken between 1891 and 1897. Equally fundamental and much easier to find in a library is E. Diez and O. Demus, Byzantine Mosaics in Greece. Hosios Lucas and Daphni, Cambridge MA 1931. An overview of the architectural history with critical comments is C. Bouras, 'The Daphni Monastic Complex Reconsidered', in Aetos. Studies in honour of Cyril Mango, ed. I. Sevcenko and I. Hutter, Stuttgart and Leipzig 1998, pp. 1-14. 2. P. L. Fermor, Mani. Travels in the Southern P?loponn?se, London 1958, p. 223 and note. 3. Diez and Demus (as in n. 1), p. 32. 4. O. Demus, Byzantine Mosaic Decoration, London 1948, esp. pp. 60-61. 55 JOURNAL F THE WARBURG ND COURTAULD INSTITUTES, LXXI, 2OO8 This content downloaded from on Fri, 9 May 2014 11:58:06 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  56 CHRIST PANTOCRATOR AT DAPHNI complexities of the design of the dome in Byzantium. Back in the ninth century, the emperor Leo VI wrote a sermon to celebrate the dedication of a church in Constantinople with a bust image of Christ in its dome, and his terms are equally appropriate for aphni: 'to offer a mystical suggestion of the eternal greatness inherent n the One represented.'5 One of the sharpest discussions on the design of the aphni Pantocrator was offered y the Renaissance scholar John hearman, who insisted that the only effective iewing position to appreciate the 'presence' of the Pantocrator must be not from directly underneath the dome, but from the central entrance door into the naos from the narthex.6 Only from ere do the arms of the cross in the nimbus look 'correct'. The likely reason for the reticence of Byzantine specialists over the Daphni Pantocrator is simple enough. It is that serious suspicions have arisen as to whether the dome mosaic that we see is the same mosaic that the Byzantines saw in the Middle Ages. The key issue is this: was the face of Christ radically remade and dis torted in the course of the late-nineteenth-century estoration f the church, after a serious earthquake that required the rebuilding of the dome itself? he situation was alarmingly evoked by the Rev. Joseph Hirst in The Reliquary in i888:7 Irreparable harm has already been done to the monuments of the hitherto despised Byzantine age by the ignorance of men, and by the inevitable ravages of time. Innumerable frescoes and mosaics of the highest value, seen in earlier days by those now living, have lately disappeared, and the way in which the finest and earliest mosaics in Greece, those of the church and cupola of the very ancient monastery of Daphne, have been allowed to fall into decay, within less than an hour's drive from Athens, is a disgrace to the Christian senti ment of the nation. Hitherto anyone who wandered for an afternoon-stroll to that secluded dell in the mountain pass leading to Eleusis, could have for the begging whole fragments of the richly gilt and coloured tesserae mbedded in plaster, just as it had fallen from the walls, and now the last earthquake has completed the dilapidation of these most interesting figures. Pessimism such as this bout the mosaics of Daphni, as well as the admittedly clinical appearance of the church interior fter the nineteenth-century estoration, have dampened the enthusiasm of many a visitor. To make matters worse, on 9 September I999, the building was damaged by an earthquake of 5.9 on the Richter scale, which caused tesserae to fall, and it was immediately closed to the public (and remains so).8 Nonetheless, the current major Greek programme of repair and consolidation offers the best chance in more than a century for a sensitive 5- For this church of Stylianos Zaoutzas (between 886 and 893), see A. Frolow, 'Deux ?glises byzantines d'apr?s des sermons peu connus de L?on VI le Sage,' ?tudes Byzantines, m, 1945, pp. 43~495 and esp. pp. 58-63 (where it is argued that this sermon explains how an image can represent the consubstantiality of Father and Son); and Homily 37 inT Antonopoulou, Homilies of the Emperor Leo VI, Leiden 1997, esp. pp. 242-45. The relevant passage is translated in C. Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453, Englewood Cliffs 1972, p. 203. 6. J. K. G. Shearman, Only Connect, Princeton 1992, pp. 149-91, esp. pp. 163-64. Millet (as in n. 1, p. 143) discusses the point. 7. J. Hirst, 'Society of Christian Archaeology at Athens', The Reliquary, 1, 1888 (January - October 1887), p. 30. 8. I am very grateful to Maria Vassilaki for co-ordinating the opportunity to see the mosaics in June 2005 from the present scaffolding with several colleagues; and to the Ephorate for allowing the visit. This content downloaded from on Fri, 9 May 2014 11:58:06 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  f'~~~~~I ~~~~~~~4.~ ~ t.; E -- - 4 n h u p l o h m n s e r f D a h i in t e 9 6 o z i i. View of the Pancrator in the cupola of the monastery of Daphni in the i 96os (photograph: Tombazis) This content downloaded from on Fri, 9 May 2014 11:58:06 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions