About the Masters of Painting of Matskhvarishi Taringzeli Church

Upper Svaneti is one of the most remarkable and exceptional areas in Georgia in terms of natural conditions and cultural heritage. The communities of this region are covered with a variety of castle-towers and churches. The unique fine arts school was formed here. During the epoch of its existence many paintings or hammered patterns were created, churches were decorated with monumental paintings. The art of Upper Svaneti was created self-sufficient, with its own form, which is completely distinguished in the general Georgian artistic thinking. A distinctive charm is endowed to this art by a close and an uninterrupted relationship with local customs or beliefs in which the Christian vision and the fusion of the artistic thinking and attributes have been combined during the centuries.

Latali community, beyond Baali, is the first among the communities of Svaneti. In Upper Svaneti it occupies the largest area. Supposedly, due to this fact this valley exceeds the rest of the communities with the monuments of cultural heritage. Latali community consists of ten villages, among them are Matskhvarishi, Ienashi, Ipkhi, Lahili, Lakhushti [Kenia... 2000: 82]. Most of the churches were constructed in the early medieval (the 10th -11th centuries) times, while the monumental painting was created in different periods. On the main road of Latali-Mestia, the church of St. Iona is erected.  In its vicinity there are two churches  - the raising of the Savior and Taringzeli. Matskvarishi Archangels Church is located on a small mountain hill. It has a semi-edged apse and the outbuilding of the later period on the south. The doors are arranged on the southern and western sides, while the windows are made on three sides. The hall and the apse are independently covered. The altar wall is painted with a floral decor. The interior is fully covered with the painting.

We do not have an accurate historical information about the construction and painting of the church. Unfortunately, no ethnographic materials are known about this monument. Only few researchers review the architecture and wall painting of the church, including  Ek. Takaishvili [Takaishvili, 1937: 361] and P. Uvarova [Уварова, 1904: 299]. V. Beridze considers the 11th -12th centuries as the date of the construction of the monument (Beridze, 2014: 304), while M. Kenia and G. Patashuri attribute the Taringzeli architecture to the 13th -14th  centuries [Kenia... 2008]. The painting of the church is determined by the 16th century by M. Kenia [Kenia... 2008], R. Kenia and N. Aladashvili [Kenia... 2000:86] (pic. 1). Taringzeli painting is placed within the same period by N. Aladashvili, G. Alibegashvili, A. Volskaia [Аладашвили Н... 1966:125]. Latali community and the churches located here are reviewed by A. Stoianov  in his work describing the traveling to the Caucasus [Стоянов, 1876: 383-391]. R. Bernoville mentions Latali Archangels Church in his book about Svaneti [Bernoville, 1875: 145]. In Upper Svaneti this is the only sample painting dating back to the 16th century. In the church there are inscriptions on the southern pillar of the altar wall and on the entablature. V. Silogava worked on them. There is also the sample of two pilgrim texts as well as Giorgi Mgalobeli’s (the 17th -18th  centuries)  and Ivane Katskhlia’s (the 18th -19th  centuries) inscriptions [Silagava, 1986: 301].

       Some parts of Taringzeli frescos are quite damaged, but the overall decor is well-seen. In the conch of the altar, there is the scene “Christ in the Glory” with the Archangels, Seraph and Cherub. On the wall of the apse, the line of St. Fathers and St. Deacons is presented. On the sanctuary of the altar, there is the cross of Golgotha. The crosses of the victory are depicted in the niches of the apse. On the southern wall, there are scenes of "Nativity" and "Epiphany", compositions of "The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple" and "Dormition of the Mother of God". On the northern wall, there are "The Annunciation" and "Transfiguration". In the middle of the register the compositions of "Crucifixion" and "Pentecost" are presented and on the western wall three scales are depicted: on the arch "Raising of Lazarus", in the middle of the register - „Resurrection“ and "Enter into Jerusalem".

In the arch, there are the compositions of "Ascension", "holy Mandylion", "Christ of the Old Days". On the pilasters of the arch, contrary to each other are depicted the prophet kings - David and Solomon - with the raised hands. On the lower raw there are St. Peter and St. Paul. On the last register of the southern pilaster St. Damiane’s figure is remained. Straight forward there could be a figure of St. Cosmas, which is now destroyed. On the bottom register of the painting, there are four holy warriors depicted on the southern and northern walls: Artemius, Theodore Tyron, Demetrius and Theodore Straltelates. They bring military clothes and are equipped with combat weapons. On the low register of the western wall, there are the figures of St. Mothers: Marine, Irine, Ekaterine and Barbare.  In the western part of the northern wall, on the lower register the fresco is vanished. Here could be the scene of St. George Diocletian or dragon piercing or the figures of the Church patrons  -  Archangels or the portrait images of donators of the church.

Pic. 1, Matskhvarishi Taringzeli Church

It is worth mentioning that the Ornamental Grace of the Matskhvarishi Taringzeli Church, window-frames and door-posts are filled with a plant decor. The western door lunette is adorned with Golgotha plant ornamental crosses. The entire surface of the altar wall is covered with the floral ornaments.

      In the central arch of the eastern facade of Taringzeli, the hodegetria type of the Virgin with the child is presented on the top of the window. Now the painting is very damaged and only the contours and color fragments are readable. The researchers think that the painting was performed by the masters who had painted the interior [Аладашвили… 1987:118-119].

      In general, Taringzeli frescoes clearly depict the artist's talent, which was revealed in the creation of a well-formed and a well-designed iconic scheme and program. Architectural forms and compositions are relevant to each other. The painting program is somewhat followed by the iconographic scheme of painting and the artistic vision, which developed in the Palaeologue era (Ubisi painting).1 Iconographic schemes of Taringzeli painting are based on art, which developed in the Palaeologue era, in the 13th-14th  centuries:  plurality of figures, architectural backgrounds united by the velum, a peculiar presentation of the elements of a landscape (“Christmas”, “Epiphany”, “Entering in Jerusalem”, „Resurrection“). The vault expression of “Christ of Old Days” appears in Georgian art in the 14th century. Each plot is presented laconically (“The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple”, "Raising of Lazarus", “Ascension”).  Besides, there is an interest towards the altar composition (the 10th century) of Upper Svanetian Church.2 The iconographic program of Matskhvarishi Taringzeli Church is composed in such a way that it puts in the forefront a deep theological thought of a decor. Iconography of the scenes of Lord’s cycle in this painting and the compositional structure are noticeably complicated. The master of general iconographic programs of painting does not avoid the use of different iconographic schemes and fully represents the general theological idea of painting - eternal salvation through the victim.

      In the late Middle Ages (the 16th–17th centuries) several directions emerged in the Georgian monumental painting. In the second half of the 16th century the paintings of Mukhrovani, Gremi, Alvani, Nekresi, Akhali Shuamta, Khashmi, David Gareji Mravalmta complex and others were created in Kakheti. They clearly show the influence of Athos Artistic School. Among the western Georgian monuments of the same period, we can mention Gelati St. George and Holy Virgin Birth Churches, Bichvinta Church of Holy Virgin Birth and paintings of other churches. These samples belong to the circle of official paintings, where artists, trained in central schools, worked and reiterated the artistic approaches and principles that were appropriate at that time.

      The article discusses the question of how many masters participated in the creation of the décor of Matskhvarishi Taringzeli Church. First of all, it can be thought that the painting program is drawn up by one of the creators, who is also the artistic leader. We assume that he worked together with two other masters, who performed certain parts of painting. The main painter reckoned the whole painting in unity and tried to create a united picture. This fact is detected in the colorful thinking of the whole painting, where the blue color of the background and garment dominates, purple revives the whole picture and golden is slightly put on the faces and nimbus.

      It seems that the compositions “Christ in the Glory”, „Annunciation“, „Nativity“, „Ascension“ and „Christ of Old Days” belong to the main painter (pic. 2). He should also perform the figures of the holy warriors, holy mothers, St. Cosmas and Damiane.  His handwriting is marked by a refined line in which the color is put locally and darker or whiter lines are placed above. Sometimes white lights are duplicated with more open or dark line of the main tone for marking the wrinkles. These graphic lines do not create shadows, for instance, tunic of the angel in “Annunciation” (pic. 3), the maphorion of the Mother of God  in „Nativity“, cloaks of saint warriors.

Pic. 2, „Glory of the Christ“

Pic. 3, „Annunciation“

    The first painter reveals his trained hand. The compositions are distinguished by a balance as well as by the underlining of semantic accents and wholeness. Details of cloaks of the characters are processed with flowing graphic lines. They are colored with grocery, wine, dark blue, gold, brown and brownish tonal rankings. The figures are prolonged, but erected proportionally. Faces of the figures of the first painter are oval: by a brown smear on golden flooring basis there are marked  figures, graphic white lights are put on faces orderly. The figures are calm, sprinkled with eyebrows, short and straight nose, little lips. "Shadows" are gently filled with a dark green paint. The glares are put  with short barriers on the eyebrows, eyelids and nose. Especially expressive is an almond eye cut with a honey-eye walnut that seems to be sunk into the green color of "shading”. For example: the face of Christ in the composition “Praise the Lord”, faces of St. Irine (pic. 4) and St. Damiane, etc. The faces are calm.  

Pic. 4, St. Irine.

      The following compositions should belong to the second painter:  “Presentation of Jesus at the Temple”, “Entering in Jerusalem”, “Crucifixion”, Resurrection“, “Pentecost” and “Dormition of the Holy Virgin”. Moreover, the figures of saint fathers and deacons in the apse, the images of Saint Peter and Paul as well as the figures of David and Solomon presented on the pilasters (including the image of "Holy Mandillion") should have been painted by the same artist. The second master's writing is characterized by more dynamic, moving compositions: the narrative is enriched by the inclusion of additional characters and details. The attempt of the conveyance of the spatial depth is felt in the consideration of the architectural and landscape elements. The proportions of the figures are more or less protected, but in some scenes some parts of the body are exaggerated, for instance, the body of the Savior is prolonged in the "Crucifixion", the hands are "stretched" and the head is even smaller. The second master's figures are distinguished with movable gestures. Local colored spot of the cloak is uniformly treated with hard white lines or with the smears of contrasting colors, for example: „Crucifixion“ (pic. 5), “Dormition of the Holy Virgin”.

Pic. 5, „Crucifixion“

A line is rarely duplicated via the same or other color. For example, in the "Crucifixion" on the background of Christ's khaki shroud, the wrinkles are put on with brown and yellow lines. The graphic lines of clothing are uniformly concluded on the surface without any form of reference. The faces of characters of the second master have the form of an egg. On the basis of golden, the lines of the faces are outlined by a dark greenish-brown shawl, the areas around eyes, nose and nipple are "shadowed". The spots of tetra are distributed along the nose and near a nostril, a couple of smears are placed under the eyelids, on the cheeks and under the chin. The tetra smear often takes the form of a beam on a cheek. A round black pupil is inserted into a rather narrow eye. In some compositions individual characters' cheeks are clarified, for instance, the face of Mother Goddess in the scene of “Dormition of the Virgin Mary” (pic. 6). Similarly to the first painter's style, the color of the garment is distinguished by its rich color and variety.

Pic. 6, The face of Saint Mary from “Dormition of the Mother of God”

      The scenes of “Epiphany,” “Transfiguration”, "Raising of Lazarus" should belong to the third master. First of all, the third master is distinguished from the previous two painters with a relatively open color gamma created by an excessive use of white spots and lines. Along with a grocery color, there are sandy, dark green and different tones of brown. White graphic lines are put in a chaotic order. In the works of the third master there is a clearly visible destruction of the proportions, unnaturally prolonged Christ's hands (in the compositions of "Epiphany" (pic. 7) and "Raising of Lazarus" (pic. 8)) and John the Baptist's right hand in "Epiphany". A grotesque figure of the servant is in the scene of "Raising of Lazarus".  Modeling of faces is especially noticeable  -   thick, wide and rough spots of white color are put plainly on the basis of the golden flooring of the face. Eyes, nose and chin areas are filled with greenish-shimmering shades. Unlike previous two painters’ styles, an eye cut is narrower with deep-seated pupils, for example, the face of the Savior in the composition of the "Epiphany" (pic. 9).

Pic. 7, „Epiphany“

Pic. 8, "Raising of Lazarus"

Pic. 9, The face of the Savior from the scene of “Epiphany”

      According to the issues discussed above, each master was not attached to one of the registers. The difference is not in composition, but in the form processing and stylization. The stories covered with different handwritings are located in certain sections of the interior of the church. This fact makes us think that a particular master painted a part of the church painting. The first master performed the conch of the altar and its surrounding arch scenes as well as the depictions of individual saints of the lower register. The second master performed the compositions of middle registers of three walls, while the third master performed the painting of western part of arches and vaults of the western wall. In each master's handwriting is felt an individual perception of artistic principles or methods of reflection. Despite characteristic peculiarities and different levels of the work, it is obvious that three masters worked in one workshop, because the painting is perceived as common and the overall mood is created.

      The next subject of our research is finding the place of Matskvarishi Taringzeli painting in the space of  the post-Byzantium art (its belongingness to the artistic directions of that period).

     Despite the eccentricity and a delicate arrangement of the iconographic program,  the decor of Taringzeli painting is less related to an official line of painting, because it is quite different from classical monuments. There are no overloaded cycles, numerous expressions of saints, excessive coloration [Mamaiashvili, 2008:57]. In addition, a relatively steady hand and a simplified character of the picture are felt in Taringzeli. However, the principles of the post-Byzantium artistic vision are taken into account. On the other hand, in Taringzeli painting the signs characteristic for “national stream”3 are not crossed clearly, in particular, there is the ignorance of spatial laws and apparent disruptions of the proportions and naïve faces. Based on the summarization of the above-mentioned characteristics, Taringzeli painting can be placed between "professional" and "national" paintings, where centuries-long and powerful traditions of local art school are combined.

1 see Burchuladze N., Icons of Ubisi Monastery and painting of the church, the 14th century, Tb. 2006.

2 see Aladashvili N., Altar window composition in the churches of Svaneti. Materials of IV International Symposium of Georgian Art, Tb., 1983.

3 see Khuskivadze I., "National" painting of the Georgian churches of the late Middle Ages, Tb. 2003.