Transfigurations of Hellenism: Aspects of Late Antique Art in Egypt, AD 250-700

By László Török | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE
PERENNIAL HELLENISM?

It seems proper to conclude a book on Egyptian late antique-early Byzantine art with a discussion of one of those outstanding works of art which made a particularly long journey in time. It was dated in the learned literature first to the second quarter of the fourth century, then to the second half of the fourth century, the first half of the fifth century, the sixth century, and finally to the second quarter of the eighth century1—and considered in turn to fit well into the art of all these periods.

The object in question is the wooden lintel from the Church of al-Moʾallaqa in Old Cairo, already mentioned in Chapter II.5. The 2.74 m long lintel (height of the figural relief 0.17 m) is carved with the representation of the Entry into Jerusalem and the Ascension; above the figural relief there is a Greek inscription consisting of a hymn on Christ’s ascent in the presence of Mary, the Mother of God, a dedication by the Abbot Theodore the Proedros and George, Deacon and Steward, and the badly damaged dating “month of Pachon 12, 3rd indiction, year of Diocletian [.]51” (figs 168–176).2 The first three lines of the text with the hymn are carved on a separate piece of wood. The fourth line with the dedication and dating is carved on the lintel with the relief. Its paleography differs slightly from that of the first three lines.

The combination of the Entry into Jerusalem with the Ascension repeats an iconographic formula emerging in the fourth century and employed in various contexts in the East as well as the West.3 The

1 The late 8th century dating in Mathews 1999a 40 is probably a printing error; Mathews 1993 40 dates the lintel 735.

2 CM 753, Sacopoulo 1957; Beckwith 1963 13 ff., Pls 41–43; Severin 1977a 252 no. 287; and see A. Grabar: Deux portails sculptés paléochrétiens d’Égypte et d’Asie Mineure, et les portails romans. Cah. Arch. 20 (1970) 15–28.

3 Cf., e.g., the top and bottom scenes on a diptych in Yerevan (6th cent.) and on the diptych from Saint Lupicin (6th cent.), Volbach 1972 94 f. no. 142, 97 no. 145.— The central scenes of the two relief registers on the front of the Junius Bassus sarcophagus (Rome, 359), Age of Spirituality Cat. 386, confront Christ’s historical arrival with his second coming, the eschatological arrival. Cf. MacCormack 1981 65 f.

-351-

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