Unique Fresco at Hosios Loukas

Over five years ago, I went on an art history study abroad to Europe. While we were in Greece, we were required to have a tour guide that was assigned by the government. This guide (I’ll call him “George”) was an interesting character who had halitosis and a penchant for recounting some of the more, er, naughty stories from Greek mythology. He was an interesting man that sometimes created rather awkward situations for our group. I remember one of my professors said that they would never go to Greece again if they had to have George as a guide.

George took us to some really interesting places, though. One of my favorite places that we visited was the Byzantine monastery Hosios Loukas. This church was built in the Middle Byzantine Period, soon after the renouncement of iconoclasm in 843 AD. There are many beautiful frescos and mosaics at this monastery, particularly in the main monastery church (called the Katholikon). I remember being awestruck by the beauty of the church and the etheral environment within the building itself. This special moment was a little disrupted when George started to break into some type of monastic chant. He wasn’t such a bad singer, but it was strange to hear such music coming from our tour guide. Nonetheless, Hosios Loukas made quite the impression on me.

The fresco above is found in the crypt of the Katholikon at Hosios Loukas. It contains two biblical scenes, the Burial of Christ (on the left) and the Women at the Tomb (on the right). This fresco especially interests me because of its uniqueness; at present, scholars have found no other artistic examples that combine these two scenes into one pictorial unit. Furthermore, it is unusual to depict Christ’s dead body wrapped in a shroud, which also pinpoints this fresco as unusual. Christ is being lifted into a sarcophagus by Joseph of Arimathea (at Christ’s head) and Nicodemus (at Christ’s feet). The Virgin Mary stands behind Christ. In the scene on the right, two Marys (as recorded in the Book of Matthew) have arrived at the tomb to anoint Christ’s body. They are confronted by the angel who points to the empty tomb; one woman gestures in surprise while the other makes a gesture of speech.*

More information and pictures of Hosios Loukas can be found at this site. The website is poorly designed and the photographs aren’t the best quality, but one still can get a general sense of the monastic complex and history.

* Disclaimer: I wrote some of the information about this fresco for an online academic database last year. Since I didn’t agree (I wasn’t even asked, actually) to give up the rights the material I wrote, I see no problem with including the information here as well. In other words, if you ever find part of this information verbatim elsewhere, don’t be alarmed. I didn’t plagiarize. I actually did write this.

  • rachsticle says:

    Unfortunately, the trip to Hosios Loukas was mostly predominated by George’s terrible post-nasal drip.

  • Emilee . . . says:

    During your travels throughout the world, did you have a particular country or museum that you liked the most in terms of art? Is there one painting or piece of work that is especially stunning in real life?

    The (only) time I was overseas, there were two art museums that I was aware of that were within my travels — one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh. I really wanted to go to the one in Edinburgh in particular, but as is often the case, I ran out of time. So, on that note, what do you think are some must sees (for next time I’m there!)?

  • Kiersten says:

    I have to admit that I am a little jealous that you have been to Greece (even despite George). I think I remember Martha talking about this guide once, so he must have left quite an impression.

    Your reaction to Hosios Loukas reminds me a lot of the way I felt when visiting San Vitale. Thanks for posting this.

  • M says:

    I can’t believe that I forgot to talk about George’s post-nasal drip! How could I forget that? It was great when Todd got up at the front of the bus and mimicked it later. Ha. Remember how George stopped by his friend’s restaurant and made us eat a “forced lunch” of unappealing food?

    Kiersten, visiting San Vitale was also one of my favorite experiences in Europe. Everything inside there (i.e. the mosaics, polychrome marble, lighting) makes that place very gorgeous. Isn’t the plain exterior of the building such a contrast to the breathtaking interior?

    Emilee, after reading your comment I’ve been thinking a lot about my favorite museums and experiences with art. In fact, I think I’ll do a post on it very soon. Stay tuned! 🙂

  • Jon says:

    Hooray! An ancient art post! Well, it’s more medieval than ancient, but considering their scarcity on your blog, I’ll give woot woot for anything older than 1400 A.D. Thank you for pointing out this fresco’s uniqueness. Also, I find it humorously ironic that halitosis happens to be a Greek word. But I might be the only one.

  • M says:

    Ha! Jon, I laughed out loud when I read that about halitosis. That makes George even more of a Greek!

  • Jon says:

    Crap. I hate it when I’m wrong. Turns out the greek part is just the ending “-osis” but “halitus” is a Latin word for breath. I just didn’t recognize it because usually Latin uses “spiritus.”

  • M says:

    Perhaps the Greek “osis” better suggests the stinkiness of the breath? 🙂 I would imagine that ancient Romans must have had better smelling breath than the Greeks, especially if they typically use pleasant sounding words like “spiritus.” Perhaps the “osis” not only helps to Greekify the word, but to stinkify the word? Ha ha!

    Regardless, thanks for the language commentary Jon. I always enjoy it.

  • Jon says:

    The Romans would have definitely agreed.

  • Ashley says:

    Oh of course I’ll never forget George either! But that Hosio Loukas trip and going to Delphi were seriously amazing. That was an incredible day!

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.