«მღვდელმონაზონი მარკოს ქართველი - ათონის ივირონის მონასტრის მთავარი ეკლესიის მხატვარი», გელათის მეცნიერებათა აკადემიის შრომები VI (2020), გ. 303-338.
Skhirtladze Zaza, Hieromonk Markos the Georgian - A Painter of the Main Church of the Iviron Monastery at Mount Athos
The construction of the Catholicon in the Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos, apparently, began at the end of the 10th century and lasted three decades in a row. The church should have been painted immediately upon it was built.
The building has remained virtually unchanged to this day, while its paintings should have been renewed several times over the centuries. Traces of the original painting are no longer visible today. What is perceptible to the eye in the interior of the church, beyond the multiple lampads/oil lamps, seems to have been created in the late Middle Ages, although it was also heavily repainted in 1842. The repainting of the individual parts of the church continued later on as well.
The mural decoration is based on the traditional iconographic scheme of the Mount Athos paintings and combines numerous scenes and figures.
The painting also features a four-figure donor composition placed on the north wall of the compartment between the south and west arms. There are presented the Abbot of the monastery, Hegoumenos Gabriel, the Georgian painter, hieromonk Marcos, the Voevode of Valachie Mihnea II (1577-1583, 1585-1591) and his young son Radu (later Voevode of Valachie in the 1611-1613). The figures are accompanied by Greek uncial inscritions. These images were also completely repainted in the mid-nineteenth century.
In contrast to the inscriptions of the masters of wall painting, the images of the artists themselves are very rare in the monumental painting of the Byzantine circle. The image of Marcos remains somewhat of an exception in this respect, and reveals that his contribution to the Iviron monastery was specially declared through the pictorial way.
The presumable period of painting of the Catholikon of the Iviron monastery is generally dated back to the second half of the 16th century. In addition, different dates are suggested within this chronological time scale: 1592-1600 (Bishop Porphyry Uspensky); the end of the sixteenth century (Euthymius Tsigaridas); the end of the 16th century (Manolis Khadzidakis, Eugenia Dracopoulos); 1577 (Nicolaos Tutos, Georgios Fusteris).
The surviving data concerning the historical figures represented on the fresco do not allow for a comprehensive and thorough discussion of the creation of the painting. Nevertheless, taking into account the realia reflected in the written sources, as well as in artworks, architectural and epigraphic monuments, makes it possible to express certain observations and opinions.
The depiction of Mihnea II and his son in the donor composition of the church may indicate that by the second half of the 16th century the ruling family of Valachie seems to have supported the monastery of Iviron in a certain way. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the only evidence of Michnea’s contribution is the fresco of the Catholicon of the monastery.
Mihnea’s son, Radu-Mihnea had a much closer relationship with Iviron and he had supported the monastery several times. At the same time, the inclusion of images of Mihnea and his son in the donors composition does not seem to be necessarily associated with the painting of the Catholicon; during the Ottoman domination several Athonite monasteries were receiving a certain support from the representatives of Orthodox kingdoms and principalities, including the ruling family of Valachie. Neither is unusual and unexpected the existence of their donor images – the images of the supreme rulers of Romania, owing to their devotion to the Holy Mountain are met in the Catholicons of the number of monasteries of Athos - the Great Lavra, Dionysiou, Dochiariou, Xenophon.
Gabriel, the Abbot of the Iviron monastery, does not appear in the 16th-century historical sources of the monastery known to date. At the same time, the Abbot by this name is well known in the materials of the events related to the beginning of the 17th century – this is Gabriel the Athenian, who came to Iviron from Georgia. Based on this information, it is assumed that Gabriel must have been an Epitropos of the Athonite estate in Georgia. The construction works were conducted in the monastery during his priorate, but the sources do not contain the information about the painting of the Catholikon.
The situation in the monastery of Iviron seems to be complex in many respects in the 16th century. At that time, the patronage of the supreme rulers of various kingdoms and principalities of Georgia to the Athonite monasteries intensified; among these were King Levan of Kakheti (1518-1574) and his son Alexandre (Alexandre II, later King of Kakheti). In fact, the Philotheou monastery in close vicinity of Iviron was completely restored through their donorship. In this regard, there is a noteworthy historical account evidencing that King Levan made significant contributions to Iviron. King Alexandre II (1574-1604) also provided weighty financial support to the monastery, which is why the rulers of Iviron «offered him the keys to the gates of the Monastery «.
At the same time, the care for one of the outstanding sanctities of Mount Athos - the Portaitissa icon of the Mother of God, namely its chasing with the new revetment was followed by the creation of its history, as well as of the chronicle of a certain section of the monastery’s history in the first half of the 16th century. Naturally, the contributions of Georgians are especially highlighted in both treatises. It is hard to imagine that all this would not have affected the situation in Iviron and, consequently, the conditions of the local Georgian community.
In view of all the above, a pertinent question arises as to whether the painting of the Catholicon of the Iviron monastery/the renewal of the early painting was also related to the large-scale donor activity of the King Levan of Kakheti and his son Alexandre on Mount Athos. Or should Marcos himself have done the paintings in the monastery of Philotheos, of which only the frescoes in the refectory have survived to this day? It is impossible to give a straight answer to all of this today if only because the painting of the catholicon of the monastery of Iviron have been repainted entirely; still its restoration would shed light on many issues.
No presence of Marcos is observed in the sources known to date about the history of the monastery of Iviron. Nevertheless, the very fact that he was entrusted with the painting of the catholicon of the Iviron Monastery is telling.
There is an opinion that along with the wall painting, Marcos might have been engaged in the icon painting as well. In this connection, some refer to two wings of the doors, which are now placed in the refectory of the monastery, on both sides of the niche of the Abbot’s seat. The wings of the doors have been known since the end of the 19th century.
On the upper half of the left wing of the doors a half-figure of the Mother of God directed to the right in the posture of supplication is represented while the lower half of the wing depicts a figure of a beardless young man, dressed in the garb of a nobleman. On the upper half of the right wing there is a half-figure of Christ represented frontally, and on the lower half is a middle-aged man with long black hair, and a large beard, also wearing the garb of a nobleman.
Since the images are not accompanied by inscriptions, the opinions expressed over the decades about their identitification are general and conditional. Namely, it is suggested that on the wings of the doors could be seen Ashotan Mukhranbatoni and his son, Jesse (Bishop Porphyry Uspenski; Gabriel Millet, Jules Pargroir, Luis Petit; Anton Natroshvili); Eristavi Tornike and young Basil II (Gerasimos Smyrnakis); Mihnea II and his son, Radu (Andreas Xyngopoulos; Euthymios Tsigaridas).
Separate opinions appeared periodically in academic publications regarding the period of activity of the Hieromonk Marcos and his field of work: Shalva Amiranashvili suggested that the frescoes of the catholicon of the Monastery of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, namely the images of St. Maximos the Confessor and St. John of Damascos, as well as the image of Shota Rustaveli presented among them, completed in the 13th century, were repainted by Markos, the painmtes of the Catholicon of the Iviron monastery on Mount Athos at the end of the 16th century. As a precondition for such opinion, he names the similarity of the artistic style typical for the frescoes of both churches. According to Leonid Nikolsky Marcos should have been a figure of an earlier period. Tinatin Virsaladze also shares this opinion.
There is still a lot of research to be done about the artist Marcos. However, one thing is clear - his work is one of the most important milestones in the history of the Iviron monastery which presents the activiry of local Georgian community in a much more exhaustive way during the late Middle Ages full of complexities.