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Culture Traditional forms of Art - Professions Silver work Epirus Ioannina

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From the Byzantine period, when the city of Ioannina is created, there are also no direct written sources on the silver-goldsmith craft in the area. However, indirect written testaments and objects that originate from that period indicate the existence of technicians and respective works.
In the Chronicles of Ioannina (beginning of 15th c.), it is referenced that in the city were “the technicians of science”. The interpretation of this phrase as a reference to technicians, therefore also to silver-goldsmiths, indirectly indicates their existence in the city during the 14th century. Moreover the popular version of the Chronicles also makes reference to “every kind of technician”.
On the golden bull of the emperor Andronikos the third (14th c.), which is referenced in a financial dispute of two Ioanninan merchants, Stamatis Spanos and Stephanos Lykoydas, with a Venetian merchant, it is written that the two Ioanninan merchants had given gold, silver and pearls worth 400 hyperpira as guarantee to the Venetian. Even though the type of gold and silver objects is not written, their high value is a testament not only to the possession of such articles, but also to the craft that accompanies them.
From almost the same period (14th c.) there are various other written testaments, which reference gifts of the Bishop of Ioannina Thomas Preloumbos and his wife Maria Palaiologina (14th c.). The most significant document is the register with the objects that Thomas Preloumbos had gifted to the church of Panagia Gavaliotissas in Edessa, which was compiled in 1375. The specific list references a variety of articles some being copper and others being silver.
To the first category belong various implements and tools: three cauldrons, four small cauldrons (two were cast), five stagonia (similar to incense), two saltzera (vessel for sauce), one kremastalyson (a pot with a chain, which they hung over the fire), two frying pans, two tzapes, one mug, four plowshares, two axes, one mortar with the pestle. Of these most are tools and vessels of daily use, while only the bell and candelabra were intended for just ecclesiastical use.
As for the ecclesiastical objects, referenced are two portable icons of the Virgin Mary and one of saint Demetrius, decorated (covered with an ‘apron’ of noble metal, usually silver), a silver chalice without a handle, a silver star, three silver oil-lamps, a wooden crucifix with a frame of noble metal, two gospels and a four-gospel also bound with a precious metal.
For all these objects, secular and ecclesiastical, it is difficult to determine their origin. However, the permanent residence of the donors in Ioannina, leads us to the conclusion that most of them originated from the city of Ioannina. The variety of objects is a testament to the existence of workshops, for those intended for daily use as well as for the ecclesiastical objects.
In addition, in an “evidentiary” letter (1389) of Maria Palaiologina to her brother Ioasaf, in the Monastery of the Megalo Meteoro, reference is made to objects that she had sent to the Monastery and which are being returned to her aside from certain ones that are being left as donations. Among the latter is written: “the vase and the holy plate and the plate of the holy testament… and the holy and life-giving crucifix”. To the same monastery she had also dedicated a cast chandelier and opulent candelabrum.
Aside from these indicative references to objects of the Byzantine period that are mentioned in documents, and which have not been found and identified with surety, there are others that are located in certain monasteries and originate from Ioannina.
In the Mount Athos Vatopaidiou Monastery is salvaged a chalice dedicated by the Bishop of Ioannina Thomas Preloumbos, according to the inscription that surrounds its base: “THOMAS/BISHOP/KOMNINOS/PREALIMBOS”. It is one of the most luxurious and impressive samples of miniature art from the Byzantine Ioannina, and which is dated in the second half of the 18th century. The Chalice, of gold plated silver, bears a rich décor of enamel, pearls and semi-precious stones. The calyx is bell-shaped and supported on a six-sided base and “apple” upon which points are inlaid semi-precious stones. Its base is comprised of six triangular separators with wavy ends. It is also accompanied by a round concave cover which is crowned by a statuette of Christ sitting upon a throne blessing with arms extended. The rest of the decoration is comprised of etched décor, which is combined with clear enamel and bas-relief illustrations of angels. The figures that are illustrated, aside from that of Christ, is the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, Hierarchs and angels. In particular the statuette of Christ, the bas-relief figures of the angels and the technique of clear enamel indicate influences from the art of Venice.
Another article found in the Vatopaidiou Monastery and originates from Ioannina is a silver gold plated Plate, also a dedication from Thomas Preloumbos, according to the inscription: “SERVANT OF CHRIST: THOMAS: BISHOP: KOMNINOS: PRELOUMBOS». Its shape is round and is separated into three concentric and separate circles of unequal height. In the center there is a medallion that illustrates the Funereal Wake, a scene that is etched and enameled. In the second circle is illustrated in semi-circular separations etched cherubs, while the third separation illustrates etched and enameled figures of angels. Finally, on the lip there is an etched abstract décor, accompanied by inlaid semi-precious stones and pearls. This Plate is accompanied by a star, which also bears an etched abstract décor and a round dove at the point where the two plates join.
The construction technique of the Plate and the star reveals influences from the Venetian art of the period and the art styles of the work, such as the inscription, connect it with the Holy Chalice of the same Monastery, as works of the same workshop.
Also in the Mount Athos Monastery of Megistis Lavras there is a gold plate that bears the inscription: THOMAS/BISHOP/KOMNINOS/PRELOUMBOS. The plate, which is dated at 1367-1384, and is different from the one of the Vatopaidiou Monastery, primarily as toward the central representation, here the Ultimate Abasement, possibly belongs to the same workshop with the respective works of the Vatopaidiou Monastery.
In another area of Greece, in Meteora, and specifically in the Monastery of Megalo Meteoro, are salvaged portable icons, donations of the wife of Thomas Preloumbos Maria Palaiologina. Aside from their indubitable artistic value, they are accompanied by an inset silver décor that covers the halos of the figures. For example, in the icon of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby (1388 – 1393), the combination of the bas-relief, embossed and wire décor, is an indication of the capabilities and abilities of the Ioanninite silver-goldsmiths.
In the same category of opulent ecclesiastical objects is also the diptych sepulcher of Cuenca made of gold plated silver and numerous pearls.
These indicative references to identified as well as attributed to Ioanninan workshop articles, are a testament to the high level of the technicians of the silver-goldsmith craft in the city during the Byzantine period, their receptiveness to western influences and the instrumental incorporation of these in the Byzantine tradition. Their creations, either as offerings of the ruling class of the time, or as simple jewelry and objects that have been found in various excavations (most of them unpublished) lead us to the conclusion of the existence of a tradition in the area and of the existence of workshops and able technicians with a wide range of knowledge and capabilities of autonomous creators.