My Seven Wonders Artemis Tziolis My name is Artemis Tziolis and I am a senior high school student in the American Community Schools of Athens, Greece. Since a young age, I have been interested not only in art, but in the historical development of art throughout the centuries. I am enrolled in the Humanities Honors course at ACS and am also studying independently for the AP Art History course. I plan on studying History of Art combined with Arabic in university, which is why I had decided to join this class. I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to see if I was interested enough in Art History in an academic approach to pursue further studies, and hopefully a career, in it.
ILLISOS BASILICA- 549 A.D.,BYZANTINE MUSEUM
This fragment of the Ilissos Basilica was one of the most appealing of the museum to me. The mosaic piece portrays a peacock pecking at a flower. The peacock was a secret symbol for immortality during the times when Christianity was oppressed; it is said that the flesh of peafowl does not decay after death. This interested me because the colours used (maroons, greens, golds, and reds) are very bold and harmonize well together. The peafowl’s stance is humble and bent over. It makes me think of how silenced the voice of Christianity used to be, but now it is by far the most common religion. Even though I am agnostic, I believe this mosaic fragment to be an interesting reflection on the course of the world at the time.
CLAY FISH – 4th-5th C., BYZANTINE MUSEUM One of the most fascinating statues I saw at the Byzantine and Christian Museum of Art was the hand-sized statue of a clay fish, approximated to the 4th-5th century. Carved into its side were the Greek letters of Α and Ω, with a P in between them, which also formed a cross. Being Greek, I understand the significance of these letters without further research – they are the first and last letters of the alphabet. Throughout culture and civilization, even in pop culture, the term ‘alpha and omega’ signifies the beginning and the end. The P, also forming the Christian cross, further implies what the meaning of this clay fish statue is. Above all, it is known that the fish was, like the peacock, a symbol for Christianity at a time when one didn’t expose their Christian beliefs. It intrigued me that something so simple as a clay statue of a miniature fish would hold such symbolic meaning.
RECEPTION ROOM – 17th C., ISLAMIC MUSEUM My favourite section of the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art was the Reception Room. It was so ornate, and seemed much too complex for the time it was built, in the 17th century. It’s perplexing to think that this civilization was working so elaborately hundreds of years ago. This is why it appeals so much to me. The shape of the fountain (seen in the sketch above) is beautiful and unique, and there is ornate gold design on the marble of the fountain. It reminds me a lot of my childhood in Japan where we would gather on Sundays to dine with my parents’ co-workers in what I remember to be a very traditional Japanese lounge, with a seating plan quite similar to this, and eat sitting on the floor. There is probably absolutely no relevance between the two, but it was a subtle yet pleasant reminder of my times in Japan.
FORTIFICATION IN MYSTRA ~1262 A.D. Due to a knee injury at the time of our trip to Mystra, I was unable to visit the castle at the top of Taygetus Mountain. I was, however, able to visit the lower fortification sites. They were astounding; the intricacy of the fortification, with the windows and the lookout posts, it was all very overwhelming, considering the context of it. It was interesting to think that now it is a tourist site, whereas thousands of years ago, this site was a lookout post to protect the remaining fragment of the Byzantine civilization. These fortifications reflected a change in the art of warfare – there was more tactic and strategy, not just open-fighting.
EYE OF PANTANASSA ~ 15th C., MYSTRA Even though I wasn’t able to witness this mosaic in person, I still find it beautiful. This cracked mosaic is part of a floor piece in the Monastery of Pantanassa, and was said to be the eye that sees everything. Quite fitting for a monastery, which to this day is the only working monastery in Mystra. The jade-coloured stone creating the outline of the eye and the entire mosaic piece is a color of power and royalty, as represented by the stone (the jade). I don’t know the size of the mosaic, but looking at it gives this impression that a higher power is watching over us. I can imagine if I were walking here I would think twice before stepping on this beautiful piece. I wonder how awesome it must have been for my classmates who actually saw it.
MIHRAB, 17 th C., ISLAMIC MUSEUM Of everything we saw in the Islamic Museum, this was personally the most awe-inspiring. It is difficult to grasp from a photograph and a sketch, but the amount of detail that has been carved into this marble structure is mesmerizing, and the quality is impeccable. Looking at it, I feel the power of the driving force behind Islam; everything they stood for, and their undying faith, has all been crafted into not only this mihrab, but every work of art and architecture ever built under the Islamic Empire. It is overwhelming to imagine that religion could have affected art in this way; or was it the art that had an impact on the religion? Either way, I’m in awe of this.
PERIVLEPTOS MONASTERY, 14th C., MYSTRA One of the many monasteries I was not able to visit in person, and yet it still amazes me. It’s so intriguing that the architects of Perivleptos diverged from the traditional style of a monastery to build this monastery cutting into a cliff. The apse is what we see on the leftmost of the image, and the southern end of the monastery cuts into the cliff. It’s interesting to think, “why here?” Why did they have to build this monastery right where they knew it would collide with a cliff? Camouflage? Protection? Whatever the answer is, this monastery fascinates me to no end.