Arta, Church of the Panagia Paregoritissa
|Parigoritras 3, Arta 471 00, Greece
The church of the Panagia Paregoretissa, dedicated to the Annunciation, is very distinctive. Externally, it just looks like a massive cube. Internally, it is a centrally-planned church with an octagonal central space, a main apse and two side apses and then two side chapels each with a door into the nave and a narthex. The church has five domes, and the central dome has twelve sides. But the system for supporting this dome is very unusual: the tiers of columns appear suspended in mid-air.
Mosaics survive in the dome, the east and south vaults of roof. Christ Pantokrator in the ‘tunnel vault’ of the dome blesses with one hand and holds a closed Gospel in the other. He is much bigger than any of the other figures: his head measures 2.22m and the mosaic circle itself has a diameter of 4.53 metres. The tympanum of the dome and the lunettes depict twelve prophets, including the Old Testament kings David and Solomon, alternating with cherubim and seraphim and wheels of fire. The four evangelists sit in the pendentifs of the dome. Gold and silver tesserae are used in some quantity, as is local stone for flesh areas in particular.
It is not known how the rest of the church was decorated, though there may well have been more mosaic in the east and south. Where the mosaicists and the materials came from is not known, but it is unlikely that there was a local mosaic industry – there is no other evidence of mosaics in either Arta or Epiros more widely to suggest this. It is possible that the mosaicists were from Constantinople, or from Thessaloniki; in light of the Western elements visible elsewhere in the decoration of the building, and the strong Italian presence in Arta and Epiros, it is also conceivable that they were Italian. .
The patrons in c1290 were the Despot (ruler) of Epiros, Nikephoros, his wife, Anna Palaeologina, and their son Thomas. Nikephoros was the legitimate son of Michael II Komnenos Doukas, who was Despot of Epiros between c1230 and1266/68. On Michael’s death, his kingdom was split in two. His legitimate son, Nikephoros (1267/8-96), got Epiros and built the Panagia Paregoritissa in Arta . His illegitimate son, John I Angelos Komnenos Doukas, got Thessaly, where he built the church of Porta Panagia at Pyli, with its mosaics.
Look at the carvings in the church, especially the scene of the Nativity which hangs down, almost suspended in space. (EXPLAIN)Stone sculptures, biblical reliefs, a scene of the Nativity, monsters, all strongly reminiscent of Western Romanesque art, also adorn the interior.