MULTIPLIED LITERARY STORY: A BIBLICAL TEXT, A NEREZI MASTER, THE ITALIAN PROTO-RENAISSANCE AND THE MACEDONIAN CONTEMPORARY POETRY
(In: Konštantinove listy [Constantine’s letters; Константинова писмена], Uiverzita Konštantína Filozofa v Nitre, 2/2009, p. 82-93)
MULTIPLIED LITERARY STORY: A BIBLICAL TEXT, A NEREZI MASTER, THE ITALIAN PROTO-RENAISSANCE AND THE MACEDONIAN CONTEMPORARY POETRY
The narrow focus of this paper is geared towards the review of the issue: what is it that connects various artistic forms of expression within different historical epochs, whose source originates in the literary story, and what is it that separates them and makes them independent within that context?
As the pretext of our ‘recurring’ or multiplied literary story is taken a story of a Biblical, that is, a New Testament event related to the last week of Christ’s earthly life that brings together his passions more coherently. This literary story can be seen as multiplied in the cycle of the scenes of Christ’s passions, in the monumental iconographic examples of the XII century Nerezi painting, in the Proto-Renaissance painting expression of Giotto, and through the poetic expression of Michail Rendzov in the Macedonian contemporary poetry. Albeit all these examples depicting one Biblical event use diversified artistic tools: words or images, and although they belong to different time periods, nevertheless, they are united through the great theme of passions that we treat as the direct link among the four texts within the context of our comparative research.
Literary and visual arts monuments taken as examples of our comparative research of the Biblical theme of passions evince that the application of the linguistic phenomenon in visual arts can be reviewed from the perspective of dissimilarity of expression from the formal standpoint, since both media choose different means to present the theme. On the other hand, however, each of these texts allows for a more articulated division into its own ‘subgroups’ that, of their own accord, enrich the multiplication of the Biblical text in an authentic fashion. Thus, the literary text ceases to be only canonical and Biblical and becomes highly poetic (Macedonian contemporary poetry), and the visual arts text expands its dimension becoming Byzantine and Proto-Renaissance, ultimately completing its growth and becoming a cultural text.
The formal diversification in the rendering of the theme of passions discovered in different media and historical periods (text/word-picture/color, different epochs), ushered us into the realm wherein we ascertained a possibility to review different forms of expression through four stories that originate in the same thematic source, versatile styles and expressions, and profound messages communicated across and addressed to the human dimension of suffering. Thus: 1) the Biblical-Christian aspects of the suffering disclose the economy of salvation of the mankind through Christ and the Mother of God; 2) the next text from our multiplied story, historically belonging to the Byzantine tradition, enhances the human dimension of man’s suffering by way of various elements of style used in the Lamentation at Nerezi; 3) in the Proto-Renaissance dissimilarity of style and expression, highlighting the power of the gesture as a motif, it humanizes the divine and affirms the idea of the power of man and the faith in himself; 4) the poetical text of Michail Rendzov in the Deposition from the Cross (fresco), poetizes the grand Biblical event that inherently belongs to the thematic scope of passion, that is, suffering becomes a poetic-lyrical category.
STORY 1: BIBLICAL TEXT
The first story refers to the Biblical story that underlies the other three stories in our research as their basic text; here we are narrowing it to the Lamentation scene as a part of the cycle of scenes depicting Christ’s passions. They are as follows: the Last Supper, the Entombment, Washing the Disciple’s Feet, the Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mount Olive), Judas Betrayal, the Trial by Annas and Caiaphas, the Three Denials of Christ by Peter, the Judging by Pontius Pilate, the Mocking, the Path to Golgotha, the Ascent to the Cross/Crucifixion, the Deposition, and the Lamentation. As its textual model, the literary-Biblical Lamentation uses the prophecy of Simeon the Elder (Simeon the Righteous), the God-Receiver from the New Testament, rendered in the form of an address to the Mother of God: “Indeed, a sword will pierce your own soul, too, so that the inner thoughts of many people might be revealed." (Luke 2:35). This moment foreshadows the passions of Christ, that are announced in the New Testament through the blessing of Simeon directed to Joseph and Mary. Addressing her, he would say: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against” (Luke 2:34).
According to Ephraim of Syria, this part of the New Testament literary text referencing the Lamentation, that is, the theme of passions, at the same time reveals heretics’ doubting Christ’s deity. The belief in this aspect of Christ’s nature was ambivalent: the first deemed that Christ’s body was not passionless, that it was earthly, therefore, the incarnation was not performed in the real body; the second creed maintains the belief that his body was divine. The former creed evinces lack of belief in the God-Man and Savior (Messiah) Christ on the part of Jews. According to exegesis, the sword from Simeon’s prophecy that will pierce the soul of the Mother of God hints at the denial, that is, that the savior of the world was born through the Mother of God. The Passion of Christ, thus, represents the reference to the Old Testament sin now transferred to the shoulders of the entire mankind. The couple mother-son, actually, is the New Eve and the New Adam, that is, the couple savior as a semiotic category.
Within the context of our first story, the prophecy rendered through the textual act as a form of syntagmatic level resembles an epigraphic expression, since the Lamentation scene is conveyed in a brief, implicitly allegorical form that demands to be recognized and purported in the context of a dogmatic, a historical, and a divine truth. Thus, first and foremost, it refers to the revelation of the divine and human nature of Christ, but also to the crucifix in the soul of the Mother of God: at the same time, she is a mother and the path-finder for humanity. The Biblical story follows the scheme of the Christian dogma in a brief, but allegorical depiction of events, abstracting narration and dramatization of the description of the event. Here everything is subject to the promulgation of the event as a historical, Biblical-literary act. However, scarcity of details is only one way of highlighting the content and the profundity of the event concealed in the allegorical form.
It is noteworthy that part of the comparative methodology used for researching the origin of the literary story related to the Lamentation event - which will bring us closer to our second story – has revealed that more than the several literary sources from the Synoptic Gospels, the apocryphal literature treats it more comprehensively, in particular, the Gospel of Nicodemus, the homiletic literature, the sermons of George of Nicomedia, liturgical and poetic texts, and mostly the apocrypha of the Mother of God. What is impressive in these texts and sources is that they give a very poignant, detailed description on the human dimension of the suffering of Biblical characters, and that emphasized emotionality of the form and the event is conducive of the possibility to reveal the physical humanity of Christ divine attributes. On the other hand and at the same time depicted are human drama and the agony of a broken heart, rendered through the suffering of his mother. As an illustration and part of the apocryphal sources, we cite the description from the Gospel of the Mother of God, wherein Saint Nikolay of Zhicha depicts the suffering of Mary with the following details:
“The shepherd is struck, and the flock has dispersed. But whereto did she, the Mother, flee? She is standing by the cross in silence and pain. With her presence here, she testifies that it is a Son of Man, Her Son, and that she is His Mother. Every painful movement of the crucified Lord is relived in her soul, not as a ripple but as a thunder-storm. Still, she keeps her mouth shut, so that thus she can, overwhelmed with pain, feel the burden of His crucifixion passions.” (…)
This clearly evinces that details introduce expansions in the descriptions of the Biblical New Testament story. All this contributes to the emphasis of the human dimension in the drama of the passions of Christ as a human being and the Mother of God as His Mother.
The Lamentation scene is closely related to, that is, follows the Crucifixion and Deposition from the Cross scenes:
“And when Jesus drew His last breath, two of his secret disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, upon the approval of Pilate, took the body down from the cross and with tears in their eyes kissed it and sprinkled it with myrrh and sang to it like to a God.”
In the same Gospel, the profound grief of the Mother of God articulated as a powerful dirge is described in the following fashion:
“Receiving the Dead Son in her motherly embrace, the Holy Virgin broke out into more bitter crying: “My Beloved Son, why did You leave me in deep pain and sorrow? The only hope of my life and my only life is You, my Son and God! The only light of my eyes, what will your mother do without You? ... Oh, my wounded body, lying with myrrh anointed, the dead Son of me! You who hold Yourself with Your powerful hand, now, breathless are laid in your tomb! Oh, if I could only die with You, so that I, Your mother, don’t have to see You dead!...”
Another source presenting the crying of the Mother of God and her lamentation represent the prayer hymns on the Mother of God. The poetical verses depicting the Crying of the Mother of God read:
“The crucified Christ the Virgin saw
And cried with her heart pierced:
Beloved Son, my life dear,
Why did You deserve such a death?
… By great suffering tormented
The Holy One washes Him with her tears
And kisses with a holy kiss.
My Child, Goodness Infinite,
Your blood will wash away all sins
And Your suffering cleanse the souls
Of all those that will be baptized! “
All these descriptions are not only laden with powerful expressionism and a possibility to detect metaphysics of pain and suffering, but also with a dramatic synergy of one Biblical event that in the New Testament remains deprived of this humanistic dimension.
STORY 2: A NEREZI MASTER
The emphasis on the human element of suffering, crying, and pain, that is, sentiment and emotion, will prevail over the dogmatic moment in the Lamentation scene by a XIIth century Nerezi master; to this very day, it remains to be a scene that via the language of painting captured one of the greatest sufferings and human pain in Byzantine. That comprises the second story of our comparative research. The human aspect in the Lamentation scene ennobles the dogma making it more human, since the centre of the representation is laid on emotion. The pronounced drama, the enhanced condition of a crucified heart shows the Mother of God over-ridden with pain, with legs apart, in a deep trance engrossed in crying and sorrow. The Passion of Christ and the Lamentation yield an ambience of liturgical realism in visual presentation also, they render a certain optical and emotional effect upon the viewer. The possibility of a synergic experience results in the knowledge that what is depicted in the scenes imparts the impression that all that is happening here, now, and again, and before us. This kind of iconographic chronotopos creates an allusion of a real chronotopos, since the intimate nature of the scene becomes an intimate and emotional experience of the viewer. The viewer becomes a participant, the co-empathizer in Christ’s suffering and in the crying of the Mother of God. The centre of the Biblical story breaks away from the dogmatic approach in the representation of this scene, and instead the centre of this painting composition is geared towards the human, the emotional, and the humanistic. The breaking away from the Biblical story from the New Testament is carried out through the emphasis on the humanistic tendencies of the Nerezi painter, the stressing of the anatomical aspects of human body, whereas at the same time, the iconographic presentation retains the dogmatic and abstract character of a New Testament story illustration. The stylistic aspects of the visual arts language, that are, in fact, stylistic innovations in the Christological program at Nerezi, apparently breaking away from the schematic approach to these Biblical events from the New Testament, bespeak the reflexion of the current tendencies at the Byzantine court of Alexios Commnenos. Namely, the emergence of liturgical realism in the Lamentation scene seems to be some kind of ‘visual marketing’ aimed at promoting the imperial politics in the region. Thus they strove to make the iconographic rendition of Biblical events closer to the audience at large, that is, to enable the people to communicate more directly with the presentation by way of their external expression and emotional dimension. To that end, the centre of the composition of the Lamentation is focused on the intensity of gesture, facial expression, new emotional power, and human, that is, humanistic sympathy.
The Lamentation from Nerezi is one distinctive example seminal of the beginning of a new evolution in style, marking a new dynamic stage in the Byzantine painting discourse, as well as some kind of breaking away from the Biblical discourse that will become more transparent a century later, in the Proto-Renaissance. However, the significance of the stylistic features that lend the depicted figures liveliness and realism, are even more significant from the standpoint of culture, that is, the contribution of the Byzantine painting to the Western thought. Within the context of comparative reviews, Ernst Kitzinger will emphasize this innovation of the Nerezi painter as breaking away from the linguistic discourse and dogmatic approach in Christianity, underscoring:
“As we can see, this stage is of extraordinary importance for the right kind of understanding of what was happening at that time.”
The visual arts expression of the literary-Biblical story depicted at Nerezi was placed in the nave and represents an ‘expanded’ story as regards the details conveyed through the visual language. Beside the Mother of God, saying farewell to Christ are John the Apostle, who is kissing his hand, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who are touching his feet. The iconographic positioning of the Mother of God represents the most powerful expression of sorrow and tenderness. This moment, in its own right, accentuates her historical role, since it is realized as an integration of human and divine thought. She is the spiritual priest, the first human in the relationship between men and God, the woman and the virgin that enters a spiritual marriage with God in which mankind is integrated. Finally, through her Jesus acquires his carnal nature. This iconographic symbol contains the ritualistic act aiming to emphasize man’s drama, the sacrificial death of Christ and his redeeming role for the mankind. The figures are depicted in one rhythmic expression whose dynamic placement not only unites the figures involved in the scene but also the viewer, who, thus, acts as an integral dynamic category.
Judging by the stylistic expression of the anonymous painter, who will only remain to be known in history as the Nerezi painter, he was undoubtedly acquainted with the Biblical pattern of this scene, as well as the Christian canon used for its representation. Nevertheless, he used a certain artistic freedom, showing one leg of the Mother of God visibly revealed and thrown over the dead body of her son. Such innovation in the painting at Nerezi can be understood as a transparent semiotic denote that gives off the dynamism of an internal struggle and suffering, and dialectics of the salvation at the same time. The bare leg of the Mother of God inspires passion in the lamentation as a dramatic act of man. At the same time, such an iconographic approach added to the Lamentation scene at Nerezi accentuates the realism of man’s suffering. This iconographic element enriches the semiotic dimension that reveals the closeness among the representation, the Biblical story, and its human empathy in communication with wider populist masses at the time of the Commneni, as well as between God and man.
STORY 3: PROTO-RENAISSANCE OF GIOTTO
The third story from our comparative research on a multiplied literary story dedicated to the theme of passions comes from the western paining that will set in later, in the Proto-Renaissance period. One of the most reproduced scenes that mark the Byzantine contribution to the Renaissance is the Lamentation from Nerezi. This scene evokes deep reminiscences of the similarity with the ethos of Giotto’s scene depicting the Biblical lamentation. This example should be expounded from the standpoint of exclusion of any direct connection, that is, direct impact of the Nerezi painter on the Italian Proto-Renaissance. Even though, for the time being, as regards this issue in the world of science, there has still not been made any research pertaining thereto, therefore, unfortunately, this relation remains without any definite answer, still, the argument remains to be that this example is one distinctive form, one distant (in terms of time and space) emancipation of the Byzantine innovation in St Panteleimon at Nerezi, through the application of the linguistic Biblical representation in the western painting. This data coming from the world of science should be understood as valuable, for it indicates science still has not shut the door before this important issue that treats the relationship between the Nerezi painting and the Proto-Renaissance painter Giotto by way of the Lamentation.
Addressing the Byzantine contribution to the western painting, the renowned E. Kitzinger mentions several key names from the world of science that have been doing research on this important cultural topic. Viewing the situation within the comparative ambience, different scholarly stances place the issue in ambiguous contexts.
V. Lazarev, one of the most esteemed authorities as regards this issue, expresses a negative stance pertaining to any direct relation and considers it to be an over-rating of the Byzantine role in the later western painting. On the other hand, G. Vassari writes that the Byzantine painting is a completely static art and thus can be included in manuals on painting; in other words, it relies on the traditional approach in depicting saints, use of colour, and alike from generation to generation, and he does not mark any dynamism in its development.
Notwithstanding this, the issue science is facing today is: Did Byzantium substantially affect the development of the western painting or, on the other hand, it only rendered life and positive guidance to the painting in the West?
Our research of this issue wants to affirm and elaborate the idea that with his Lamentation Giotto complements the Byzantine Nerezi Lamentation through its humanistic tendencies. Even though they are two different kinds of aesthetics and concepts connected through the same Biblical story, the point of convergence of these two parallels, and not direct influences, rests on their propensity to highlight the humanistic tendencies in both iconographic representations. Hence, according to V. Lazarev, one should not over-rate the Byzantine role on the later western painting but place the situation into the context of trend setting in the later development of the western painting treating Biblical themes. Therefore, bearing in mind the stylistic innovations of the Biblical text at Nerezi applied as visual arts, it should be emphasized that Byzantine art should not be treated as essentially static. The Lamentation at Nerezi represents a new interest in the human shape and a new type of human being, which will be more pronounced in its expression later in the Proto-Renaissance. In this period, the predominant emphasis of man’s anatomy supports the idea of man’s superiority and his faith in himself. In Giotto’s Lamentation, that new interest in human figure and being will be conveyed through the interest in the anatomical dimension of man’s body. Thus Nerezi gets its anticipation in the new stylistic expression in the West, in Giotto, where human values, cohesion of emotions, mood, and movement dominate. As Wilhelm Keller will summarize, in the background of this concept is the human form – is Byzantium. Hence, the new dynamism in the style of the Nerezi master, who creates in Macedonia, correlates by way of a powerful dynamism with the dynamic style of the iconography in the western painting. Therefore, even though a new type of humanism appears, whose center is the emotionalism captured in the representation at Nerezi, and Giotto is only further building upon it with his humanistic tendencies as regards aesthetics, still we can speak about one kind of formalism the figures in both renditions arouse and not their direct influence.
STORY 4: MICHAIL RENDZOV AND THE CONTEMPORARY MACEDONAIN POETRY
It belongs to the Macedonian contemporary poetry, the collection of poetry Nerezi (1982) by Michail Rendzov; the poem is entitled the Deposition from the Cross (fresco). Through its poetic language, the same Biblical story, as represented on a fresco at Nerezi, is illustrated. The suffering and lamentation, again, is the motive instigating the creation of new poetic narration, as well as one profound human truth. In this poetic narration by Rendzov are aptly sublimed three stories (Biblical/literary, visual arts, and poetic): there are no allusions that the first poetic image makes a reference to the Biblical text: When they were taking him down, they cried… This is a direct reference to the New Testament story of Christ’s deposition from the cross, as well as the lamentation that follows immediately thereafter. Through this poetic image, the poet makes a blend of two pivotal Biblical-literary and historical events that refer to human sacrifice and human suffering, as well as the economy of the salvation.
When we relate the first poetic image from the Deposition from the Cross with the last poetic image: When they were raising me, Ah, when they were raising me, they cried,, which captures the very lyrical point, we discover one harmonious unification of the Biblical cycle epitomized in the great theme of passions. What stems from this as a poetic truth is the subjectivization of the act of suffering, lamentation, crucifixion, and resurrection for each of us. Suffering is revealed as one intimate dialogue among the poet, God, and the word in man as one unrepeatable and unrenderable act. Suffering is disclosed as one intimate religion, a subjectivized and pure drama (of every man). Through the eschatological act of the crucifixion, the poet is making an attempt to identify God, who is beyond time, as well as any suffering that is repeatable in each of us. It is a discovered poetic liturgy in the subjective act of suffering, in the abstraction of poetry. The poet resurrects through the crucifixion of the word. The centre does not hinge on the suffering of Christ. The centre is man, the poet, the poem. Thus poetry becomes divine, and the poetic act an immortal work.
The ornithological structure of the symbol of the cross as a bird pronounces the verticalization of the spirit through suffering; it carries the new birth of the poet-man; the new cosmogony that is individual, personal, intimate, and deep again. It also corresponds to the Christian discourse of the resurrection, as well as it rebirth.
Juxtaposing the crying during Christ’s deposition from the cross with the crying that appears as an allusion to the raising of the lyrical subject to the cross, the poet reveals an important relation of anti-thesis: raising-deposition. Jesus becomes a sacrifice for all people because of man’s sinful nature. The poet is put on the cross, ready to be crucified. The poet appears to be promulgating: poetry is salvation. The poet is the savior. He is ready for the act of subjective eschatology that is a big chance for the transformation and growth of the spirit. This is the individual act poetry is calling for. The centre of the subjectivity is lost again. Such a spirit has to be crucified in the name of the poetic and human truth for all. The poet appears as a personal Jesus.
Once again, from the personal, Suffering is placed into the context of the collective. They cried, is the last verse. The poet puts himself in the role of the model ready to be crucified. In the poet is fractured all evil, all the foul human play that thwarts both individual growth and the global context.
In his poetical world, Rendzov reinstitutes the depraved human nature centrally. Again, he rewrites the biblical text stressing the individual sin, inertia, and defocusing from our own selves. However, through his poetic images, Rendzov also creates a possibility for a new iconography: the Crucified, man-poet, Crucifixion is a poetic act. That man is a man in each of us. Auto-referentiality indicates that the four stories are completed through the theme of suffering; that it is theme whose symbolism and gravity for which each historical period finds suitable modes of artistic expression to render, yet the emotionality, the pain, the suffering, the crying remain timeless – and the same. And they are human.
The Biblical, the Byzantine, the Proto-Renaissance, and the contemporary poetic in a multiplied passion story contain the duality of the fall and the rise, the sin and the sacrifice, the crying that should become rejoicing. Rendzov’s poetic truth becomes a synonym for an axiom that kills and gives birth, the singing that resurrects like the divine dimension in each of us. The poetic truth accentuates the spiritual quest as a venue towards salvation. Therefore, suffering emerges as the basic poetic category that yields an opportunity for an inner growth and subjective resurrection.
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 P. Miljkovic- Pepek, 1967, p.60.
 St. Ephraim of Syria, 2004, p. 262.
 St. Nikloay of Zhicha, 2001, pp. 51-62.
 Ib., p. 57.
 Ib., p. 36.
 Ib., p. 36.
 Ib., p. 396.
 Ib., p. 397.
 I. Sinkevic, 1994, p .43.
 Ib., p. 35
 E. Kitzinger, 1965, p. 361.
 S. Grandakovska, 2001, p. 202.
 Ib., p. 197.
 I find the consultations with Dr. Ida Sinkevic as regards this issue very helpful; she is the author of the volumionous monograph dedicated to Nerezi, and I use this opportunity to thank her once again.
 E. Kitzinger. The Byzantine Contribution to the Western Art of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, 1965.
 Presented at the Symposium dedicated to the Byzantine contribution to Western painting, organized by Dumbarton Oaks Papers, held in 1965.
 E. Kitzinger, 1965, pp. 360-361, 1965.
 Ib., p. 368.
 The poetic truth of M. Rendzov corresponds with the monumental historical and visual arts beauty that radiates from this monastery, that inspired his collection of poetry Nerezi.
 M. Rendzov, The Peak, the River, the Sea, 2003, p. 89.
 Ib., p. 89.
 The cross looks to me like a bird, p.89.
 Ib., p. 89.