Skema

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Saint Ephrem
in the
Christian
Iconography
Abdo Badwi
Stokholm 2006
Iconography
of Saint Ephrem
The image of Saint Ephrem or his icon
through the history of Christianity is rare,
especially in his church the Syriac Church. If
we look over the miniatures in manuscripts or
some paintings we find two or three
iconographical themes adapted for Christian
Iconography.
1-Saint Ephrem as a monk and his relation with the monastical
life (Byzantine tradition).
We have two famous types of this tradition, Ephrem as a monk
(Sinai icon of the 9th century) and what is called the icon of the
Dormition of Saint Ephrem (Different icons)
The famous icon of Sinai of the 9th century is a Greek Byzantine
quadripartite icon. It represents in the upper part Saint Thaddeus
the Apostle and Hanania offering the Mandylion to Abgar
Oukama king of Edessa.
In the lower level are represented, Saint Anthony of the Desert
with another hermit, and Saint Basil with Saint Ephrem. In this
icon the history of Christianity in Edessa is linked to the history
of Monastic life and Ephrem is as one of the founders of the
Syriac monastic life.
------------------------------------ PIERRE DU BOURGUET, PEINTURES CHRETIENNES, P.271-272 EDIT. FAMOT, Genève 1980.
Saint Ephrem is painted standing wearing a
long tunica covered by a mantel (Himation)
without the Skema on his head. The color of
the dress is a Sienna (raw and burned). He
handles in his right hand a scroll or a part of
the (diakonia orarion). The left hand is
damaged and we distinguish probably a
censor. His face with open round eyes, a short
white beard and a bald head give us a typical
Middle Eastern look. His name is written
behind him in Greek().
The second monastic
representation known
by the Dormition of
Ephrem is spread out
in the Byzantino-slavic
world. We present in
our lecture one icon of
this prototype:
---------------- Histoire des Saints et de la Sainteté, Tome
III,, André Mandouze, P.41, Hachette1987.
The prototype of this icon is taken from the Dormition of Our
Lady. In this last one all the Apostles are gathered from all
over the world around the bed of Our Lady in a farwell
meeting before she goes to Her Son. In the same way, Saint
Ephrem is wrapped with his monastic dress holding the Book
on his chest laying on his death bed, surrounded by many of
the Fathers of the Church and the famous monastic life
founders. We recognize among them Gerasimos on his lion,
Simeon on his pilar, the different anachorites in their caves
and grottos. All kinds of monastic ways of life are gathered
around him. This icon is a kind of apotheosis of the
monastical life around the end of the fourth century (Saint
Ephrem died in 373). As an iconographic art, this icon is
considered as a Byzantine style of the XVIth century. This
icon evokes the heroic times of the monastic life still alive and
active in the Christian Orient. The Dormition of Saint Ephrem
is considered as a rebirth.
2-Saint Ephrem represented as a
poet and his relation with the Holy
Spirit his isnpirer.
Going back to the Syriac world and
tradition,
the
most
ancient
iconography is a miniature in a
syriac manuscript from the XIIth
century, (Library of the Syrian Orthodox
Patriarchate, Damascus), representing
Ephrem standing in an edicola
reminding us the Rabbulean and
the Armenian manuscripts arches.
He is painted in a graphic way inside
the edicola with open curtains or
veils. His skema reminds us the
Armenian Figar more than the Syriac
Skema.
----------------------------- Mahmoud ZIBAWI, EASTERN CHRISTIAN WORLDS,
p.69,The Liturgical Press, Collegville, Minnesota 1995
Beside this miniature we have a lot of non iconographical art going from the
post Rennaissance Western Art imported from Europe (Especially Italy),
through a local art in Lebanon and Syria till a Naïf popular art in Tur Aabdin
and Upper Mesopotamia.
The most known one is the painting in Saint Paul Syriac Catholic Church in
Damascus, in which the saint is standing wearing a skema between the
Byzantine style and the syriac-maronite one with the distinctive small cross
on the front. The mantel reminds the himation more than the traditional
jibbeh or mashlah of oriental monks and clergy especially in the syriac
tradition. He holds in his wright hand a scroll with the famous syriac
apophtegma attributed to him (negoun garmay men qabro dAloho yoldat
maryam) translated: My bones from the tomb shout Mary is the Mother of
God. This text is often written in Arabic or in greek.
-------------------------------- Mar Estathios Youssef Al-Munayer, Mar Afrem fi Souar, (Arabic), Damascus 2003
3-Saint Ephrem and the
Mother of God the Virgin
Mary.
Another theme very common
is the representation of Saint
Ephrem with the Mother of
God. A typical one of this kind
is the main altar painting of
Our Lady of Charfeh in
Lebanon. Saint Ephrem is
represented
with
Saint
Ignatius of Antioch as the two
patrons of the Syrian Catholic
Church,
kneeling
in
a
supplication act in front of the
Mother of God. The painting
is
totally
western
post
Renaissance Art from 19th
century.
4-Other painting
representing
Saint Ephrem:
Many
other
iconographical
themes
represent Saint
Ephrem as the
Harp of The
Holy Spirit :
and others putting
together all these
themes mentioned
above
with
the
theme of vine tree
in accord with the
famous dream of
Ephrem in which he
saw himself as a
child and a vine
tree is growing out
of his tongue and
bearing a lot of
grapes.
Chappel of Charfeh
Saint Ephrem with the Vine Tree, the Dove of the Holy Spirit and The Blessed Mother
Ephremite Sisters Chapel, Charfeh (P.Abdo Badwi)
In the Tur Aabdin in Turkey, we find a lot of Naïf representation
of Saint Ephrem, painted or embroidered:
Saint Ephrem, popular naïf Art, Dyar Bakir and Mardin.
In our
contemporary
time we can
show two well
known paintings
of Saint Ephrem,
A modern painting of the
famous Syrian artist Elias
Zayyat, in the Patriarchal
Syrian Orthodox
Seminary
in Maarrat Saydnaya,
Syria.
This painting reminds us the colors of Kandinsky
and the compositions of Marc Chagall . He is
seating in a semi desertic landscape wearing a dark
blue tunica like the Greek orthodox clergy, the
skema of the syriac orthodox monks and a camel
brown hair color aabaya of the Middle East. He
holds in the left hand an opened scroll and lifting
the right hand toward an angel offering him a vine
branch with grapes. Near him a vase with two doves
a common theme in the 6th century mosaics of Syria
that we find in Ravenna also.
The other one is a
new icon done by
ourself in the
collection of the
new icons for the
Maronite Church
diffused by the
Department of
Sacred Art of the
University of the
Holy Spirit Kaslik
Lebanon.
An etching
picture of
Saint Ephrem,
18th century,
Western Art.
A popular painting of
Saint Ephrem, with the
Vine Tree, the Dove of
the Holy Spirit and Angels
holding the scrolls of his
teaching.
Syrian Orthodox Bishop
Palace, Aleppo, Syria.
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