Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Festival of Isis

La Scala's wonderful early 19c Egyptian Ballet
This one is dedicated to all my operatic and numismatic friends.
In our decades many critics speak with prim horror of ethnic insensitivity; last decade it was usually of "orientalism" and before that "primitivism" a century ago.  But we're dealing, are we not, in all cases with romanticism.  When I was little, and we played cowboys and Indians, everybody wanted to be Indians; cowboys were rather more like parents and teachers.  Often, certainly, people have let others stand in for what they crave but mustn't act out.  In Rome for a good generation after 30 B.C. Egypt vied with Athens for High Style.  And, considering that the cultures were really different, even after the Ptolemies had somewhat Hellenized Egypt, the artists who catered to Augustus's circle of friends and admirers did rather well—certainly had some models—in emulating their style.  Of course, there are lots of Nile Scenes in paint and mosaic, but coins of the Ptolemaic and Imperial periods are more numerous and informative.  There is a serious, valuable (I only started it) discussion thread in Forum Ancient Coins, that most valuable of serious "social" web sites.  It is in the category where their permanently interesting 'threads' are kept,;all
If you Search Isis in the Forum Discussion section, you will find more, because, not only in Roman Egypt, but all over their world the cult of Isis and Osiris and Harpokrates was widespread; after all, The Golden Ass, by Apuleius culminates in a Festival of Isis.  Also, it is an entertaining novel, ancestral to such as Don Quixote, and it had its readers, though not in such great numbers, throughout the Middle Ages.  The Festival surely is not accidentally the obligatory ballet (obligatory at Paris even for Wagner: the Venusberg in Tannhauser), for Rossini's Moïse et Pharaon.  First, all these operas in exotic settings are not like the psychology of Cowboys and Indians, or White Hats and Black Hats.  Even in a comedy like Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio or Gluck's Der Betrogene Cadi or Rossini's own Semiramide, the pagan (viz., not Christian) lead proves to have his own ethics and, of course, his humanity.  Even a century later, for Richard Strauss, Hoffmansthal's Joseph and Pharaoh are entangled in their shared humanity—not to say their shared masculinity.  In sum, not to keep on listing things, Isis cult remains serious.
Rome, Capitoline (whether Conservatori or Capitoline Museum...).  Black marble Grecian Urn with Egyptianizing motifs.  Wouldn't this go nicely in the Black Room at Boscotrecase?  I think, however, that it was found in Rome.  Augustan?

Tetrarchy.  Festival of Isis coin, a small bronze.  Photo: courtesy Doug Smith.  Note Isis headdress and the  'Egyptian' stance of the  male figure, comparing the representation, as of a wooden panel mounted in a niche, in the Boscotrecase room.  I don't know of an coin later than c. 300 AD, but depictions of Isis in other media continue, though more rarely, in other media.

The Festival of Isis coin is not very common, though I do have lots of Harpokrates, but just as Enlightenment operas ceased with Freud, so did big celebrations of the Egyptian gods cease pretty much in the course of the 4th century.

Detail from the Black
Room of the Imperial Villa at
Boscotrecase.  Augustan.

I hope that some of you will enjoy that rich thread of shared knowledge that I linked to at the top of this page.

Somewhat different is the sacro-idyllic interior decorative work in painting or, as below, in stuccoed ceilings, in this case also Augustan from the Villa Farnesina in Rome.  It is not as if these have titles on them, but they obviously show fashionable scenes of initiation into mystery cult.  Though these should not be taken as illustrating specific cults, they commonly allude to Egypt, and I cannot read Book XI (the Festival of Isis) at the end of Apuleius's Golden Ass without thinking of these poetic, romantic, deliberately mysterious stuccos, fragmentary as they are.  These are a quite different category from the styles of the objects above and the actually Egyptian Isis coins and other objects in the collaborative essay linked to above.  I saw no reason to repeat that thread.

Rome, one of many pieces of the stucco relief ceiling of the Villa  Farnesina.  Now (or recently) installed in the Palazzo Massimo near the Terme.
These (and several dozen more) were taken through glass but near eye level in the Terme itself.
This is one of the details that show that the scene in an initiation into mysteries, and there are clues, too, that indicate Egypt. 
Because I have dozens of sections of these stuccos and do not expect to have another chance to teach from them, I shall post them in a PicasaWebAlbum, with the title STUDY: FARNESINA STUCCOS.  By the time the essay is posted, you'll find them there.  The stucco is of a pale clay color and they may not have been, as ceiling designs, very fully colored, though the white underpainting implies some color, pastels, perhaps some gold leaf.
While these were still, in the 1980s, mounted behind glass, on the walls, I was able (by holding my breath) to photograph them at ISO 400 with TriX film, hand held.  They are now about 10 feet above  one's head.
As for the ballet in Rossini's opera at La Scala:
Although I lack evidence for the Paris Opera's familiarity, or that of Rossini's librettiests (which were also those of Naples and Paris and later Milan), with the Paris Illuminati, a sort of lodge of learned men (you could compare the Masons of that time, though they are not the same),  who were exiles from Greece before its Revolution and lived in modern Bulgaria and Constantinople, as I recall, as well as in Paris (and some in England), the relevance for many, particularly the illuminati and their friends, of this opera seems plain and contemporary to me.  See the monograph by Darius Spieth, "Napoleon's Sorcerers. The Sophisians", Univ. of Delaware, 2007, for descriptions and their own watercolor drawings of their ceremonies and of their rites, freely derived from Hellenistic, especially Ptolemaic Egyptian, texts.  (Mozart's The Magic Flute, based on Schickeneder, is quite plainly Masonic and only one generation older).  The Sophisians evidently were Hermetic (like Hermes Logios, but not eschewing a lovely word like 'trismegistus', either) rather than Isidic (but all these cults and their initiations share the almost universal requirements, such as sequences of trials or successive discoveries of sacred secrets; so indeed do William James' descriptions; so indeed, mutatis mutandis,  do most religious novitiates.  And, for example, subsuming all the other great goddesses under one, as Isis in all her cult places, is a regular way not of generalizing but of elevating.  That is why the stuccos, above, are appropriate to more than one of the mystery cults that were fashionable (not to call them frivolous) all over the Greco-Roman world, including, not least, Egypt.
Now, by the 16th and 17th centuries, late Renaissance and Flemish Mannerists had developed compositions that were ideally suited for stage design.  And, just as the Illuminati (and Renaissance art before them) had endeavored to recreate Classical and Biblical figure types and realizations of hair styles and accoutrements, having (before the excavations in Greece and Italy, not least of Greek vases) only a very few Egyptian images to help them.  Just look at Jean Seznec's The Survival of the Pagan Gods and, thus, Panofsky's dictum that figures that were actually antique were used for medieval figures, while deities and ancient stories were illustrated, until the Renaissance, with medieval figures.
Anyway, Poussin, Carracci, Guercino, Reni and others who did Classical subjects (just to name a few) by the 1600s had learned to make idealized landscapes, Italy idealized in terms of the reading of Classical poetry, that FELT Classical and into which ancient groups such as Endymion or The Flight into Egypt of Mary and Joseph could be placed in landscape space (yes, the 1st c. BCE, as in the Odyssey Landscapes, had done this long before), or, in an architectural setting Guido Reni, for example, could base paintings on ancient friezes.
All of these were also useful for that new musical form, the opera, the opera which was more than a set of dances and choruses.  Within a couple of centuries, there were 29 operas (last time I counted) based on Orpheus and Eurydice.
Isn't it wonderful how the new musical theater, the new landscape architecture, the new way of thinking all went together?  The novel is part of that, also harking back to ancient novels.  That is why The Golden Ass of Apuleius was followed now by masters like Cervantes, of course.  In a sense, The Divine Comedy, a poem, an epic, a theology, had been itself a novel, too.  Is it too crude to see the arc of the story of John Cleland's Fanny Hill, even, as Golden Ass-like?  What caught my attention was her hair-raising story's collapse into the prosaic and humdrum, the very thing, just as sudden, as Lucius in the Golden Ass, just as suddenly (and greatly distressing some literary critics), after being initiated as three kinds of priest of Isis and Osiris, after embracing them in beautiful language (everyone agrees that Apuleius is a beautiful stylist), reverts contentedly into the prosaic and lucrative practice of law.  It's not as if he went on neo-platonically writing enneads.
Now, what the La Scala stage and costume designers did is, first, to study all the post-antique conventional retro art, then use all the present-day technology and materials, then find their own forms to express these for both opera and its ballet (which requires alternative but recognizable, and danceable, costumes), then use lighting that reminds us of pre-electric lighting (but without any of its shortcomings).  Then they put these together as if they had all been hatched together.  Add that the choreographer, who has a mixed-ethnic sounding name, Micha van Hoecke, who, if he is Dutch, certainly is of the highest rank of Netherlands Dance Company.  Oh, did I add that Isis, when she makes her epiphany, looks perfect in King Tut Paris couture?
I bought this opera without even hearing a note of the Rossini singing score.  But even if it was solemn as William Tell (I had heard and seen the Isis ballet alone on TV), I still wanted it!  But it's early Rossini.  And it hangs together, too.  And you never heard Moses (let alone some old Ramessid pharaoh) sing like that.

And look at my reward: not only a new understanding of Rossini (and, oh yes, it's conducted by Muti) but a new understanding of Apuleius.  Such rewards are worth seeking.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The famous Eros and Psyche

19 10 01 AE 26/27  Nicopolis ad Istrum.  Julia Domna, bust to r.  IOVLIA DO   |   MNA SEBA.  Rev. Capitoline Aphrodite, frontal, with Eros (looking up at her) frontal holding torch in his r. and wreath in his l. hand, as a pair with supporting legs on the outside of the composition.  VPA AVR GALLOV (the OV ligate)  |  NIKOPOLITON (letters diminishing in height after the last omicron) and in exergue PROS IS (the IS again very small).  Full legend confirming Pick for St. Petersburg example.  Coiffure of JD goes with assumption that, like Plautilla's and her own AE 22, this is datable to the occasion of Caracalla's marriage.
The Cupid and Psyche of Apuleius
As I was preparing an essay to illuminate (if only I can) the 2003 La Scala production of Rossini's Moïse e Pharaon, and its ballet entitled Fête d' Isis, I realized that I could not really remember what Apuleius said (which I need for the ballet named for it), but once I had a working eBook (for the eye-friendly font) I realized that though I certainly had "read" Apuleius at the time when I took a course in Classical Mythology, I was barely 21 years old, and had no idea of the picaresque, and had no idea of Eros outside of art history (and not enough of that).  Someone had told me of Ptolemaic queens thinking of themselves as Aphrodite, but not much more.
Even now it is hard to admit that it might be something like sixty years before I could realize, with great delight, that in the Cupid and Psyche chapters (4–6) of The Golden Ass I would find the most charming and trenchant Psychology of Sex that you'll find anywhere.  And, yes, Eros (Amor) does, once Psyche is put through the wringer, come to Love, and to Psyche rather than Venus.  Apuleius's account saves Reinhold Begas's 19th century statuary group in Berlin from its apparent crudity; he took the subject, literally, from Apuleius.  Of course, many visitors may not see it that way, but his Pan is untamed Nature, not some dirty old man.
Berlin, StMuseen.  Reinhold Begas, Pan comforts Psyche.
Do not let me spoil Apuleius for you.  The 1999 Penguin Classics Apuleius, edited by E. J. Kenney (b. 1924), whose Introduction is really worth reading (but so are several others), is the only good one as an eBook.  The one, however great a classic, that Shakespeare read, and every other Engishman. too (Spanish having its own classic translation), does not work well on the Kindle, and, as Prof. Kenney says, reading Apuleius in King James Version English is really a hang-up. 
I think I'll go back and read it all over again.  And the Isis part, too, though it is not the classic in its own right that the Cupid and Psyche is.  Then, e.g., A Midsummer Night's Dream and the rest, and consider how much we have lost, since it is plain that, like his contemporary Lucian of Samosata, who wrote an Ass of his own, Apuleius had a good half a millennium of fiction behind him, even if only his novel survives complete as Don Quixote, for example, does, the rest being substantially lost.  I used to have Cervantes' Novelas Ejemplares in Spanish; probably the library will have it.
But it became clear to me that everybody read the Golden Ass, including monks (of course, they being also the most literate class in the middle ages), and they all loved it.  St. Augustine read it; he says so!*
And those empresses and princesses and all, who could muster enough Latin, would, like Julia Domna, have had a richer fantasy life than most of us imagine their having; the subject was more than conceits for the imperial coinage.  On the coins of Rome herself (the coin at the top of this essay is from a Danubian city, but that type of Aphrodite is the one in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, though there are other copies of the type all over the Empire), Septimius is shown with two babies at his feet, as well as Julia Domna, and they were not alone or the first.
Go read Apuleius, and see if 20th-century psychology can teach you anything.  Isolde and Brunhilde certainly can't.
*Augustine doesn't say that he loved it (though as a youth he may have done), but he does mention him as a respected neo-Platonist (as Augustine had been) and seriously considers whether all the fabulous creatures could have been observed firsthand; remember that Augustine did not know Greek, as Apuleius did.
Several years ago, I contributed an essay on Wings in Greek art, used as connotations of bodilessness; such as it is, it is in the Introduction to Francis Jarman's wonderful website, done in Blogspot format, containing so far 42 types of Roman Imperial coin types of Eros:  Prolegomena to a Study of Eros on Roman Provincial Coinage 
headed by his own essays based on his knowledge of European literature, especially German.
My own essay has little to do with any literature, even Greek, though it's OK in its own terms.  They aren't the terms that the mainstream literary tradition thought of.
Francis Jarman's work, though, is outstanding.
The blog format puts everything in reverse order; its advantage is flexibility.  As he says in the heading of the blogsite, you can get the whole work in logical order in the blog archive list when you scroll down.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Banlieue of St.-Denis

The Chorus of St.-Denis in its Basilica

A detail, Moses Revealing the Tablets of the Law, from the stained glass of Abbot Suger, c. 1145, in the chevet of the royal abbey basilica, now made the cathedral of the diocese.

As a student, of all the wonders of Paris (apart from the Louvre) the one I most wanted to visit was the Basilica of St.-Denis.  Of all the subjects that Erwin Panofsky had brought to life for me, it was the one that had taught me most effectively that there was more to the Middle Ages than Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, more to history than Agincourt in technicolor.
Getting there is not difficult: just take the Métro to the end of the line and exit into a modern banlieue that certainly would appall Abbot Suger.  Outside of the walls of Paris, no longer standing, in the middle ages well out in the country, in the summer of 2000 I found a square with ordinary buildings, with ordinary people shopping (such as the photographer Doisneau loved to photograph), with a small carousel brought in for small children, and at one side of this space the Basilica of St.-Denis which enshrines not only the tombs of the Kings of France but, unless you want to quibble on scholarly details, the creation of the Gothic architecture, including its glass and sculpture, of the Ile de France.  Viollet-le-Duc badly damaged the sculptures of the façade, as the drawings by Montfaucon show, but the twelfth-century choir, the ambulatory, and the apse figure in every serious textbook of the history of western art.
Bibliography on Suger and on the Basilica comes in multi-volumed publications, and this is no place to rehearse it; I'll provide a few titles at the end.

Occasionally, on the public service TV channel, CAS (Classic Arts Showcase), I have seen a 1992 performance by the Chorus of St.-Denis with Jean-Claude Casadesus conducting the Lille Orchestra of the In Paradisum from Gabriel Fauré's Requiem.  It is one of many good performances, but it was recorded with the chorus in the choir of its Basilica.  The photographers have taken the occasion to photograph the famous 12th-century stained glass windows of Abbot Suger behind the choristers (and at the end of the recording to show the praying hands of one of the royal gisants), including CIVITAS IERUSALUM: the City of God of Augustine, the Paradise of Dante.  There is also a pane showing Suger himself, so labeled, holding one of the Tree of Jesse windows, though these are not so relevant to the In Paradisum (Googling St.-Denis brings up Suger, but also many other varied images).  Searching on line yields only the out-of-print (and expensive) recording of this performance, but only VHS; as often, the Fauré is paired with Poulenc's Gloria, and I don't know whether the whole Fauré Requiem is included in full.  What I do know is that it presents, I think, the truest images of what Suger meant and, in making skeletal supports and luminous colored glass replace a solid wall with windows, what his architect created.

Now, whether you like Fauré's work or not, it does shimmer, in ineffable glory, and the chorus, mostly young (but not children),  are both as magically earthly and as holy as the singing angels at the Nativity by Piero della Francesca in the National Gallery in London.  In both cases, they remind me of the pseudo-Areopagite's neo-platonic vision of the divine pervading, unifying the material and the divine.  The St.-Denis choristers have rather plain robes, and their hair is not elaborately dressed for the camera.  Even the photography is not pretentious and is not over-produced.  So, when they sing "Jerusalum, Jerusalem" it rings true.  It is the best photographic record of the chevet and a fine performance of the Requiem, too.

I have looked everywhere for really good images of the glass (the ribbing of the chevet, too, really wants good architectural video, though if you have been there you can think your way around it), in particular the beautiful colors of the glass as when you see light coming through them, but the only good photo I could find that I wasn't sure was copyright is the Moses at the top of this post.  And Abbot Suger would want some time to embrace his basilica and its domain as it is today.  But it does glorify all the history that it has lived through.

Besides the basic histories of western architecture (I like Pevsner and especially Kostof), the essential article is Panofsky's Introduction reprinted in Meaning in the Visual Arts, pp. 108–145.  The present edition of the PB, in print for more than half a century, is U. of Chicago Press.  You might as well use the Wikipedia for databank purposes.

I'd be very grateful if someone knows of a CD copy of the VHS cited.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Significant Form, a century later

Significant Form, a century later
(Kenneth Clark, b. 1903, was the youngest writer on art to embrace as a matter of course the formal assumptions thad had been new when he was a child, but the 1950s had the beautiful dust jackets).
A snapshot off the dust jacket of my 1951 favorite Kenneth Clark, of my favorite painter
A couple of weeks ago, in eMail, a follower of my blogs and I were discussing what Style means to us.  I suggested that, besides verbal and mathematical communication, both of which manifestly want specific innate gifts, so that the verbal requirement of Scientific American, for instance, makes for tormenting prose and, similarly, Brian Greene, to name one, is tempted to use inadequate and even misleading kinds of animation, in an effort to make quantum theory and its progeny intelligible to the innately non-mathematical.  Since I had to work hard just to pass secondary-school math courses, except for plane geometry, I am grateful, but their efforts just don't work ("slices of bread", indeed!).
But, regarding the mathematical as a language (forget the etymology, lingua), with it and verbal largely excluding each other, don't we have a third language, the aesthetic, by which (this time, mind the etymology rigorously, aisthanomai, covering knowledge by the senses), isn't what we know from music and the visual arts communicated and properly known thereby?  In subsequent eMail we agreed that they all required educating, but (it was I who insisted most, remembering my limitations when it came to quadratic equations, for example) we all are innately gifted differently.  At the same time as that correspondence occurred, I was working to understand Greek Revival in America, and scouring my bookcases to locate my books from the early paperback generation, the ones that had impressed me then, by Geoffrey Scott, Rudolf Wittkower, and Anthony Blunt, besides Erwin Panofsky.  Bernard Berenson could no more be avoided, either, any more than Trinity College and formative Bloomsbury (thank goodness for Leon Edel).  Soon I realized that I needed to write this Post before the architectural one and place it in the Opera Nobilia blog rather than the Essays, where I already have posted any number of houses.

Clive Bell (1881–1964)
It was not only that I had been told, too many times, that I must read Roger Fry, but I'd tried and I detested him, not because he was older (b. 1866) or that I disagreed with everything he said (not everything) but because he ranted, ranted terribly, and argued like a stuntman (in my opinion).  But Virginia Woolf mocked Clive Bell, and half a century ago I half believed her, though I knew that Lytton Strachey was to be read for his prose.  So, while I was in art school, I picked up the thin cream-and-turquoise Penguin PB of Clive Bell's Civilisation and loved it.  In fact, I read him before any of Virginia Woolf.  Yet she more than any of the others was the one who kept me from any more of his, and, not least, his early Art (1913 or 1914, depending on the edition).  So now Project Gutenberg supplies it in your choice of download formats, free of charge.  These data are important, for this is the pre-World War I book, the one (see the footnotes) that shows that Bell had seen only several early Cubist paintings in the second "Post Impressionism" exhibit in London yet even so instantly realized that original cubism, for all its unaccustomed appearance, possessed Significant Form, while the paintings by Cubist followers were as dead as any other derivative works.
Bell had worked closely with Fry on the catalogues for the two "Post Impressionism" exhibits at the Grafton Galleries, and it was he who suggested, faute de mieux on the catalogue the label "Post Impressionist", which has bedeviled us ever since, though the catalogue had to go to the printer, and no one else had thought of a preferable one.  More important, just after the second exhibition, he coined the term Significant Form, which caught on immediately, and, as my generation knows, did endure until, I would say, Pop Art and other post-Modern took over.  The first two chapters of Art are devoted to Significant Form, as such.  Note that I give it uppercase initials but not quotation marks; as a label it is itself significant, whereas "Post Impressionist" is not, and was never meant to be.
So it happened that today, nearly 80, I am reading the seminal work—that is, the first two of five parts are seminal; Part III is awfully Roger Fry-ish, and I have yet to read IV and V.  For the moment, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Introduction and I and II.  Everyone had to admire the serious logic and earnest integrity of this work.  As for that alarming part III, here I find all the wild biases that would have astonished Wölfflin as much as me, today.  I have scanned just enough of Roger Fry, now, to know that his was the virus.  It was Fry that made my most beloved professor teach us that we needn't trouble ourselves much about Praxiteles, for example.  But I have not the slightest trouble with the importance of Significant Form, and Bell, himself, repeatedly says that great artists are, singly, just as holy as those working in the times and places that he follows Fry in elevating.  I suppose we'd be just in regarding those Cambridge Trinitarians as we do any coterie of the young.  That doesn't make them altogether wrong, really; they just needed to get off their high horse, and we, for our part, are enlightened by reading what they actually thought a century ago.  They cannot be blamed for textbooks like Herbert Read's.
Why seriously defend Significant Form?  Because, like any verbal or mathematical sign, form does signify.  Because it is not the representation or the symbolic / allegorical or the moral or ethical, let alone political, reference but the Form that conveys Signification, just as in music.  If one musician, say André Rieu, evokes romantic sentiments and another with the same musical score evokes only what no picture or poem can convey (otherwise, why own several recordings of Debussy Preludes, for example, of which the best ones themselves differ but only in ways that only listening can perceive?  Why treasure dozens of Schubert Winterreise, all with the same notes and the same words, and not just for the human voices, though the voice may tell us more than anything else what the musicians' mind and soul understood in that performance of the song cycle?)—then it can only be that in each the Significant Form is the language that speaks to us, if we have learned that language well enough.  As early as the 1980s I began to hear, in reviews of Fine Arts students' work, complaints that the work was too "merely formal", as if Form were merely Basic Design, and ask the students why his work did not mean anything.  The teachers made clear that they sought a gender or political or religious or symbolic meaning, precisely what I'd been taught was extraneous, though not per se damning.  Also, I began to sense that by expressing oneself they meant something quite different from the self that Clive Bell (or Christmas Humphreys, for that matter, though Bell would not have followed Zen) meant.  In other words, it seemed that the urgent relevance of the heart and soul of modernism had evaporated, leaving hardly a residue, since Basic Design for advertising art just isn't the same thing at all.
That is why I pulled out my beloved 1951 Piero della Francesca by Kenneth Clark and consoled myself by re-reading it, and re-testing it (for it is remarkable how much one's mind can change in a half century).  He is still my favorite painter and this is still my favorite art history book.  He is everything that Part I and II and V, I hope, of Clive Bell's Art is about.
You do need to be careful, reading Art, to bear in mind that a boy of Clive Bell's generation, though he never intended to become a classical scholar, had had so much Greek and Latin that he never used words like emotion and significant as they are usually used today.  Emotion is especially difficult, and I could not myself find any substitute for it, so pay close attention to the context.  Religious emotion in this essay never means what happens at a Georgia Camp Meeting, for instance.  Henri Bremond's Prière et Poésie (1926) is more relevant.  And the fact that whether in a sonnet or a sonata or a statue, building, or painting it is the form that is transcendent, in all alike, more or less proves the point, that it is Form that is Significant.

This Post is for my friend and former student Melissa

Friday, January 25, 2013

Early Christian and Byzantine Mosaics at Thessaloniki

The book I've yearned for, for more than three decades

Ch. Bakiritzis, E. Kourikoutidou-Nikolaidou, Ch. Mavropoulou-Tsioumi, Mosaics of Thessaloniki, 4th to 14th Century.  Athens, Kapon, 2012.
 Thessaloniki.  Basilica of St. Demetrios.  Notice the lovely anta capital and the composite order one (perhaps from an earlier building) in the center, as well as the wood preventing mosaic loosened by earthquake secured awaiting final repair.

Thessaloniki.  Basilica of St. Demetrios.  Note the usual north doors and the gallery also over the ends of the transept, again punctuated by piers.

In 1960-1961, my second year as a pre-doctoral member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, having by then learned to read katharevousa as well as kathomilomeni  Greek easily enough—for the worthwhile literature, from before WW II, was mostly in Greek—and, as an art historian having had courses in Byzantine art as well as Greek and Roman and later western art (so possessing the architectural language), I volunteered to cover on our travels around Greece the Byzantine architecture of Thessaloniki as well as Mystra.  I returned to them in the later sixties and again in 1987, but possibly not that I can recall since then.
Slides and negatives developed in Greece, taken on (as I recall) Agfachrome ISO 50, reveal how wonderful present-day digital photography can be.  Everything that a Nikon scanner and Photoshop can do has been done to salvage these, but now the new book offers me everything that an elderly photographer in his shop on the Via Egnatia told me Professor Pelekanides had intended to do (but he died in 1976).  The great mosaics could not be taken even holding the reflex camera with its springing mirror for 1/30 second at f2.  Over the years I have worried, whether memory and desire had not falsely glorified Thessaloniki.  Nequaquam.  They look as they ought to have looked, if the spaces had been brighter and if they had been cleaner, at the Latomou (Hosios David) for example; those that I most feared for after the earthquake, above all in the dome of the Rotunda, where the entire vast interior was full of scaffolding and all one had was a little, old guidebook, a couple of plates in Volbach, and one in the standard textbook, H. W. Janson's.  And I never had seen the Late Byzantine mosaics in the 12 Apostles Church or those in the Acheiropoiitos Church.  And the authors of the new book agree that the mosaics in the dome of Thessaloniki's Hagia Sophia are masterpieces.
Now I could never hike all over that lovely city; my joints are not at all trustworthy.  One learns to be grateful for one's eyes and brain.

What is so important, then, about these mosaics?  There always have been scholars who saw Greece's cultural continuity, such as Getzel Cohen recently or D. V. Ainalov or Walter Oakeshott, just to name three, but I saw the questions in different terms, and I was sure that unwillingness or inability to read modern Greek (besides the limited distribution of the books) conditioned many ideas.  The ghosts of "Orient oder Rom" and even the schism of the Greek and Roman churches seem to haunt ideas  between the lines.  Writers of textbooks, the academic branch of popularizing journalism, are not questioned.  I think of them whenever I read history of science; details change, but mantras remain.
Besides, more than just discussing continuity from Greco-Roman art to Byzantine (and western medieval) art is the question of the intellectual content of the styles.  With so much more preserved than at Constantinople, Thessaloniki presents understandings of figural representation that, even allowing for the use of stone tesserae, not glass alone, distinguish it from even Ravenna in the West.  It often continues to strive for the personality of, for example, apostles or for the infantile vulnerability of the baby Jesus, or for the behavior of drapery folds in terms equaled only by the narrative mosaics at Daphne near Athens.  In other words, it celebrates the principle of incarnation, intrinsic to Christianity, in a style that favors humanity and naturalness.  It shows colors as affected by light falling on three-dimensional forms, not colors as symbols.  The gold 'background' of the City of God and its palaces, in the Rotunda, gold effecting divine light and supernatural experience, so not just a background, is quite unlike the gold backgrounds that make later Icons look rich and remote.

Now that I have all these wonderful photographs, as I manage to study and digest them (and, of course, read the text: I notice that there are some ideas new to me), I shall try to describe them more adequately.  And, may I say, if you are interested in Byzantine art, by all means get the book.  It may not have a chance to go through many editions and, even if it does, reprints are seldom of quite the same quality.  It is quite heavy, and postage may be expensive, but it is worth it.

My old photographs, for what they are worth (and they are not worthless in all respects) are in an album on post-Pauline Thessaloniki:  There; the link is better than pasting in the long address.