Eighteenth and nineteenth century epitaphioi from the collection of the national museum of art of Romania
Autor: Oana Slăvuică
The epitaphios is a liturgical processional veil usually kept on the Holy Table from where it’s carried out by priests during the Good Friday procession in remembrance of three moments of Christ’s earthly life: the Descent from the Cross, the Lamentation and the Entombment. The iconographic theme characteristic for the decoration of the epitaphios is The Lamentation which illustrates the apocryphal Gospel of Nikodemos, highlighting the historical narrative strain. In seventeenth century, in Walachia, a new scene was added near The Lamentation one: The Descent from the Cross, as for example the three epitaphioi offered by Şerban Cantacuzino.
Following the Byzantine tradition in church embroidery untill the eighteen century, the epitaphios was using sumptuous materials such as silver and silver gilt thread, coloured silk and pearls. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century epitaphioi either from Moldavia or Walachia we could notice the strong influence of the embroidery workshops in Vienna, characterized by the extravagant spirit of baroque style. A new pictorial image was then created by using colored silk threads instead of metal thread which was restricted to the decoration motifs and such details as haloes and lamps. At the middle of the eighteenth century, the embroideries created by the well known Serbian engraver Cristopher Žefarović illustrate these new stylistic changes of the embroidery art. His work represents the last genuine revival of the embroidery art and had a great influence upon the Viennese embroidery workshops till the nineteenth century as we could observe by analyzing the epitaphios (1752) worked by Žefarović and the three ones created in the Viennese workshops in the second half of the eighteenth century from the collection of the National Museum of Art of Romania. During the nineteenth and twentieth century the exquisite technique of the Byzantine embroidery was almost completely lost. Combining techniques such as painting on canvas and cerecloth, printing on canvas and the colored silk embroidery were often used in this period, thus creating an eclectic decadent style. As for example we mention the two Russian epitaphioi that put together the painted cerecloth and the metal thread embroidery on velvet.
The eighteenth and nineteenth century epitaphioi from the National Museum of Art of Romania it’s part of the largest and the most illustrative epitaphioi collection in the country, meanwhile proving the final period in stylistic evolution of this old Byzantine tradition art.