Abgar Legend: Text and Iconography

Irma Karaulashvili

Abstract


The present paper continues to explore the interrelation of texts and images pertaining to the Edessan acheiropoietos image of Christ that I began to explore in my article “The Abgar Legend Illustrated: Interrelation of the Narrative Cycles and Iconography in the Byzantine, Georgian and Latin Traditions,” in Interactions: Artistic Interchange between the Eastern and Western Worlds in the Medieval Period. A Colloquium organized by the Index of Christian Art, Department of Art and Archeology, Princeton University, April 8-9, 2004. C. Hourihane, ed. Princeton & Pensylvania: University Press, 2007, 220-243. An attempt to interpret representation of the Mandylion on Deir al-Surini fresco (Egypt) in the light of representation of images of Christ/ Mandylia from the Georgian churches of Tsromi and Telovani, as well as the miniature from the Georgin Alaverdi Four Gospels, allowed me to conclude that before the tenth century a Syriac iconographic tradition depicting the Edessan image, different from its Byzantine counterpart, had existed.  Moreover, their placement in the sanctuary, above the altar and the decorative details of the cloth on the Deir es-Suriani fresco allow us to speak about a “liturgical” mode of depiction of the Mandylion; that is to say, about the symbolical placement of the liturgical covering (i.e. the Cloth, or, in this case, as the tablecloth) above the altar with the bread of blessing (i.e. the image of Christ) on it.

The scrutiny of various texts and images pertaining to the Mandylion led me to the conclusion that legends about the miraculous, or semi-miraculous emergence of acheiropoietos images came into being, most plausibly, in order to justify the mode of representations of the cult objects, as elements of the Byzantine church decoration – not only of the materials on which the image is depicted, that is to say, cloth and wood, but also the types of representations used in the church decoration, i.e. the icon and the fresco, and the mode of representing the images themselves, i.e., the face (reps. bust) and the full-length figure.


Keywords


Abgar legend, Mandylion, Edessa, Deir al-Suriani, Tsromi, Telovani, Alaverdi Four Gospels, Pierpont Morgan Library Scroll, Paris BN Ms Latin 2688

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