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Asinou [Gr. Panagia Phorbiotissa: ‘Our Lady of the Pastures’]locked

  • Susan Young

Byzantine church in Cyprus, situated on the west side of the island, 4 km south-west of the village of Vizakia. The church was originally part of the monastery of the Phorbia (destr.), and a marginal note in a synaxarion copied in Cyprus or Palestine in 1063 indicates that the manuscript once belonged to this monastery. The church is renowned for its well-preserved cycles of wall paintings and painted inscriptions, two of which attribute the foundation and decoration of the church to Nicephoros Ischyrios, the Magistros, in 1105–6. A third, damaged inscription mentions a certain ‘Theophilos’ and ‘the people’, who were probably responsible for a programme of redecoration in 1332–3. The wall paintings were cleaned and restored in 1965–8 by Ernest Hawkins and David Winfield under the auspices of the Center for Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC.

The church is a single-aisle structure with a semicircular apse and barrel-vaulted nave supported by transverse ribs and engaged piers, forming three blind niches in the north and south walls. In plan it resembles the parekklesion of the Cypriot monastery of St John Chrysosthomos, but it does not have a dome. Although the original walls were of stone mortared with mud, probably in the late 12th century, yellow sandstone of better quality was used for the construction of a domed narthex with north and south absidioles; this arrangement is found elsewhere in Cyprus, at the monasteries of St John Chrysosthomos, and the Panagia Apsinthiotissa. The church was later given a secondary steeply pitched wooden roof of a type common among the Cypriot mountain churches.

In the naos the original paintings of 1105–06 reflect the ‘sensitive linearism’ (Megaw) of the best Comnenian painting of the time. They depict scenes from the Life of Christ and the Virgin, a host of saints and Church Fathers. The fine equestrian portrait of St George in the narthex may be dated to the late 12th century. An accompanying inscription identifies the donor as Nicephoros, a tamer of horses, and mentions the monastery of the Phorbia. The depictions of the Virgin Pantanassa and the Sacrifice of Isaac in the main apse and those of St Anastasia (the ‘Poison Curer’) and the Virgin and Child between Western donors in the narthex may be dated between 1200 and 1300. The other paintings in the narthex, including a striking Last Judgement, the Virgin Phorbiotissa and numerous saints and donors, belong to the redecoration of 1332–3. A contemporary, or slightly later, series in the naos is thought to reproduce faithfully the original 12th-century paintings of the Life of Christ and a portrait of Nicephoros presenting a model of the church to Christ and the Virgin.

Bibliography

  • Bishop of Gibraltar and others: ‘The Church of Asinou, Cyprus and its Frescoes’, Archaeologia, 83 (1933), pp. 327–50
  • J. Darrouzès: ‘Notes pour servir à l’histoire de Chypre’, Revue des études byzantines [prev. pubd as Etud. Byz.; Echos Orient], 15 (1957), pp. 85–6, 92–6
  • M. Sacopoulo: Asinou en 1106 et sa contribution à l’iconographie (Brussels, 1966)
  • D. Winfield and E. J. W. Hawkins: ‘The Church of Our Lady at Asinou, Cyprus: A Report on the Seasons of 1965 and 1966’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 21 (1967), pp. 260–66
  • D. Winfield: Asinou: A Guide (Nicosia, 1969)
  • A. H. S. Megaw: ‘Byzantine Architecture and Decoration in Cyprus: Metropolitan or Provincial?’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 28 (1974), pp. 85–6
  • F. Drossoyianni: ‘Some Observations on the Asinou Frescoes’, Klironomias, 10 (1978), pp. 53–77
  • S. H. Young: Byzantine Painting in Cyprus during the Early Lusignan Period (diss., University Park, PA State U., 1983), pp. 321–81
  • A. Stylianou and J. Stylianou: The Painted Churches of Cyprus: Treasures of Byzantine Art (London, 1985), pp. 114–40

See also

Cyprus

Early Christian and Byzantine art, §I, 1: History