Ubisi monastery was founded in the 9th century by Grigol Khandzteli – a prominent cleric and founder of numerous monasteries in Georgia. The monastery comprises several buildings, the earliest of which is the single nave church of St. George dating from the 9th century (the annexes of the church are from a later period). The three-story tower to the east of the church was built in 1141; the bell tower gate of the monastery belongs to the late medieval period.
Ubisi monastery. Photo by Z. Tsertsvadze
Ubisi monastery is renowned for the wall paintings adorning the Church of St George. There is no evidence of either the date or the identity of the commissioner of the murals. According to stylistic features that reveal characteristics of Palaeologan paintings, the murals date from the 14th century. Thanks to the Georgian inscription placed on a triumphal arch, we do know the name of the painter responsible for these murals: ‘…the monastery was painted by the hand of sinful Gerasime who was tutored by Damiane…”. It thus follows that the painter was a certain Gerasime, and not Damiane as had been rooted in publications owing to an inaccurate reading of the inscription. Alongside Gerasime, other painters also participated in decoration of the church, but it seems that Gerasime was the master painter.
The interior of the Church is completely covered with wall paintings. The theological program of the murals is quite elaborate and complex. It highlights the idea of Eucharistic Sacrifice and Salvation, which is manifested through the selection and allocation of the scenes. The apse murals feature the Deesis, the Last supper, the Communion of the Apostles, and the Holy Bishops.
The apse. Photo by G. Chubinashvili National Research Centre.
Images of the Ancient Days, Christ and the Holy Spirit in the medallions occupy the axis of the vault.
The vault. Photo by G. Chubinashvili National Research Centre
Annunciations. Photo by G. Chubinashvili National Research Centre
Below, the walls of the church portray the life cycle of the church’s patron saint - St. George himself. This is one of the most extensive cycles of St George in medieval Georgian art: consisting of 14 scenes, from which 10 represent martyrdoms and 4 the miracles of the Saint. Individual saints are represented on the lower zone of the walls.
St George before Diocletian and St George distributing wealth. Photo by G. Chubinashvili National Research Centre
The inscriptions accompanying the scenes and figures are written in an old Georgian majuscule script (asomtavruli). The murals make a lasting impression on the observer due to their virtuosity of execution and sense of drama. Upon entering the church, the viewer is fascinated by the image of the Deesis placed in the conch of the apse, and the scene of the Last Supper in the center of the upper zone of the apse.
Communion of the Apostles. Photo by G. Chubinashvili National Research Centre
The elongated figures are marked by expressiveness, exaggerated movements and gestures. The coloring of the murals is based on a sharp contrast of pinks, pale blue, cherry and green against a dark blue background.
View towards the south. Photo by G. Chubinashvili National Research Centre
The Ubisi murals are remarkable for their unique theological program and high artistic value. They are one of the finest works of 14th century Georgian wall paintings.
Ubisi murals. Fragments.
Ubisi monastery, located in the village of Ubisi in Imereti in the district of Kharagauli.