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Wall Paintings of the Church of the Virgin at Nekresi Monastery


Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple. Detail. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze

 

Nekresi Monastery, which is one of the oldest monasteries in Georgia, is located in Kakheti, Eastern Georgia. The site chosen for the monastery is extremely picturesque: it was erected on top of a hill, on the site of an ancient settlement, and boasts magnificent panoramic views overlooking the vast Alazani valley and the Caucasus Mountains.


View from Nekresi Monastery. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze

 

The monastery complex contains several buildings: the oldest is an early Christian church erected above a crypt, a three-church basilica with an ambulatory dedicated to the Virgin that dates back to the 6th-7th centuries, a domed church (8th-9th centuries.), a two-storied palace (9th -10th centuries) with a tower that was added in the late medieval period, as well as chapels, a refectory and other buildings. All the structures are built of cobblestone and rubble.


Nekresi Monastery. Photo: D. Khoshtaria

 

The Church of the Virgin was repaired and adorned with marvelous wall paintings in the 1550s by order of King Levan of Kakheti (1518–1574).


Church of the Virgin. Photo: N. Chitishvili

 

King Levan is portrayed together with his family members on the lower zone of the west section of the south wall. King Levan is standing in the center, holding a model of the church in his hands. The large-scale composition is highly impressive, and distinguished by its solemn character. A severely damaged dedicatory inscription written in Greek is still visible above the royal portraits.   

 

Royal Portrait. Photo: Z. Tsertsvazde

 

The wall paintings completely cover the central nave of the church and its chancel-barrier. Although they are no longer in a well-preserved state, reconstruction of the original iconographic program is still possible. The conch of the apse features an enthroned Virgin with Child flanked by the Archangels. Christ the Angel of Great Council is depicted above the Virgin, on the bema vault.


The conch of the apse. The Virgin and the Archangels. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze

 

The lower zones of the apse are taken up with the Divine Liturgy, the Communion of the Apostles and the Melismos.

Communion of the Apostles. Detail. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze

 

The Twelve Feasts, scenes from the Passions cycle, and episodes from the Life of the Virgin are depicted on the vault and the upper zones of the walls.

Dormition of the Virgin. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze

 

The Nativity of the Virgin and the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple are set against loaded architectural backgrounds and located side by side on the west wall under the great composition of the Dormition of the Virgin.

 

Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze

 

The lower sections of the walls are taken up with full-length representations of the Holy Warriors as well as other Saints and the Royal portrait.

South wall. The Holy Warriors and the Royal Portrait. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze

 

The murals are remarkable for their high level of professional execution. They reflect the most advanced trends of Post-Byzantine paintings, and represent one of the most outstanding painted ensembles from this period in Georgia. It is highly probable that the painter responsible for the Nekresi wall paintings was Greek: a notion that is supported by other evidence as well. King Levan, whose activity as donor and sponsor is attested on Mount Athos and in Jerusalem, could have with little effort invited a foreign painter to his kingdom. It is also noteworthy that Levan commissioned Greek painters to decorate other churches in Kakheti, e.g. the Church of the Archangels at Gremi, which is confirmed by the inscription found there.

 



Ketevan Mikeladze

Art Historian