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Interview with Claude Howell, #157 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Claude Howell, #157
In this art history lecture from the Gwen Ward videotape collection, artist Claude Howell (1915 - 1997) discusses early Christian and Byzantine art with an audience assembled at St. John's Museum of Art in Wilmington.
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Interviewee:  Howell, Claude Interviewer:  Lecture Series Date of Interview:  n.d. Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes


[Please note: the audio quality of the source has degraded over the years, resulting in gaps in the following transcript.]

Claude Howell: We've got another long journey tonight. We have to cover almost a thousand years. But during this thousand years, the chronology is great. At the end of the thousand years in the East, the Renaissance has already begun in the West. So I'm not gonna give you many of the dates. I think it would just mix you up. We're gonna talk about early Christians and the Byzantine art. The integration of the Roman Empire and what happened. Now there's very little difference between early Christians and Byzantine. Early Christians generally prayed to the Allah of the West. That is the Allah-Ahmed of _____________. Whereas, Byzantine, some people say Byzantine-- I say Byzantine-- that comes from Byzantium, which was the old name of what is now Istanbul. Constantinople came into being, Byzantium much older. But Constantine moved the head of the Roman Empire to that city, Byzantium, into whole Constantinople. That was in 321 AD. Well, this went on for a number of years, and of course there was friction between the East and the West. Soon, they had an emperor in the East, and an Emperor in the West. So you had two Emperors of the Roman Empire. The next step was the church didn't get along with each other. I mean, with two monarchs. So you had the Roman Catholic church in the West with the Pope, and in the East you had the Orthodox church, which later becomes the Russian Orthodox, which we call Orthodox church. And they have a patriarch, who's the head, but he is completely under the subjugation of the Emperor. So in the East you have religion as the handmaiden of the government. In the West, the Pope is in competition with the government. So that's the big difference. And a great many wars have come about because of this. Now I think I want to start by reading something to you which may give you a little idea of the sort of place it is. I took a trip through Yugoslavia some years ago, and I went to the Holy Mountain, which is Mount Atlas. No woman has ever been there, because it is supposed to be sacred to the Virgin Mary. They don't even let a female cat or chickens on this mountain. There are 50 or 60 Byzantine monasteries that started very, very early, oh about 800 to 900. Some of them were built as late as the 1300 or 1400s. They are filled with wonderful presents. There is no way to get there except by _____________. So I took the bus was just 5 years ago, got on a little sailboat and sailed until I got to the port of the Holy Mountain, which is called Daphne. Then I got out at the same time and walked 50 miles to the first monastery that no roads, no automobiles, no nothing. On top of that, now Atlas, the Holy Mountain is as high as Mount Mitchell. It's approximately the same height, so it's up and down. You'll be right on the edge of the water, and then it goes way, way up. But it is a fantastic place to explore. So I'm just gonna read a little of this, so it'll probably set the picture. I have been climbing for a week or so, walking everyday. And you can't run it, you have to go with a pilgrim. So I had myself declared a pilgrim, which really wasn't true. I mean, I was an art pilgrim, but not religious pilgrim. But I would go and knock on the door of the monastery. They will let you in. You can stay three days, and then you have to move on. You can't pass in. But if you get there after sunset, the gates are locked, and you sleep out on the ground. But I was staying in the monastery. I swam by in the back of the very handsome looking buildings where I am staying, and find it difficult to believe that it is actually the real world I am staying in. There is not one soul around except one old monk sitting under a mulberry tree lost in prayer. I spent most of the afternoon swimming and sunbathing. When I returned, I found six pilgrims had arrived and are in the ornate and elder reception room. I joined them when we go to look at the church with its fabulous treasures, there're two exceedingly beautiful icons. A monk opens jewel-encrusted boxes, and pulls out a fantastically beautiful Byzantine jewels. There is also a great abundance here of gold and silver. I never even suspected the existence of such riches. On the walls I discover three really first-class mosaics, and there're many other small portable ones. The old bearded monk wants to know if we would like to see the library. It's what I'd been especially interested in seeing. We entered the high square stone tower. The first story looks like the library I'd always dreamed of. The one with the globes, the maps, the classic busts, the stuffed birds, the desk with their inkwells and quill pens. We climb to the second story, and I'm amazed. Here is a great treasure. Shelves are lined with rows of early editions. Had it been years in such a file. I express my admiration for what I see. The old monk with a great flourish of his hand and a contemptuous sneer says in broken English, "Printed books." Then he motions us to follow him to still a higher floor. We climb the narrow stairs to a third floor. And here the shelves are filled with rolled manuscripts. This is unbelievable! Here are illuminated manuscripts such as one only sees in great museums. The old monk suggested that I look at some of the rolls, and heavy volumes bound with jeweled covers. I hesitated to touch these valuable parchments, but I could not resist. One manuscript was of one of the earliest extant copies of Talmud's geography. I would have liked to spend weeks in this treasure house examining each page of these manuscripts. I wonder if they've ever been completely catalogued. I rather doubt that they have. Dinner is much the same as lunch, except that wine is added, and we eat this time in the larger dining room, which is much more elegant. The Greek pilgrims are at the table with me. The monks are at several long tables. We leave and go into the beautiful drawing room, which has a small balcony overlooking the sea. The view is superb, and I sit there watching the sunset. I wonder if the distant shore could possibly be Turkey. I am tired, but what a wonderful day this has been! There's been much walking-- or rather climbing. I'm sitting in my room writing in this journal by the oil lamp which a young monk brought, and put on the table by my bed, when suddenly at 9:00 p.m. there was a deafening din! I jumped from my chair, wondering what catastrophe could have happened. I rushed to the window and looked down into the central courtyard. Nothing untoward was happening. Several monks in their dark robes were staring across the court to the church, but otherwise all was peaceful. That is, except for the terrible din which continued. I remembered the large bent piece of iron which I had been shown today with a huge hammer which was beaten back and forth against the iron on special occasions. This must surely be what I was hearing now. Then the bells began to ring. Hundreds of them began to ring! The door to my chamber slowly opens, and I could see the form of the tall, rather good-looking youngish monk, his face illuminated by the candle he was carrying, which cast even taller shadows on the long, empty hallway. He beckoned for me to rise and follow him. I started, but then he motioned for me to return and get my coat. I was mystified and slightly nervous. The bells and the zihebron [ph?] continued their incessant din. We passed through the long, large corridors, through which the candle cast eerie shadows, reminding me of the sets in the "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." I was relieved to find several of the Greek pilgrims joining us as we stepped along this hall, and up and down the flights of stone steps. We were heading in the direction of the sound, which apparently came from the church. I could see a faint glow emanating from the windows and the door to the church. This is why all the churches we have entered have been in the process of being shined and polished. I soon discovered this is the great service which is held once each year, and which lasts all night. The monk who had summoned me from my writing pointed to the open door of the church, and then disappeared in the shadows. I cautiously entered the almost dark church. Several candles were all the light there was to find one's way. A shadow came slowly out of the dark, and motioned me to sit in the straight high-back wooden pew or stall. The seat was much higher than the usual church pew. It was very narrow, being only some nine or ten inches wide. The armrests were almost on a level with my chin. I tried unsuccessfully to get comfortable. I was nervous and felt like an intruder. This was almost like being present at some secret tribal right. Several forms began to emerge from the darkness. I could see the white, white faces of monks sitting rather menacingly around the entire room. Their bodies were lost in the darkness. Only their faces and hands picked up the light, and they were like rows of hanging men. A monk swished by in his long black robe, his feet never seeming to touch the floor. He lighted several tapers in front of the altar, and one on each side of the church, each taper illuminating more faces. The church was filled with monks. I'd wondered where they'd been all day when I'd seen almost no one. An illuminated manuscript was placed by one of the tapers, and two monks began chanting on one side of the church, answered by two monks on the opposite side. This is early music, probably some form of Byzantine chant, which I imagine has not changed for hundreds of years. At intervals a younger monk comes out of the shadows and lights another taper. The chanting is hypnotic and continues forever. I become restless and cross my legs. A monk glides out of the shadows and taps me on the knee. I must sit perfectly still and erect. The golden chandeliers are dropped from time to time and hundreds of candles are lit. After several hours, the church is a blaze of light. One can now see the frescos in all their glory as they should be seen. A priest comes from behind the altar, where he has been preparing communion. He is dressed in a magnificent robe of golden thread, which picked up the light from the candles. While the chanting is in progress, a monk with a gold incensor, which he swings back and forth slowly walks around the church swinging the incense in front of each monk. The air became heavy. When he censed me, I was conscious of a heady smell. The chanting, the incense, the candlelight were all exerting their influence over me, and I lost consciousness for several minutes. When I opened my eyes, nothing had changed. The monks remained motionless, the chanting continued. This is a pagan ceremony. I'm actually living in the past, living in the 12th century, surrounded by 12th century art. It's astonishing, fantastic, and unbelievable, but it's also stifling! Suddenly I realize I can stand it no longer and slip out into the fresh air taking a deep breath, trying to clear my mind of this almost hypnotic trance. Now it is late at night, I am safe in my room writing by candlelight, which is reflected on the crenellated wall just outside my window. I can see the dimming light through the windows of the church, and hear the faint murmur of the chanting monks. Now this is what the Byzantine world is all about, and the art that we're gonna look at tonight is what decorated the churches that we're gonna see. Everything that we're gonna see tonight is or was commissioned by someone of the church. It is completely religious art. Now what happened in Rome was sort of interesting. The new religion of the Pope-- what had happened in Rome was the early Christian religion had begun. And it was subversive, and it was more or less _____________, and most of the early Christians came from the lower classes and they were very poor. They had no relationship whatsoever to the Roman Empire. They were persecuted, but not in the beginning. They were only persecuted when they became a menace to the Roman Empire. In fact, they say that more Christians were killed by criminals than were killed by the Romans. They were always having a fight amongst and against another- of one heresy . We're gonna look at a sign tonight of a Botamill tomb. And that was one of Botamill Harris in Yugoslavia. And the Romans didn't like the Botamill. They were Christian, they were just a different branch of the Christian religion. They went over to Yugoslavia and exterminated every single one. There wasn't one left! And I was fascinated by that cemetery, because it was a great art. Well, the Romans first-- I mean, the Christians, when they began, they went underground. They would meet in people's houses. Then they would go into campgrounds, which were old burial grounds, cemeteries that hadn't been used for a long, long time. And later when persecution started, they would begin to enlarge some of the passageways and became a veritable labyrinth of passageways and little chapels, altars, and they painted pictures on the walls. These have nothing to do with Christianity except occasionally you begin to find a symbol, a Christian symbol. Or you'd find a fish, the acrostic for Jesus Christ, Son of God. If you took the first letter, it spells the Greek word for fish. So fish becomes a symbol for Christ. These were primarily in the same style, but very crude of the art that the Romans had. Now if you want to see good art, you would go to the Roman temples of the Roman towns, this sort of things, because this is where the people who had the money were created. But as time went on, the Romans-- the Christians became more and more powerful. They came above ground, and in 321, Constantine embraced Christianity, and it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. This is just before he moved the capitol to Rome to Constantinople. By this time, they had more or less developed a style of architecture and a stand of painting. They first took the Roman basilica, which was the lower court-- we saw pictures of that not long ago, and it was admirably suited to Christian religion, because this was a strange religion. This is the first time in history where you had a congregation of people who worshiped together inside a building. In all of the ancient religions, you had the god, and you had the monks present to attend to the statute of God and that was it. That was true in Egypt, it was true in Mesopotamia, it was true in Greece, and it was true in Rome. But now you have people who sit inside. Well, this, of course, makes a big difference, because you decorate now the interior of the building instead of the exterior. Very little _____________ on early Christian church. Also the influence was from the Roman Empire, all the people were Romans, but it becomes more and more spiritual as time goes on, and when you try to pick Heaven and saints, you've got to find a new way to do it. So flesh and blood-- the flesh and blood that we had seen in Greece and in Rome, the influence of the Roman Empire and Greece, begin to get larger, and you find that more and more art is becoming abstract. This is why today we are more influenced by early Christians in Byzantine, early Roman Empire than we are by classical art. Classical art appeals to Victorian period. But now we are rediscovering the beauty of the Byzantine world, and it is beautiful! It is abstract, it is very colorful. They use flat areas of shapes or colors. And it just has something to say to us today. We don't use the same subject matter. They primarily stuck to the Old Testament-- stories from the Old Testament-- but gave them a new meaning. They would paint jonaquaid visiting the resurrection. They would use a statue of the Greek god, the shepherd god, and they would simply knock his name off and write the name Jesus Christ at the bottom. Because Christ is the Lamb of God. So if you see a lamb, the shepherd goes in the mosaics and now the lamb represents Christ. So these symbols change constantly. They like the basilica because you have a high nave and two glorious high towers. This is the trinity. You have the altar, there's the altar, and center at the back, and then you have a big arch. This is the _____________ arch of after life, or death. And that's where you will find most of the large mosaics. There's a term for the half at the end of the apse, and it is called Tympanum. T-Y-M-P-A-N-U-M. And this is where often there would be a picture of Christ. You seldom have depictions of a crucifixion in the beginning. The only time that Mary is shown when she is adoring the Christ child. It's very interesting what's happened to that. As time goes on, and as kings become more important, and Mary becomes more important, because she is now the intercessor, you have what is called Mariolatry, which is the worship of the virgin. Then the crown which was on the head of Christ in the beginning now appears on the head of Mary, and she becomes the Queen of Heaven. And by the time we get to 14th century France, where you have courtly ladies, the virgin Mary becomes a very stylish young lady and dressed in high fashion with-- and she always had, what I call _____________, because it's kind of like an S-curve. (laughter) It's fascinating to follow these things as they change throughout history. Christianity is, without a doubt, the greatest influence that we've ever had on the art of the West, but so much of it comes from the classic world. Now let's look at some signs here and we can begin to see some of this.

Claude Howell: Now the _____________ of _____________, this is in the mausoleum if Gala Phosium in Forvena and look at the figure of Christ, the Good Shepherd. He's a young man, he has no beard. He's gonna change completely when the dogma of the church gets fully established. He's gonna become the pantacris [ph?], the stern judge, and always he's gonna sit with his hand on the Book of Laws, which of course, is the Bible. Ravenna is in Italy, and it became the head of the Roman Empire for a short time. It's extremely, it is filled with extremely elegant churches, and they are all covered in wonderful mosaics. Now there's a difference here. The one, you'd think mosaics were grown, and also increase. This mosaic was on the wall. The reason they moved the mosaic from the floor to the wall, is it now tells a story, and they want it on the wall. Look at the ceiling, the beautiful design in the city. Every inch-- this is a very small structure-- I bet it's not as big as the building we're in-- but every inch of it is covered in mosaic. Okay, on to this one.

Claude Howell: Oh, now look at this. This is in that same building. A lot of is pure abstracture. Just design. This is a mosaic in Greece and Rome is generally made with different colors of stone parapet. They now are backed with whys, and they are now, sometimes they're backed in gold. But you don't see much gold in the beginning. It's only when they leave the humanism of the Roma Empire, and leave this world, that the blue sky becomes gold, which is the light of heaven. So notice as we move along how all of it changes from pretty realistic depictions of _____________ to completely abstraction. This is the apse in Ravenna and see the cross? You don't have the crucifixion, but you do have the cross. If you count the sheep, there're 12. Because 12 apostles. Everything in there is symbolic. So the church becomes a great teaching instrument in the illustration of the philosophy of the new Christian religion. The windows are rounded at the top with a Roman Arch. They are-- this is not granite, it's a thin sheet of alabaster. So the light that comes through it glows.

Q: What century are we?

Claude Howell: This is about the fourth or fifth century. And I love this little still life. It's a detail from a large mosaic. You can spend weeks in the Ravenna studying these things. I've been there several times and I always find something new. Now this is the reality of Rome. The observation of the world around you. This is one of the great churches in Ravenna, it is signed Batalle. And you'll see that it's what we call the Central type of Church. It is not a basilica type. A basilica type is a long church with three arms. This is in the fall of the Greek cross. Each arm is equal. The basilica type church also gets to be in the shape of a cross, but it's more like the cross of the crucifixion. It's a long arm, and of course, short. This everything in this steeple all of the walls are heavy. The little structures that you see, the little _____________ around the side are really buttresses. That's to hold it up, because these churches were very high. Now this is the inside of the building that you just saw. And that is the famous mosaic-- I guess it's the most famous mosaic in the world of Justina and his retinue and Theodore and her retinue. There're two of them. They're basic on both sides of the fortress. Look at the column. The Tuscan column, which is from Rome, look at the top of it. You ever seen anything like that? This is the great contribution of early Christian's architecture. It's like an upside-down basket, and it's all over design. And the reason you see the design is flat, but they used the grill. People hadn't used the grill for design like that before. The Muslims of the Arabic Islam took it from here. This is where it. Here's a close up. Now look at the cross, the crucifixion, a very intricate design. And you see the mosaic styles goes all the way across the ceiling. Here we have just an-- all that feet amazed me. They never stand on their feet. Their feet are just hanging. (laughter) They had much flesh and blood with these people. Think back to the high period of Ridgestone and Roman, realistic portraits that we saw, you would say that this has gone backwards. It's not gone backwards, it is a new expression. It is spiritual rather than physical. The Christian religion, the beliefs of the Christian religion could not be expressed very well realistically because it was an inner feeling, and this is what these people were after. They also used-- these are little jewels by the way. So these are very inaccurate. Notice that you do have something from the pofina, Greece all heads on the same level. Somebody has written a book showing who is the most important five, how far around the feet are. (laughs) That sounds crazy. Some artists are.

Q: They're all in good shape.

Claude Howell: Yeah. Oh, they're in beautiful shape. They've never been damaged by war or [inaudible], very good shape. This is Theodora, and around her head you see _____________. That's all mother-of-pearl.

Q: When's the first time you saw this? Before the second world war or after?

Claude Howell: Before. Ravenna has changed. When I first went to Ravenna, there were hundreds of barber shops, no restaurants, no hotels, and I don't know what people did. It was a __________. It was just _____________. The layout of the land is a real perfect. Everything is in perfect shape. [inaudible]

Q: How large is that mosaic?

Claude Howell: The people are just very life-size. So it's big. But you see what's happened? Look at the clothes and garments. They are abstract shapes. And you cover up the heads, and just look at the skirts. You'd have a [inaudible]. This is why they had been rediscovered by _____________.

Q: What, were these figures above your eyes?

Claude Howell: I would say that your hand would cover the base and feet. They're up there. Most of them are up high so that you can see them. This is a close-up of a hand, and you'll see they often will have fine things in that bright red. Now most of these testscribes were made in Verona. which is in _____________. The same Milano. [inaudible] And how I did the mosaic I got it from the same place as _____________.

Q: So where would you use [inaudible]?

Claude Howell: Tesserae. T-E-S-S-E-R-A-E. And it simply means they make a big sheet of enamel of glass. It's about this size, but it's forward, and they hit it on the back with a mallet and it shatters, and there're bunch of not quite a half-an-inch long, and about a quarter-of-inch wide, and a quarter-of-an-inch deep. And they come in thousands of variations of parapet.

Q: I bet.

Claude Howell: But they're beautiful. And actually they're permeable. Here's another one. Now Cezanne was terror _____________ when he decided that he would flatten the painting, interpret the painting, and so instead of using a proved method, that is the edge of the table meet on the horizon, he had them meet where you are, where he was. Look at this. They did the same thing. They had flattened the painting so that it does not go back in space. There're people who made all these mosaics were not concerned with what we would call photographic reality. They were concerned with pattern, with color, and with the emotion generated by the substance. These people are hardly employ-any in their faces. And by the way, we just saw Pete over there in the back. They are round; they are marvelous. If the halo is wide enough, and sometimes they are square, and they are square, it means the person's still alive. So if you ever see one, the people are alive.

Q: Are these saints?

Claude Howell: Yeah, they're saints, uh-huh. Now, this is [inaudible], which is just the other side of, or about a mile and a half or two miles. I went up there, we didn't have a car so I went on the train, it took like five minutes. But you'll see something here, this is typical of a Basilica type of church. You see the center nave at the top, the two lower sides. But look on the side, you see the campanili which is a detached bell tower. Now where is the most famous detached bell tower in the world?

(overlapping conversation)

Claude Howell: The Leaning Tower of Pisa. This is where it comes from. It begins right here. Later on it attaches itself to the church. Sometimes it's in the middle and becomes a, they put a spire on it and it becomes the church steeple. Sometimes there are two, one on either side of the Westside, as often they'd-- you know how they were inspired by _________, that meant it was finished. But this is where it began. Now, this is in that church. And this is one little frame. The church is tremendous, and through light are close to the altar. There you have a procession of maybe 200 or 300 life-sized saints, modeled the women on one side and the men on the other. And it is quite an experience to go in there.

Q: The colors are so vivid.

Claude Howell: Aren't they beautiful?

Q: Yeah. Great too.

Claude Howell: The sky is no longer blue, the sky is gold. The dome of the church has been completely established now.

Q: Is that the Christmas star, is that the right name for it?

Claude Howell: Yes, that's the star, and you'll see the drapery on the far left and a little quiet. And you'll see the palm tree. The palm tree means that this is a marge, and so all this figures one in this with the palm tree.

Q: Has it moved ahead from the 4th and 5th Century or are we still in that timeframe?

Claude Howell: It's all within about 100 years interchanged. There are slight differences when they're built, but remember, it's also influenced-- it gets very complicated. I don't really know how to explain it. I understand, but I don't think that I can explain it. Justine was influenced by the Eastern Church. So he brought a lot of craftsmen from Constantinople to Ravenna.

Q: Oh, I see.

Claude Howell: So Ravenna is a mixture of the classical early Christian influence, plus the more erratic influence from Constantinople.

Q: So, that palm, what did you say about the palm?

Claude Howell: The palm means that they're marges.

Q: Okay.

Claude Howell: Marges.

Q: Margels?

Claude Howell: Marges, M-A-R-G.

Q: Oh, Marges, thank you.

Claude Howell: Now, this is the-- a Baptistery and we first have the alabaster windows. Then in between you have beautiful Byzantine columns, marvelous, then over that the entire ceiling, the dome is covered in mosaics, and these are the saints of the church around. In the middle, you have the dove and the baptism [inaudible]. There are all the robe who loathed the policy of the church. And they're filled with symbolic things. The book of the law and Paul's holy adventures, each one.

Q: Do we know anything about who designed these? Any names?

Claude Howell: I don't know any names. Scarlet may know, but I've never seen them in any sort of book. This is-- well, here we get to something else, which I think is pretty good form, today, the first thing an artist does when he finishes a painting is to sign it, and he tries to gain notoriety. That is the influence from human, because man is important. In the Christian religion, it would have been presumptuous to sign your name because you do it for the Glory of God, and that's the difference. So we don't know the names of very many early Christian artists very few. It's not until we get, again, to the rise of humans, which is during the Renaissance that people began to sign their paintings and they began to have a reputation. Now, you recognize this?

Q: Yeah.

Claude Howell: That is so pretty. And, of course, the numerates are a later addition. But this is an early Christian church, a Byzantine church, 521. And there are lots of mosaics and they're very difficult to see, very difficult. A lot of them have been mutilated because they were all covered over with plaster, and they're still painstakingly trying to uncover them, but a lot of them are just gone. But this is an amazing structure. The structure really consists of four pillars. You see two of them and the dome, that's the whole structure. The walls are of no importance whatsoever. So this means that you can have hundreds of windows because the wall doesn't carry any weight. But it's an elongated building because they put a half dome on either side to brace the dome. Here you have the enter. Look at the windows, do you see the unimportance of the walls?

Q: Yeah. What is the name of this group?

Claude Howell: That is the Santa Sophia. It's considered by many people to be the greatest church in New Orleans, now it's a museum.

Q: And every time I see it [inaudible].

Claude Howell: And you can still see some of the Muslim decorations, they have never been taken down. Because this is sacred to the Muslims as well as the Christians.

Q: And the upper arches, are those windows? I see the light coming through those.

Claude Howell: Yeah. You see, it gives a lot more light to the structure, and gives a lightness in feeling to the building. There's another view of it looking up into the dome. And you can see. Because I think it's important. This is a dome, and these, that's a squinch, S-Q-U-I-N-C-H. So this is a dome on a squinches. There are four of them. All right, what holds up the church? The pillars of the church. All right, it holds up the dome, too. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, always you'll find those four Saints four of them in the squinches. It's almost an unwritten law that you find them there. And, of course, they're fragments of the mosaics all around.

Q: Were there beams of any kind--

Claude Howell: No.

Q: -- to uphold those squinch arches?

Claude Howell: No.

Q: Nothing?

Claude Howell: No.

Q: It was all masonry?

Claude Howell: All masonry. Now, this is in that church, in the frame. A half circle like that is called a Lunet, and you'll find that these are often over doorways. Look how completely unrealistic the figures are becoming. There is no form whatsoever. Everything is flat. Garments, folds in garments are ironed by lines. Drapery has a life of it's own. You know it doesn't fall according to gravity.

Q: How do you spell lunet? L-U-N-E-T?

Claude Howell: Huh?

Q: How do you spell lunet?

Claude Howell: L-U-N-E-T. Now, this is one of my favorite churches, and I discovered it in church in December, it's the Church of the Chora, C-H-O-R-A. And I'd never heard of it, but it is typically Byzantine. It is filled with what I consider the best mosaics I've ever seen as well as frescos. This is the central type of church. Now, you see a new development here. Look at the drum here and here and right-- you see how high it's getting? They kept getting higher and higher and higher. When Byzantine architecture moves to the Baltons, that is not only Greece, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. The drums are often much higher than they are wide. They just go up and up. All of these churches are plain on the outside but wonderfully decorated on the inside. Sometimes they will have an architectural motif like that, a triple row or a double row of brick within the design. They are very simple. Here's another view of that same structure. You see how it grows out of Roman architecture? Later on it will be even more influenced by Roman architecture, then we'll come to the period that is called Romanesque, when they really start the Roman architecture. This has an interesting is _____. You remember that we looked at a side of the Roman wall? It's the brick and then the stone?

Q: Yes.

Claude Howell: See, they still use it.

Q: You know, Claude, that looks almost like a mineret on a Mosque.

Claude Howell: It is because it is a Mosque. I mean was.

Q: Oh, it was?

Claude Howell: Uh-huh. Everything in Constantinople sooner or later became a Mosque. But it's not now, it's a museum. This is one of the mosaics in that structure. Look at the stand of the thrown on which Christ is sleeping. His feet are perpendicular, and so is the stand on which his feet are. You'll see something else has changed. Christ now has a beard. He's getting sterner and sterner all the time, and finally he has stern violence, and, you know, if you don't do good you're going to hell. I mean, that's the feeling you get. Look at that. Now, this is a mosaic. Sometimes they will do this. These are larger in size than these. When they get to a face, they will use tetrolyre [ph?] that are bigger. Look at the long nose. Now, an interesting thing that happened one time, I was trying to paint a mural for the church and beach, and I had Christ in it. Well, you can't abstract Christ. Christ, everybody knows what Christ looks like. So, you have to base it on the tradition of his appearance. Because it's an expo of many centuries, always the piercing eyes and the long nose. Within that everything is an abstraction. Look at the eyebrows, look at the line under the eyebrows, the nose is really just a design. His hair is longer. But he's not the weak, sickly looking person that you often see in our churches today. When you got sentential, where he was kind of emasculated. These are one of-- this is a mosaic, and these are some of the three wise men, and beautiful shapes and colors. This building is not in terribly good shape, but there's an awful lot still left of it. Now, this is, this is not a mosaic, this is a fresco, but it's in that same church.

Q: Say that again.

Claude Howell: Yeah, a fresco.

Q: Oh, a fresco.

Claude Howell: A fresco is done with a pencil in wet plaster. It sinks into the wall and the only way you can purge it is to actually walls put away.

Q2: This part over here on the left and the lower left, that looks like mosaics.

Q: It looks like mosaics from here, you can see the little faces.

Claude Howell: Well, you'll find that there are few sections in the frescos that are mosaic it's way strange in church. Now, look at this.

Q: That's marvelous.

Claude Howell: Doesn't that look like the Angel of Franchesca in Morasco?

(overlapping conversation)

Claude Howell: That is supposed to be natural. It's the idea of natural rather than the appearance of natural. We have changed countries now. We have moved to Sicily. And this is the marvelous church in _________ in Sicily on the northern coast with tropical foliage all around it. This is built on a-- this square is raised. You have to go up a flight of stairs on either side to get to this square. The exterior is very, very simple, but when you get in, you don't tend to [inaudible] and suddenly all these figures emerge from the darkness of this church. And this is the church that has the enormous head of Christ in the half dome of the apse. This is the ceiling. That's the top of one of the pictures in the house. These are angels. This is the roof. These are the walls, and these are covered in mosaics. It's impossible to photograph because the light comes in those windows in Sicily so strong.

Q: What do you think those center things are?

Claude Howell: What?

Q: Right, these things.

Claude Howell: Oh, they're wings.

Q2: They're angels.

Q: It's a face, but--

Claude Howell: Yeah, they're wings. They're all angels. But they're not, they're not real people, and it's not a depiction like we would think of an angel. It comes designed.

Q: Like minarets?

Claude Howell: Uh-huh, or [inaudible]. Here is the figure of Christ. You see the [inaudible]? Look how stern that hand is. And this is a correct developmentally. Christ is important, the Virgin is less important, the followers of the church are on the next row down. It just goes from the top right straight on down. And the angels are interspersed. The background completely shows no akin to the real world.

Q: The wings of those angels are like the wings that were in the center of that design.

Claude Howell: Yeah. Now, this also is in Sicily. This is a clerestory and it's attached to the Cathedral in Monreali, not too far from _________. Every column is a different design. The thing that strikes me over and over again is how much decoration there have been in history. In every period you find a beautiful decoration. Some of these are studded with little chips of gold. So when the sun shines on them, they just glisten. This is a fountain for meditation. Can you imagine you just sitting there lost in meditation? The clerestory in the very early Christian church, you had the nave in front of the nave you had an acrym [ph?] like they had in Pompey, that's where it came from. Which is an open door surrounded by columns. In later times, as in Montreali the clerestory takes the place of the acrym and moved to the side of the church. Then, even later, it becomes a place for the monks to walk and meditate. You'll find that is true in France and Germany and in Italy. This is the interior of the Cathedral at Monreali. Sometimes-- I'm not sure about this particular Cathedral, but often these are real [inaudible]. Then you get something like this which has nothing to do with religion. This is in the Palace of the Norms in Palamo and is filled with hunting scenes like this. But it's the same attitude. These were commissioned by the head of the state, not the church but the rulers in Sicily, but they used Greek artists. These were imported from Constantinople and Greece. So the style is part Sicilian but primarily Greek.

Q: Can you tell me what date would that be?

Claude Howell: This is 12th century. You see we're jumping around in the times. Now, here you find this sort of thing which looks very exotic. This is a Byzantine church filled with wonderful mosaics. Here's a clerestory not even attached to the church.

Q: So where is this? Is this still Sicily?

Claude Howell: Yeah, this is Marqrama, M-A-R-Q-R-A-M-A. Sicily is filled with wonderful _________. Now, this is a small church in Yugoslavia. And I think you can tell that it is not, it doesn't have the sophistication of the churches that we've been seeing. Compare this with [inaudible], there's a big difference. But it's the same general type. And in all those churches you'll find wonderful things. I have a better slide of this. I apologize for this slide. It went haywire downtown. This is probably the most beautiful church in the world.

Q: Oh, yeah.

Claude Howell: It is Gracanica, G-R-A-C-A-N-I-C-A, it's in Yugoslavia. It is absolutely filled with frescos. But look how high, this is in the ________.

Q: Do you suppose it's still standing today?

Claude Howell: I'm hoping it wasn't destroyed because it's a marvelous church. It is the simple type of church. But look how elaborate it can get. You have many [inaudible]. And look at this drum [ph?] right here, that drum, much higher than that one.

Q2: Is that cut stone?

Claude Howell: Uh-huh, it's cut stone.

Q: [inaudible] stone.

Claude Howell: A beautiful color.

Q: Is it?

Claude Howell: Two shades of pink.

Q: Oh.

Claude Howell: And it's surrounded by a monastery wall, a big, big area.

Q: Well, and does the architecture gradually, it seems to me that it's changing as you change locations, and does the Russian sort of, is that just sort of a continuation of this kind of a thing?

Claude Howell: Yes, yes, it is.

Q: In small churches?

Claude Howell: As I mentioned before, I don't have any Russian slides with me. I wish I did, I couldn't find them. But the ruler of Russia had a daughter, and he sent his envoys to Rome and he sent them to Constantinople to marry his daughter. And they came back and said Rome was no good. And by this time Rome had been sacked. But, he said, Constantinople is marvelous. So the daughter married the Prince from Constantinople and she took the Byzantine of the, the orthodox religion to Russia, and that's how it got done. So Russia turned its alliance to the East instead of the West, and that's why we had the Cold War. You see how it all ties in?

Q: Yes.

Claude Howell: It's just amazing. And they took Byzantine architecture, but the put very colorful domes because the winters are so dreary that they wanted something bright, so that's why the domes are gold in Russia, and very steep because of the heavy snow. [inaudible]. Now, here we have another of the [inaudible]. You could study these things for years, or study Iconology, which I think is a dirty word. I have a friend who worked at the museum in Raleigh, and he used to bore me to death telling me all the Iconology, what every little symbol meant. He never looked at the work of art. He was only interested in the scholarship. And I think that, it's pretty bad, I think you out to know the genre of where you are, but I don't think you have to go into all that because it takes away from the beauty of what you are seeing. These are great works of art. This is in Greece. Look at this stern head.

Q: It was earlier filled with this, with letters on each side.

Claude Howell: Yeah, that's oh I used to know, no I think it's a word Christ.

Q: It says, Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.

Claude Howell: Yeah, that's what it is.

Q: Icthus which means fish.

Claude Howell: And that's what it-I showed several of these so you could --

Q: Are those mosaics or frescos?

Claude Howell: That's a mosaic.

Q: [inaudible].

Claude Howell: And look at this, this is in Italy, Oristano. When the world is completely gone, this will all happen. Mary is absolutely looking at you. She's not looking at Jesus at all. You don't get the adoring mother until you get into the Renaissance. And these are the saints of the church. Now, this is a fresco, and this is the Virgin and child surrounded by saints. Well it's a very early fresco. Look how similar it is to the mosaics. There's still a little, it was so early that it had little rounds to it. It's beginning to go in this fresco of the angel. How tall is she?

Q: Tall.

Claude Howell: Probably 12 or 13 feet. No flesh and blood is that tall. And look what happens here? This also is in Yugoslavia. And do you know how Matisse absolutely flattens form when he paints his designs?

Q: Yes.

Claude Howell: Well, this is exactly the same thing. And it's a very striking pattern.

Q: Yes. Oh yeah.

Claude Howell: The frescos are in terrible shape in the Balkans. They've never been cared for, the churches have been poor. And they're trying to save some of them now, but you see the cracks like that right through there.

Q: Is that a crack or what?

Claude Howell: Here you find Christ on the cross. He's not dead, though. He's not dead for a long long time. He's simply leaning against a piece of wood rather. He has the escrow.

Q: And abut what age is that?

Claude Howell: This is about 12th century. We go from around 300 to around 1300 tonight, we go back and forth.

Q: This is first Christ on the cross we've seen.

Claude Howell: Yeah.

Q: Is that about the time that appeared?

Claude Howell: Yes. The crucifixion was often portrayed in the East. It was not often portrayed in the West because it was such a disgrace to be crucified in the Roman Empire. So the Christians shunned that object. This is considered one of the most beautiful of the lined textures. This is in a monastery, all the church is absolutely isolated, rain coming through the windows, it's never seen any [inaudible], and it's just a calm picture. It influenced Jacqueline. Look at this, the form of each shape, these are details of frescos. And I love this pillar. I'm always reminded of George Bruno when I see this pillar. It's the same shape. No attempt at correct perspective. And I included this so you could see here's sculpture carve fresco, fresco. You go in these churches and you could spend a day examining all the various little details. There's so much. I was reading today there's one new church that has 1,600 distinct paintings in it on the walls, 1,600. We think we're doing pretty good if we get one.

(overlapping conversation)

Claude Howell: Yeah. And that's all that's left of that fresco.

Q: All right, you're showing us paintings, but were there statues?

Claude Howell: Very few for a very good reason. Most of the Christians were Jews. They had a ban on graven images. Also, the Christian religion forbid idolatry, so they didn't like statues. They had a few small ivory carvings, but their primary art form was mosaic, followed by fresco. The gesture is usually pretty authentic. You get the picture of what's going on, but it's not naturalistic at all. Even now, love that piece.

Q: Yeah.


Claude Howell: That's in Crete.

Q: A priest?

Claude Howell: In Crete, on the Island of Crete.

Q: Oh.

Claude Howell: And look at this man, he's so tired.


Claude Howell: But they get the essence of what they're trying to say, and they put it across. A lot of these were [inaudible].

Q: [inaudible].

Claude Howell: Now, this is a fresco from that churches we were looking at earlier. This is the Church of the Cora. And this is the Virgin ________. And I think that's a marvelous painting.

Q: Yes, it truly is.

Claude Howell: And this is St. George. Can you see the influence here from the complicated two paintings that we saw?

Claude Howell: Um-hmm.

Claude Howell: The long nose, the kind of little almost rosebud like deep-set eyes. Now, this is something different. They not only had the mosaics and the frescos, they had, in that church, an iconostasis, which is the screen, we still have an iconostasis in a Greek church here in Wilmington. It is a screen, which is covered in small paintings. Often they become very sacred and are supposed to have supernatural powers. They were repeated over and over and over again until they've become extremely academic. And this is why in the 19th Century that people thought that Byzantine art was no good. They thought it was just a repetitive art form. This is a small iconostasis. Now, when I was reading to you I'd mentioned that I'd seen a couple of good icons. They're always small, I guess 12 inches high would be large. And they generally are painted on wood. They can be carried around, so if they keep them small, they'll be portable, but more often than not they'll come on the iconostasis. Generally, it's the Virgin and the Child. This has had a great influence on Western art, because if you look at Chen Ping and Jotto and all the early Italian painters, you're going to see where they get their idea from. Now, one of the things that they do [inaudible], this is all painted. In fact, the whole rectangular is painted, and then they commission somebody to hammer all this out onto the gold or silver and put it around the picture.

Q: Is the Christ Child painted?

Claude Howell: Yes, it's painted. Of course, it's in bad shape, but it's strange paint, I think, don't you?

Q: Yes.

Claude Howell: Look at the fingers on the angels.

Q: Yeah. And look at that nose.

Claude Howell: They never have any bones.


Claude Howell: I mean, this is just, there's no body there. It wasn't meant to. The Virgin Mary was not supposed to be witty. She was an idea. And I thought of this [inaudible]. This, too, has influenced the composition of a lot of the early Italian painters.

Q: [inaudible].

Claude Howell: And sometimes the narrative goes on several lines just telling a story. This is a page from a book. You can see the writing at the top. You know, I mentioned seeing the rose in the illuminated book in that monastery. There's still things like this. There are only two or three of these. They are illuminations from manuscripts. Now, in the beginning we had papyrus. You couldn't paint heavy color on papyrus rolls it would just crack and flake off. So then they discovered that they could paint on velvet, which was like a thick page. Then they could use much heavier and opaque and much more brilliant color. And look at this, you also could use ________. That's pretty bright colors.

Q: Yes.

Claude Howell: And here you have four Saints with the writing, this is a page from an early book.

Q: The Saints. What language is that?

Claude Howell: I wouldn't really--

Q: [inaudible] or something?

Claude Howell: I think probably Greek, early Greek.

Q: [inaudible].

Claude Howell: And this, which I think is just marvelous. Look at what they've done with the highlights on their head. You enjoy that just as a shape. You enjoy everything about that as a juxtaposition of curves and angles. No perspective, no bodies.

Q: [inaudible]. Younger year and not of stone.

Claude Howell: Yeah.

Q: [inaudible]. The chair almost looks like a colleseum.

Claude Howell: That is it. That is it. Well, I apologize for picking these because I pick too many, but I could have picked thousands.


Claude Howell: And so many wonderful things.

Q: Oh, no, this is incredible.

Claude Howell: Now, we have jumped back and forth and you could have [inaudible]. The style hardly has changed. There's been minute political variations, but not too much. They were all influenced by the church when the church was the strongest thing in existence. The church today has no influence on art whatsoever because it has ceased to be the important thing. And here it was the be all and of everything. And Kings and Queens, you know, just jumped at the beck and call of the church. Well, that brings us up to a revival, the year 1,000 and they thought the world was going to end. And a lot of evangelists began preaching that people better straighten up. So they covered France with a mackerel of churches. I mean, literally covered it. Every village in France has a Romanesque church. And this develops into the great churches, which develop into the great Gothic cathedrals. And that's what we're going to be talking about next time. Now, if you think you've seen something, wait until you see those.

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