Against Gravity

Michalis Kappas

Full Paper
Exchanging Forms between East and West: the Case of a Middle-Fourteenth-Century Group of Masons in the Mani Peninsula
In my paper I shall present a group of unpublished churches of the middle-fourteenth century in the Mani Peninsula. Among them are four cross-in-square churches of the simple tetrastyle variant in a very well state of preservation. What characterizes these buildings is their elaborate brick decoration, typical of the Late-Byzantine architectural tradition based on Mystra's ideas, which distinguishes them from the local building activity of previous centuries. Their exterior walls are often articulated with blind arches, not corresponding to the interior, a solution very rarely attested in monuments of southern Greece.  What is more interesting is that in at least three of them -the Christ Savior church in Lagada, the homonymous church in Milia and St. Georges church in Konakia- Byzantine morphological features are combined with western details in the construction of their opening framings, especially in the arches of doors and windows. This amalgamation of Western and Byzantine forms could be probably explained by the fact that Niccolò Acciajuoli retained properties both in Lagada and Milia. It seems possible that a certain group of masons has erected some hybrid buildings for western owners and thereinafter applied the same forms in some other churches of the region related even with local patrons. Analogous experimentations are also attested in some churches of Mystras as well as in a part of the palace complex of the same city attributed to the building activity of Despot Manuel Kantakouzenos. This trend in the architecture of southeastern Peloponnese possibly reflects a certain political and ideological tendency in the society of Mystras favoring a more conciliatory position towards the relations with the West. The contacts between East and West were undoubtedly improved by the presence in Mystras of Despoina Isabella de Lusignan, who was originated from the Frankish kingdom of Cyprus.