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Silver artefacts and motifs

The objects produced by silver-working may be divided into two large categories:
a) ecclesiastical items and
b) secular pieces.

The first of these includes silver vessels used in worship: bindings of Gospel Books, processional or sanctification crosses, communion chalices, patens, icon sheathings, lamps, candlesticks, etc., and accessories for hieratic vestments: enkolpia, ecclesiastical brooches. Ecclesiastical objects, particularly Gospel Book covers (nos. 44, 45, 46) and more rarely crosses (nos. 52, 170, 38) and communion chalices (no. 98) bear inscriptions, giving details of the craftsman, the year of manufacture, the church or monastery for which they were made, and the name of the donor.

The category of secular artefacts embraces
a) jewellery worn with female costume: necklaces, earrings, bracelets, tepelikia, belts, tsaparakia, trachilies, amulets, etc.;
b) accessories of male costume: kioutekia, finger-rings, powder-cases and weapon-handles, and cartridge cases; and
c) objects of household use: tea services, [zarphion] services, mirrors, jewellery boxes, fruitstands, trays, jugs, etc. Secular pieces are rarely inscribed: sometimes the date alone is engraved on brooches (nos. 90, 163, 164).

Silver-working flourished in part thanks to the fact that after the fall of the Byzantine empire, clerics and laymen strove, alongside the gradual awakening of the national conscience, to preserve a centuries-old tradition by dedicating works of incomparable art in churches and monasteries. During the period of Ottoman rule, jewellery was a means of demonstrating the economic prosperity of the wealthy merchants who emerged as a result of the economic circumstances, and at the same time an effective method of saving, transporting, and disposing of their wealth. Jewellery was undoubtedly also produced on a mass scale. A significant number of silversmiths were itinerant. They frequented church fairs, bringing with them cheap cast hooks and earrings, without decoration. These were worked in the middle of the fair, using hammer and chisel on the anvil, with the motif depending on the preferences of the customer. Turks were looking for gifts for their wives, with the crescent moon and two stars, Jews wanted the star of David, and Christians a cross, sometimes decorated with small flowers. The silversmith often reveals an intent to improvise, and at times followed the aesthetic choices of the customer. Consequently, the objects produced by silver-working, which are inextricably linked with religious and daily practical needs, reflect the rules, customs, traditions, and superstitions of Epirot society.

The decoration of silver artefacts includes purely decorative motifs (floral and geometric) and pictorial subjects (animals, birds, human figures) in a variety of combinations, often of a symbolical character. These motifs may be distinguished according to whether the object was used for secular or religious purposes. The repertoire chosen by Epirot silversmiths goes back to the ages-old ancient Greek and Byzantine tradition. However, given the geographical position of Epiros and its role in the development of trade, it was also exposed to influences from the Eastern tradition, as revived and reinforced by the Ottoman conquest, and from the Western tradition, as Epirots settled in European cities and transported objects by caravan, bringing contacts with Western baroque and rococo.

In Epirot silverware, the motif of the bull derives from ancient Greece, as do oak branches or leaves (no. 265), which were often depicted on coins of the ancient Epirot Koinon. Rarer subjects, found mainly on weapons, are Athena, goddess of wisdom, and the sun, an expression of the spirit that prevailed in Greece after the War of Independence (sword scabbard in the Municipal Museum). From Byzantine art, the Epirots borrowed the double-headed eagle (nos. 266, 132) (the symbol of the Despotate of Epiros), vine leaves and grapes, frequently combined with birds from the Epirot countryside nos. 287, 261, 259, 264), partridges, cockerels, owls, birds pecking at bunches of grapes, deer, goats and the filigree rosette (daisy) (no. 234). The Byzantine tradition was also the source of the custom of depicting, especially on wedding jewellery, crosses, anthropomorphic creatures, plants, birds and animals, in isolation or compositions, creating a symbolic, magical and apotropaic decoration (nos. 21, 163, 164). The omphaloi and rosettes on female jewellery are symbols of fertility (nos. 163, 164).

Figures of saints and more rarely representations such as the Anastasis (no. 136) are common subjects and have a protective, apotropaic character. Special preference was shown for St George, patron god of young warriors, and particularly of the Vlach shepherds of Pindos (no. 000). He is often depicted mounted on horseback slaying the dragon, and is either engraved on cartridge cases, tobacco boxes and amulets, or worked in savati. St Demetrios more rarely occupies this position on amulets and tobacco boxes. He, too, is shown mounted, killing the barbarian (no. 000). The choice of these particular saints is possibly a symbolic reference to the year. The beginning of the summer farming tasks and journeys by caravan started in spring, after the feast of St George, and they were completed in autumn, at the feast of St Demetrios. The depiction of the two military saints in a border region like Epiros is perhaps an echo of the legends surrounding the akrites, the warriors who protected the borders of the Byzantine empire. After the Greek National Uprising, the craftsmen also imprinted on silver the neomartyr George, who was martyred in Ioannina.
From the art of the East come birds in the form of dragons, and dragons themselves (nos. 259, 324), the crescent, and gardens with pavilions (nos. 109, 142).

Western baroque contributed rosettes, rinceaux and palmettes, and rococo garlands of flowers (tulips, fleurs-de-lys), droplets, S- and C-motifs 'locked' in a decorative system, which were all popular in secular and ecclesiastical silverware (nos. 21, 289a, 98, 170, 33, 58).

Ecclesiastical silverware forms a separate category. The choice of motifs is dictated to a greater or lesser extent by church ritual, which was common to the entire Orthodox Balkans. Silver covers of Gospel Books have at the centre mainly the Crucifixion and the Anastasis, representations with a soteriological and eschatological content; frequently (when they are not adorned with velvet) they have panels containing figures of the Apostles, Evangelists or Prophets, or scenes from the Twelve Great Feasts (nos. 44, 45, 46). Ecclesiastical brooches are decorated mainly with scenes of the Nativity and Annunciation, and more rarely with figures of saints and angels (329, 169). Vine leaves and branches, and grapes (nos. 98, 170), are a favourite motif, thanks to the Christian symbolism of the vine.

Adamantios Tzimouris, the silversmith from Kalarrytes, made a particularly important contribution, creating a type of Gospel binding that influenced later ecclesiastical silverware. Tzimouris's bindings (12 examples signed by him survive) are all silver with gilded scenes set against a silver background decorated with savati, and are characterised by elements drawn from the Western and Byzantine traditions. The standardisation of his iconographic compositions, and the inscription with the artist's monogram indicate workmanship carried out in a craft-industrial context. Georgios Baphas (1784-1853) is a special case. He was influenced by Western art (he spent the larger part of his life on Zakynthos) and, in a free spirit, created figures that move and turn in a lively manner on patens, Gospel bindings, reliquaries, money boxes, icon sheathings, and the coffin of St Dionysios.

The special conditions under which the Greek population and the peoples of the Balkans (Slavs, Bulgarians, etc.) lived under Ottoman occupation, their shared Byzantine heritage, and their direct contact with North and West Europe, are all expressed in the use of common motifs in their secular and ecclesiastical silverware. Epirot silversmiths continue to the present day to show a special preference for subjects connected with the history and nature of their land (e.g. the bull, oak, double-headed eagle, deer, birds, etc.), while at the same time motifs and forms inspired by the currents of modern art give expression to their eclecticism.

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