The superior of Dayr Apa Apollo at Bawit. Menas is not known other than from a very fine icon of large dimensions (57 x 57 cm) preserved in the Louvre Museum in Paris and often reproduced, for it is a magnificent example of Coptic art.
We may be confident that he was the superior of a monastery, for this painting describes him as “Menas, proestos,” a title that is inscribed twice, whereas Christ who protects him with a familiar gesture (passing His right arm over his shoulders) receives the title Savior (soter) only once. The gesture, with the nimbus that surrounds Menas’s visage, is proof that he was venerated by his contemporaries. The title proestos, often given, is applied to the superior of a large monastery, but may also be given to the superior of a simple “house.” We may cautiously conclude that this title does not necessarily indicate that this Menas was at the head of a large monastery.
Historians of art, noting that the style of this icon was very close to the paintings from Bawit, have thought that this painting also had some chance of deriving from there. Thus P. du Bourguet (1968, pp. 39, 132; 1964, no. 164), as in the Catalogue français de l’Exposition copte, affirms that this piece derives from Bawit; K. Wessel (1963, pp. 186-88) calls him abbot and saint. However, examining the case of the icon representing “Abraham, bishop” in the State Museum of Berlin, which is often said to derive from Bawit, M. Krause takes issue with this assertion and compares the case with that of the icon of Menas, which was given to the Louvre Museum before the excavations by J. Clédat and J. Maspero (1971, pp. 106-11; see in particular p. 108, n. 17).
We, thus, have no proof, direct or indirect, that this icon derives from Bawit (no inscription published by Clédat or Maspero mentions an abbot Menas, a name very common in Egypt). Besides, it is very possible that one and the same artist, whose talent was well known, could have worked at several places. Much later, certainly, we know from his signature that a single artist was able to execute his work at Akhmim, at Isna, and at Aswan (see Coquin, 1975, p. 278): the painter Mercurius, who executed his paintings between 1301 and 1318. It is therefore not impossible that the same artist carried out work at several places, which leaves us uncertain about the provenance of the painting in the Louvre Museum, as about that in the State Museum of Berlin. It seems, as Krause advises, more prudent to confess our ignorance.
- Barison, P. “Ricerche sui monasteri dell’Egitto bizantino ed arabe, secondo i documenti dei papiri greci.” Aegyptus 18 (1938):29-148.
- Bourguet, P. du. L’art copte. Catalogue of the exposition of Coptic art in the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, 17 June-15 September 1964. Paris, 1964.
- . L’art copte. Paris, 1968. Translated as The Art of the Copts by C. Hay-Shaw. New York, 1967.
- Coquin, R.-G. “Les inscriptions pariétales des monastères d’Esna: Dayr al-Suhada’-Dayr al-Fahuri.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 75 (1975):241-84.
- Kahle, P. Bala’izah, 2 vols. London and Oxford, 1954.
- Krause, M. “Zur Lokalisierung und Datierung koptischer Denkmäler.” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 97 (1971):106-111.
- Wessel, K. Koptische Kunst, die Spätantike in Ägypten. Recklinghausen, 1963. Translated as Coptic Art by J. Carroll and 1965. Hatton. London, 1965.