PORTRAITS OF BISHOPS
From a period unknown to us, the bishop possessed the right to a portrait. The Monophysite bishop John of Ephesus (c. 507-586) gives detailed information about this in his Church History, extant only partly in Syriac (ed. E. W. Brooks, CSCO 105, 106). According to John, portraits of the new bishop were hung in the churches of his diocese after his accession to office. Such a portrait of Bishop ABRAHAM OF HERMONTHIS has survived. This often-reproduced work (see Krause, p. 108 and n. 19) passed, through the antiquities trade, into the possession of the early Christian and Byzantine section of the State Museum in East Berlin.
It shows the bust of the bishop, depicted full face, with stola and the Bible. The head is surrounded by a nimbus, and the inscription “Bishop Apa Abraham” is written in vertical lines to right and left beside it. Investigations have led to the conclusion that the portrait probably came from a small basilica west of the great arcade of the Luxor temple, which Grébaut excavated in 1893, and not from BAWIT, as was formerly thought and still is often claimed. In this excavation, part of the church treasure was also found, and this likewise bears the name of the bishop. The portrait was painted before 600, probably about 590.
From Nubia, which was under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Alexandria and thus belonged to the Coptic church, several bishops’ portraits have survived, most of them in the episcopal cathedral of FARAS, the ancient Pachoras (see Jakobielski, 1982). In contrast with the portrait of the bishop of Hermonthis, which is painted on a board and represents the bust of the bishop, the bishops’ portraits from Faras are painted on the walls of the church (see the plan in Jakobielski, 1982, ill. no. 5), and show the bishop in his entirety. In addition, the bishop is often protected by a person standing behind or beside him.
These protectors are Christ (no. 4), the apostle Peter (no. 60), a person who can no longer be identified (no. 75), Christ with the Madonna (nos. 69 and 122), the Madonna (nos. 57 and 5), and an archangel (nos. 58 and 3). All of the persons represented were at one time named in inscriptions. However, only in the case of four bishops is the name unambiguously guaranteed by the legend; in all other cases the names had to be deduced. The identification of the bishops represented without a surviving inscription was possible because a list containing the names of the first twenty-eight bishops of Faras, with the years of their episcopates, had survived in the church (Jakobielski, 1972, pp. 190ff.). This yielded the succession of the bishops. In addition, the gravestones of many bishops survive and give the dates of their lives.
In the church four layers of painting were identified. The bishops’ portraits were found on all four layers: the last bishops’ portraits on the topmost layer, the earliest on the lowest. From these facts, it is apparent that the oldest extant bishop’s portrait in Faras derives from the beginning of the ninth century and represents either bishop Markos (810-826) or Chael I (826-827), while the latest portrait represents a bishop not on the list of bishops and dated to the thirteenth or fourteenth century (Jakobielski, 1982, p. 131).
From the skin color of the bishops portrayed, we can deduce their ethnic origin. Alongside bishops with a light skin color, which points to origin from Egypt, there are some with a darker complexion, which indicates an origin in Nubia.
- Golgowski, T. “Remarques sur l’iconographie de l’évêque de ‘Rivergate Church.’” In Mélanges offerts á Kazimierz Michalowski. Warsaw, 1966.
- Jakobielski, S. A History of the Bishopric of Pachoras on the Basis of Coptic Inscriptions. Warsaw, 1972.
- . “Portraits of the Bishops of Faras.” In Nubian Studies. Proceedings of the Symposium for Nubian Studies. Selwyn College, Cambridge, 1978, ed. J. M. Plumley, pp. 127-41. Warminster, England, 1982.
- Krause, M. “Zur Lokalisierung und Datierung koptischer Denkmäler.” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 97 (1971):106-111.
- Rahner, H. “Johannes v. Ephesos.” In Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 2nd ed., Vol. 5, col. 1030. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1960.