Monastic Visions

Wall Paintings in the Monastery of St. Antony at the Red Sea

Edited by Elizabeth S. Bolman; Photography by Patrick Godeau

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An ancient church in the Coptic Monastery of St. Antony at the Red Sea contains a unique cycle of thirteenth-century wall paintings. They constitute by far the most complete and best-preserved iconographic program of Christian paintings to come from medieval Egypt. Ignored for centuries because they were covered with soot and overpainting, these compelling images have recently undergone conservation. This beautiful book reproduces the cleaned paintings for the first time. It also describes and analyzes their amalgam of Coptic (Egyptian Christian), Byzantine, and Arab styles and motifs as well as the religious culture to which they belong.

In 1996, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and at the request of the Monastery of St. Antony, the Antiquities Development Project of the American Research Center in Egypt began the conservation of the paintings in the church. The paintings revealed by the conservators are of extremely high quality, both stylistically and conceptually. While rooted in the Christian tradition of Egypt, they also reveal explicit connections with Byzantine and Islamic art of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Some newly discovered paintings can even be dated back to the sixth or seventh century. The authors of this book—who include art historians, conservators, historians, an archaeologist, and an anthropologist—discuss the significance of these revelations and place the church and the paintings within the artistic and historical traditions of both Coptic Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean region in the Middle Ages.

Published in association with American Research Center in Egypt, Inc.

Elizabeth S. Bolman is assistant professor of medieval art history at Temple University. The other contributors are Luigi De Cesaris, Mark Easton, Gawdat Gabra, Patrick Godeau, Sidney H. Griffith, Michael Jones, Adriano Luzi, William Lyster, Father Maximous El-Anthony, Elizabeth E. Oram, Birger A. Pearson, Robert K. Vincent., Jr., and Tim Vivian.

“Bolman makes the arcane accessible and the spiritual meaningful. This is how art history, usually seen as an elitist activity, should be written up in a democratic society.”—Anthony Cutler, Penn State University

Monastic Visions . . . beautifully reproduces the cleaned paintings for the first time. It also describes and analyses the amalgam of Coptic, Byzantine and Arab styles and motifs and the religious culture to which they belong.”—Apollo

“The varying interpretations and observations of the many contributors to this volume—historians, art historians, conservators, theologians, archeologists, and anthropologists—add much to our understanding of this complex tradition. . . . Detailed and precise studies such as Monastic Visions will do much to facilitate our understanding of medieval Christian society in the East.”—Lamia Doumato, Art Documentation

“The essays in this lavishly illustrated volume cover a wide array of issues, including the history of the monastery and the church, the iconographic program, the relation of the style to other Coptic paintings, and parallels to Byzantine, Islamic, and Romaesque works. This book offers a fascinating glimpse into a little-known area of Medieval art. Though partly geared to specialists, the introductory essays in particular are accessible to a wide range of readers, and in view of the relatively low cost and the sumptuousness of the illustrations, the book would be a useful addition to most academic libraries.”—Choice

"This beautiful book is indispensable for students of Church history, Coptic monasticism, or Coptic art. It is a great gift at an attractive price."—Rodolph Yanney, Coptic Church Review

“The book presents these paintings in around 200 excellent photographs. The accompanying essays, by a dozen authors, are engagingly free of jargon. . . . Like St. Antony in his hermitage, you come away from this book having seen something extraordinary. The paintings are more than decorations, they are depictions of the participants in the Coptic liturgy—not just the celebrants but Christ and all the saints and angels.”—Daily Telegraph

“This coffeetable book documents the cleaning and restoration of the monastery’s lavishly painted walls. In all, there are fourteen essays and almost 300 plates, over 250 in color. But the essays themselves are worth the price of the volume, many times over. . . . Highly recommended to those who seek greater familiarity with this relatively obscure Christian communion’s history, its iconography, and this monastery’s mission to continue in sometimes adverse situations.”—Larry Bailey, First Things

“This is a beautiful ‘coffee table’ book and is reasonably priced as well.”—Birger A. Pearson, Religious Studies Review

Honorable Mention: Association of American Publisher's 2002 Professional/Scholarly Publishing (AAP/PSP) Award for Excellence in Professional/Scholarly Publishing in Art
ISBN: 9780300092240
Publication Date: February 8, 2002
Publishing Partner: Published in association with American Research Center in Egypt
342 pages, 10 x 12
85 b/w + 210 color illus.