TWO IMPORTANT BOOKS ON THE BEAUTY OF COPTIC WALL PAINTINGS AT THE MONASTERY OF SAINT ANTONY AND THE MONASTERY OF SAINT PAUL AT THE RED SEA, EGYPT
Monastic Visions: Wall Paintings in the Monastery of St. Antony at the Red Sea;
Edited by Elizabeth S. Bolman,[i] with photographs by Patrick Godeau.[ii]
2002. Yale University Press and the American Research Center in Egypt
342 pp.; 210 color plates, + 85 b-w and line drawings. 31 cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index
Cloth ISBN 0 300 092 24 5
Publisher’s Review: 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.
Monastic Visions was recently awarded honorable mention in the Outstanding Scholarly Book (Art category) by the Association of American Publishers, and received a design and production award from the Association of American University Presses.
The Cave Church of Paul the Hermit
At the Monastery of St. Paul in Egypt
Edited by William Lyster.[iii]
2008. Yale University Press and the American Research Center in Egypt. 396 pp.
Publisher’s Review: The Coptic Monastery of St. Paul by the Red Sea grew up around the cave where Paul, the first Christian hermit, lived in solitude. The cave served as a shrine in late antiquity, became a church in the middle ages, and expanded again in the early modern period.
This visually and intellectually exciting book chronicles the history of a series of devotional paintings in the Cave Church. It explores how the monastic community commissioned painting twice in the church in the 13th century, during one of the greatest eras of Coptic art, and how one of the monks painted it again in the 18th century, helping to inaugurate a Coptic renaissance after centuries of decline.
The foundation of this volume is a wall painting conservation project sponsored by the American Research Center in Egypt. The book also sets the art and architecture of the Cave Church in its historical context and examines the role of the Monastery of St. Paul as part of the sacred geography of Christian Egypt through time.
[i] Elizabeth S. Bolman is assistant professor of medieval art history at Temple University, Philadelphia. 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.
[ii] Patrick Godeau has worked extensively in the Middle East, specializing in fine art and architectural photography.
[iii] William Lyster is an independent scholar based in Cairo.