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The Vatopedi monastery

hree rich noblemen from Adrianople about which other sources tell us very little, are, according to Athonite legend, the first founders of the monastery of Vatopedi. The erection of the beautifully decorated katholikon has been dated to the end of the 10th century. Besides the four noteworthy mosaic representations that belong to an earlier period, a layer of frescoes, only recently discovered, survives in the main church and the exonarthex. According to an inscription, they have been dated to 1312, the time of the reign of Andronikos II.

Decorating the church and disposed in three zones are scenes from the life of the Virgin and Christ as well as many figures of saints, portrayed in full or bust length or within medallions. In the exonarthex are depicted fourteen scenes from the Passion and the Anastasis (Resurrection) in a continuous narrative, that is not separated from one another by red bands as was the usual custom. Here, too, the programme is completed by figures of saints. The space devoted to the cycle of the Passion is impressively large and, together with the absence of separating bands, conveys the impression that the walls of the church have become the open pages of a book narrating the life of Christ.

The frescoes, produced by a workshop in which worked three unknown but exceptionally fine artists, offer an example of the best painting of the time. A variety of expressive means and artistic tendencies - a consequence of the fact that three different artists worked here - are harmoniously combined and finally create a homogenous ensemble, which constitutes one of the masterpieces of Palaiologan art.