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Anna Ballian (Curator Emerita, Benaki Museum), “Bacini or Immured Vessels on Post- Byzantine Churches, 16th-17th Century: The Case of Iznik, Italian and Local Ware”
The image of a small church with immured ceramic vessels on its walls is interwoven with representations of the Greek landscape, whether on the islands or on the mainland. The practice of decorating church façades with brightly decorated vessels is older than the 16th century and the Ottoman period in Greece, and is related to the phenomenon of bacini, or plates, immured in the façades of Italian religious buildings from the 11th to the 15th centuries. The spread of the practice appears to have followed sea routes and commercial networks opened up by Italian maritime cities. In Greece, the practice is particularly apparent after 1204 in areas ruled over by Franks or Venetians. Glazed ceramic plates of various origins, whether local Byzantine or imported from Islamic or Christian Mediterranean countries, appeared on the exterior walls of late Byzantine churches and this practice continued after the Ottoman conquest with local, Ottoman, Italian and other Western European ceramics until the 19th century. This lecture will focus on a group of 16th- to 17th-century churches in Euboea, Thessaly and the Peloponnese. Ottoman immured vessels from Iznik and possibly from Kütahya are the novel factor, the outcome of a new political reality and change of taste, but they co-exist with Italian maiolica vessels which continued to be traded along the same routes. Dating these ceramics helps provide a chronology for newly built or renovated churches and, when possible, unfolds the mechanism of patronage and the status of the donors. Eventually, the study of early churches and their immured vessels will expand our knowledge about the Greek elites of the early Tourkokratia.
Anna Ballian is curator emerita of the Benaki Museum of Islamic Αrt. She began working at the Benaki as a curator of the post-Byzantine collection of church silver and embroideries and has worked on the presentation and opening of the Benaki | Greek Culture and Benaki | Islamic Art. She completed her BA in History and Archaeology at the University of Athens, her MA in Islamic Art from SOAS, London, and her PhD at the University of Birmingham, Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies with a thesis on the art and patronage of the Christian communities in Asia Minor during the Ottoman period. She has contributed and curated several exhibitions and published on Byzantine and Islamic art and culture, and on post-Byzantine, Armenian and Ottoman art and culture, especially silverwork, textiles and ceramics.
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