Buildings in their patrons’ hands? The multiform function of small size models between Byzantium and Transcaucasia

  • Maria Cristina Carile (Autor/in)


The motif of the church patron or founder carrying a building model was inserted in church decoration since Late Antiquity, and specifically in the main apses of sixth century churches. Later, it became common in the pictorial programmes of church buildings in Byzantium as in medieval Rome and, after 1204, in the Balkans. This image bears a high symbolic meaning and, at the same time, is a powerful means of communicating the patron/founder's role in the construction, as well as displaying his/her faith and devotion, all at once. In Transcaucasia this pictorial motif first appears in Late Antiquity, probably as evidence of the cultural interaction with Byzantium, in the form of a relief sculpture decorating the exterior walls of the churches. However, with the passing of time it became a characteristic feature of Transcaucasian churches, as a part of the overall decorative programme of church exteriors or as the only figurative image on church façades. This paper explores patterns of continuity and change in the meaning of church models in those territories on the edges of the empire, particularly Transcaucasia. Concentrating on the pictorial motif of donors' models, and principally on the value of the microarchitecture within the image and the church decoration, it reflects on its use through time, and especially in the great Transcaucasian monasteries of the late twelfth and thirteenth century AD. The analysis of church models, as reproductions of the physical building and symbolic elements of the pictorial composition, will allow for a reflection on the use of microarchitecture in the imagery of Transcaucasia. After the tenth century AD, the emphasis on donation scenes and particularly on architectural models on the façades of Transcaucasian churches displays the importance of donors' model as a feature of the Transcaucasian area, which presented political, ideological or religious messages to the beholder and, as such, was an entity of cultural history.