The Gennadius Library is pleased to present Spolia: Transcripts of the Stones of the Little Metropolis / Spolia: Μεταγραφές των λίθων της Μικρής Μητρόπολης, opening September 10, 2019 in the Ioannis Makriyannis Wing. In this show, the architect and artist Nora Okka exhibits 33 examples of her work—22 squeezes of relief sculpture from the Little Metropolis and 11 squeezes of inscriptions on its reused blocks—alongside lithographs and drawings of books from the collections of the Gennadius Library and photographs and sketches from the Archives of the Benaki Museum.
The Byzantine church known today as the "Little Metropolis” of Athens (Μικρή Μητρόπολη) incorporates many reused old blocks dating from the fourth century B.C. up to the Middle Byzantine period itself. As the archival and library material demonstrates, the building was noticed by early modern travelers, artists, and scholars alike. Most of its spolia are panels from Early Christian and Byzantine iconostases, and the rest are Greek and Roman tombstones, inscriptions, and architectural elements. The reuse of old stones removed from their original context, or spolia, is a ubiquitous and natural consequence of architecture in durable stone, but the Little Metropolis is extreme both quantitatively and qualitatively: it was built chiefly out of spolia and evinces a clear aesthetic program for that reuse.
A “squeeze” is a piece of thick paper that, after being moistened and carefully beaten into a stone's nooks and crannies with a boar's-hair brush, dries into an exact model of the stone’s surface. Normally used to produce a portable representation of an inscription, the squeeze (έκτυπο, estampage, Abklatsch) has been a tool of epigraphic research for almost two centuries. Nora Okka deploys a uniquely refined version of the scholarly technique of squeeze-making for her own artistic and conceptual ends.
In her work, Nora Okka takes interaction with spolia to a new level: the multilayer squeezes can be viewed closely as three-dimensional objects and in continually new combinations and arrangements. In presenting transfigured representations of the reused stones of an enigmatic Byzantine monument, the exhibition asks us to consider the relationships between documentation and imagination, surface and depth, originality and reuse, antiquity and modernity, abstraction and materiality.
The exhibition opens on Tuesday, September 10, 2019, with a lecture in Cotsen Hall at 7 pm by Professor Manolis Korres of the Academy of Athens (“Αναχρησιμοποίηση λίθων. Ναός Παναγίας Γοργοεπηκόου”) followed by a reception in the gallery of the Gennadius Library’s Ioannis Makriyannis Wing. Another lecture by Professor Dale Kinney of Bryn Mawr College will address the issue of spolia more broadly (“Spolia: Programmatic, Enigmatic, Problematic”) on Tuesday, October 29, at 7 pm.