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Woman and Rhombus: Regarding the Virgin Mary’s Legs Posture in the Painting of The Lamentation of Christ in the Nerezi Monastery

Folkloristika 5/2 (2020): 53–89
Author: Nikos Chausidis
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The impetus for this study is an unusual detail from the famous fresco composition The Lamentation of Christ from the Church of Saint Panteleimon in the Nerezi Monastery near Skopje, North Macedonia. In this scene the dead Christ lies in a rhombic field formed by the legs of the Virgin Mary, which are spread in thighs, angled in knees, joined at feet and fully covered by her skirt. The study also includes the figure of Rachel, shown in a similar pose, in the scene of the Massacre of the Innocents of Bethlehem from Marko’s Monastery near Skopje, as well as several representations of Gaia in the compositions of The Last Judgment from several churches in Ohrid and some other Balkan regions. The aim of the article is to trace the character, origin and meaning of the specific pose in which a woman is depicted with her legs in the form of a rhombus. The study attempts to discover the meaning of this iconographic element by analyzing the two essential components of the pose ‒ the semiotics of the female legs, especially the spread ones, on the one hand, and the symbolism of the rhombus on the other. Its character and origin are revealed through comparison of the aforementioned artistic representations with analogues from other cultures throughout the world, and across diverse historical periods, stretching from prehistory to contemporaneity. There, the female body is in various ways combined with the figure of the rhombus: supplemented by a rhombus, completely metamorphosed into a rhombus or shown with legs that themselves form a rhombus. The study also includes the variants of the previously introduced combinations in which the rhombus is alternated with a vesica piscis - a vertical ellipse with pointed poles as a more realistic symbol of the open vulva, which confirms the female connotations of the rhombus. Special emphasis is given to the Christian representations that include a similarily shaped mandorla, for which, within the frames of their own canonical interpretations, certain implicit meanings related to the female principle are also proposed.
Keywords: rhombus, Medieval corporeality, semiotics of legs, female genitals, vesica piscis, mandorla, Byzantine iconology, Virgin Mary, Gaia, St. Panteleimon ‒ Nerezi Monastery (North Macedonia)