Helen Lieros Mural Paintings
Copyright (c) 2015, pp. 112:
CBC Publishing, Bath, UK
It took Helen Lieros almost a decade to complete 16 monumental murals in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral that was built in 1960, on a stand at Ahmed Sekou Toure 59, situated adjacent to the Greek Hall in Maputo, Mozambique.
The cathedral today has become a vacationist attraction, in Maputo, for Art, religion, history and humanities scholars.
Never in the history of Zimbabwean art has an artist, let alone a woman artist, single-handedly undertaken a commission of such monumental proportions — murals covering an entire cathedral.
Such feats were the marvels of bygone Renaissance Art History; accounts of which one absorbed as an art student, but never dreamt possible in our times.
Despite years, Lieros worked on a scaffold, 120 steps up, for nine hours a day, at times non-stop; summoning strength and energy that only comes from divine inspiration.
Drawing her sketches at night and painting throughout the day, often in inclement weather conditions, and often taken ill in between, she nonetheless persevered until the end.
I recently received a hardcover copy of a book that testifies to such a feat, accomplished in southern Africa, by Gweru-born, Zimbabwean master artist Lieros.
The book outlines, in letters, the personal ordeals Lieros endured while working on the murals.
Maladies beset her, from bronchitis to stomach ulcers to food poisoning.
There are various anecdotes, commentaries and critical appreciations from various art authorities with each fresco, backed by the artist’s statement, making the book a truly enlightening read; philosophical and thought-provoking.
In art history, the Renaissance (a term meaning rebirth), was a humanist movement reflecting a new conviction in the dignity of man.
It was an inexplicable upsurge in the human creative spirit occurring in Italy and extended from around 1400-1600, from where it gradually spread to other parts of Europe.
This period in art history is described in the writings of Jacob Burckhardt’s Civilizations of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), which treated the entire historic period as a cultural coming of age and blossoming forth of aesthetic values.
Burckhardt’s writings espoused the Vitruvian proportions of the human body and rational guidelines in its occupation of space devised by Alberti and Brunelleschi.
In Burckhardt’s study, the cannons of harmony and proportion in painting and sculpture were recognised and interpreted with a new-found freedom and mastery of technique that still influences the teaching of art, human anatomy and composition in art education today.
The great art works of Donatello – Donato di Niccolo (1386-1466), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) and Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520) — date from this seminal period in art history, when the state served the church.
Donatello was the founding father of the Renaissance in Italy, with its formative influences deriving from Byzantine art.
Byzantine art was highly prestigious and sought-after in Western Europe, where it maintained a continuous influence on Medieval art until close to the end of the period; especially in Italy, where Byzantine styles persisted in modified form through the 12th Century, to become the formative influences on Italian Renaissance art.
Primarily an ornamental religious style of art, Byzantine art commenced in Byzantium (Constantinople – now Istanbul, Turkey), during the first half of the 6th Century; prevailing in the East of the Byzantine Empire and lasting to the year 1453 when the Empire of the East was destroyed.
Istanbul, the port city in North-west Turkey, on the western European shore of the Bosporus Sea is the largest city in Turkey, founded circa 1660 BC by the Greeks.
It was re-founded by Constantine the Great in 330 AD as the capital of the eastern Roman Empire that was taken by the Turks in 1452 and remained the capital of the Ottoman Empire until 1922.
Between the 6th and 11th Centuries, the Church of Constantinople became the richest and most influential centre of Christendom, where the church remained as the most stable element in the Byzantine Empire.
The Byzantine Empire was a theocracy, said to be ruled by God working through the Emperor. Its Constitution was based on the conviction that it was the earthly copy of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christian values and ideals were the foundation of the empire’s political ideals and heavily entwined with its political goals.
Just as God ruled in Heaven, so the Emperor, made in his image, ruled on earth and carried out his commandments.
The Emperor, seen as a representative or messenger of Christ, was particularly responsible for the propagation of Christianity among pagans.
Surviving Byzantine art is still mostly religious, following traditional models that translate carefully controlled church theology into artistic terms.
In the foreword of the book Helen Lieros’ Mural Paintings Thoedoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, wrote: “You (Eleni Lierou), accepted to perform the mural iconography in the Orthodox Cathedral in Maputo, Mozambique, without anticipating any reward and this work of yours is a testimony to the soul. Having Christ and grace in your heart, you have worked with zeal and the works of your hands prove today this overflowing of your loving heart.” — Thoedoros II of Mozambique.