Local craftsmen and workshops - Local production
- Famous sculpture studios
- Potters' studios in Chalkis
- Quarries in Euboea
- Artist's studios
- Silk weaving workshops in Thebes
Sculpture studios based in Thebes
After the 9th century, Thebes, the capital of the theme of Hellas, became the residence of the upper social class. Members of the local aristocracy, officials, clerics, monks, and members of the military paid for the building and decoration of a large number of monuments in the area, contributing at the same time to the increase in artistic output. A great number of artisans, artists and sculptors worked in Boeotia. They created original works, and, as they moved around, they passed their knowledge on to younger artisans.
Important sculpture studios were active in Boeotia and neighbouring Euboea at this time.
The oldest studio dates from the 9th century, initially at the church of Panagia of Skripos in Orchomenos. The rich embossed decoration runs around the interior and exterior surfaces of the church, decorating, amongst other things, the surrounds of the doors, the windows and the iconostasis of the church. A little earlier, the same studio worked on the church of Agios Grigorios in Thebes itself. Both monuments are devoted to members of the local aristocracy.
The sculpture workshop of Hosios Loukas
The founding of the two churches, of Panagia and the catholicon of Hosios Loukas, at the monastery of Hosios Loukas—one of the most important monuments of the Mid-Byzantine period and the creation of great artisans, who had been apprenticed in Constantinople—was decisive for the artistic development of the area. This monastic complex influenced the aesthetic and artistic trends of the time. The high quality of the sculpted decoration of the church of Panagia, in particular, was the object of mimicry, directly or indirectly, by Greek artisans and artists. It introduced the Greek world to new trends and elements of sculptural decoration, which served as the prototypes for other monuments. The variety of themes, the pseudo-Kufic decoration, the oriental stylised themes and the inlaid material enriched and revived the repertoire of the visual arts of time and breathed a creative breath of life into the art of Mid-Byzantine sculpture.
The metochia [dependencies] of Hosios Loukas
An important role in the spreading of trends and features was played by the metochia of Hosios Loukas. The metochia are smaller monastic communities dependent on the main monastery, which maintains possessions in outlying areas. The similarities between the sculpted decoration in the catholicon of Hosios Loukas and the sculpture that was saved from the monastery's now demolished metochia in Antikyra and Aliveri, can be attributed to an important studio of the period. Great similarities with the sculpture at Hosios Loukas can also be seen in the marble iconostasis in the catholicon of the monastery of Panagia Peribleptos, in Politika, as with the iconostases in the Attalian churches of Panagia and Agios Nikolaos.
The main export centre for ceramic production in the eastern Mediterranean
The geographical position of Chalkis and the importance of the port meant that the island was connected with local and more distant networks. During the Byzantine period, but also later, it was an important centre for the distribution of trade. It had a central position in the maritime trade routes and was the port for Thebes.
Types of pottery from the 12th and 13th centuries, mostly utensils, which were widespread across the whole of the Mediterranean and mostly its eastern part, were made in Chalkidan workshops. This is proved by the analysis of tripods and waste found in the ceramic workshops of Thebes and Chalkis. In fact, Chalkis became one of the main centres for the production and shipment of pottery. At the end of the 12th century and during the whole of the Latin rule, the workshops of Euripus-Negroponte produced a range of glazed and decorated pottery, in especially large quantities, which were exported to the whole of the Mediterranean. Examples of this pottery have been found in numerous locations throughout the Aegean region. This production continued uninterrupted up until the Ottoman occupation.
The quarry at Karystos
During the Roman era, marble was the main export of Karystos in Euboea. The Roman preference for multi-coloured marble led to the organisation of a production line, the many of the stages of which are well known to us. According to inscriptions and archaeological evidence, the most important quarry belonged to the emperor, and its operation was managed by officials from the central administration. The grey-green veined marble from south Karystos found its way to almost the whole of the Mediterranean (Italy, Spain, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, etc.) and was used for the construction and decoration of a number of public and private buildings (bath complexes, libraries, temples, theatres, etc.). It continued in use during the Byzantine period. Texts report the presence of this marble in Agia Sofia in Constantinople and the cathedral church of Agios Stephanos in Gaza.
Piles of breccia [rubble] and abandoned architectural elements in various locations, from Bouros to Mekounida, mark the ancient extraction points in the Karystos area. Corresponding extraction points have also been found to the north in Marmari (Ompores, Vrethela, Kionia), Nimporio (Pyrgari) and Styra (Krya Vrysi). North of the settlement of Myloi, there are a number of extraction points the slopes of Mount Ochi. One of these points is found on the path that connects Myloi with the shelter on Ochi, at 'Kylindroi or Kolones'. It is famous for the 10 monolithic marble columns, which, on a clear day, are visible from Karystos.
Artists' studios from Thebes
During the Post-Byzantine period, despite the Ottoman conquest, artistic activity continued. Christian churches and monasteries were restored and new ones founded, which often had murals painted on their walls. Artists continued to travel and work; they renewed contact with the West, contributing to the creation of new artistic trends. The mural decoration in churches during this period was especially rich, with a variety of iconographic themes.
In particular, the art of the Ottoman period, specifically the 2nd half of the 16th century, was marked by the work of three great artists who came from Thebes, Fraggos Katelanos and the brothers Georgios and Fraggos Kontaris. These three painters achieved such great fame that they received commissions from the great monastic centres of the time on the Holy Mountain (the monastery of Megisti Lavra) and Meteora (Varlaam Monastery), as well as distant north-west Greece. Their works are distinctive for their intense realism and bright colours. They were the only eponymous representatives of this style of art.
The artist's studio of Thebes
In the wider area of Thebes, the murals that have so far been attributed to the studio of the Kontaris brothers have survived in the catholicon of Hosios Meletios in Kithaironas. To these can be added the iconography of the church of Agios Athanasios in Kokkino, as well as the illustration of the now-ruined church of Agios Nikolaos in the same settlement, which have been removed from the walls. The 2nd layer of murals from Agios Sozon in Orchomenos, as well as the 3rd painted layer, which was recently discovered during restoration work on Agios Georgios in Akraifnio, have been attributed to the same studio.
In Euboea, the exquisite murals in Palaiopanagia of Steni, and in the catholicon of the monastery of Agios Nikolaos Galatakis, near to the settlement of Limni, indicate the presence of this specific studio in the area and the island's connection with the artistic events of the time.
The famous silk cloth of Thebes
Thebes became one of the most important centres of silk production. It was there that hexamiton [samite] was produced: a durable, shiny silk material with a waft consisting of six threads. The cloth was dyed using porphyra, which is a purple colourant from made from the shell of sea snail fished in great quantities around the port of Chalkis, as well as the Boeotian coast. Sericulture and the cultivation of the mulberry were highly developed in the area around Thebes, which was helped by the abundant supply of water. Theban workshops even supplied the imperial court in Constantinople with precious cloth, creating an increase in trade and attracting the interest of Venetian, Genoese and other traders.
Archaeological digs have uncovered the remains of two workshops that were involved in the processing or dying of silk. According to later archaeological information, the processing of precious porphyra took place mostly in Kastorion, in ancient Thisbe, which is a short distance to the west of Thebes.
The cloth was dyed in both private houses and in workshops by professionals. Writers of the time, like the poet Ioannis Tzetsis, talk of skilled weavers, of 'woven elegance' and their ability, 'to dye brilliantly'.
The reputation of the silk weavers of Thebes is shown by the following event. When the Normans under Roger II occupied Thebes in 1147, they took many silk weavers prisoner, amongst whom there were many Jews, who, along with their fellow artisans from Athens and Corinth, were taken to Palermo in order to improve the production of silk cloth in that kingdom.
However, during the Ottoman period, the production of silk cloth began to be gradually limited.