Koceľovce / Gecelfalva
The medieval wall paintings in the village Koceľovce (Gecelfalva) in the Gemer’s region had been uncovered and published by István Gróth in 1894. He then also restored them. Later, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak art historians have been studying the wall paintings: Dénes Radocsay, Mária Prokopp, Vlasta Dvořáková, Milan Togner, Vladimír Wagner, Katarína Biathová, Ján Bakoš and Ivan Gerát. The paintings have also been mentioned in the General list of monuments in Slovakia as well as in the recently published monography about medieval wall paintings from Gemer. Recently, a study has been published focusing on the overlooked iconographical type of Visitation with visible foetuses of Jesus and John the Baptist in the bodies of Virgin Mary and Elizabeth.
The author of the Koceľovce paintings is the workshop of the Master of the Ochtiná presbytery who got his name after the paintings in the near village Ochtiná. They are therefore connected not only by the identical dating between the years 1377-1400, but also by the large Christological cycle in the presbytery into three horizontal registers.
The pictorial narration begins with Annunciation in the shield field of the triumphal arch from the sanctuary. Virgin Mary is kneeling at the reading counter, her hands humbly crossed on her chest, holding her head with a headband on it down. Archangel Gabriel is pointing to God the Father with his right hand in the upper part of this composition; holding an inscription tape with a partially preserved text Ave Maria gratia plena in his left hand. Bearded God the Father arises with a cross nimbusfrom behind the clouds in the top of a mountain. He is giving blessings with his right hand and holding a small naked figure of Christ with a cross nimbus in his left hand (as a symbol of Christ’s death on the cross) - who is also giving his blessings towards Mary. A white dove is flying in front of Christ as a symbol of Holy Ghost. The Incarnation scene is very close to the pictures of evangelists and the Church Fathers on the arch, as well as the pictures of the Old Testament prophets on the coping of the triumphal arch. This way, the creators of the iconographical programme of the presbytery emphasized the incarnation moment of the God’s Wisdom or the Truth in the Annunciation scene.
On the north wall, in the upper register, the narration continues with the Nativity scene almost identical to the one in Ochtiná. Here, also a figure of a shepherd has been preserved, the one that is only partially visible in Ochtiná.
The chronology of the narration was interrupted, as the Visitation scene comes after the Nativity scene. The Visitation scene is remarkable mostly from the iconographical point of view: there are figures of unborn babies visible in their mothers’ bodies. The naked baby Jesus is raising his head up, looking at Elizabeth and giving blessings with his right hand, with fragments of a cross nimbus around his head. Kneeling John the Baptist is raising his eyes towards Virgin Mary’s face. The saint women with their heads down are both looking at their unborn babies. In this order, one under the other, there are Christ the foetus in Mary’s body, Christ praying in the Garden of Olives and Christ carrying his cross, depicted on the imaginary vertical axes. Similar relations within the Christological cycle arise in Ochtiná, too. The paintings of the Visitation with the visible foetuses in churches of Ochtiná and Koceľovce date to the oldest registered examples of this iconographical type in the means of wall painting.The unusual iconographical type is in literature mostly connected with Franciscan spirituality. The Franciscan influence on the paintings in Koceľovce and Ochtiná has already been confirmed in this context by many authors. The mediator role was probably played by the Franciscan monastery in the close village Kameňany about which we get the information from reports from the second half of the 14th century.
After the Visitation comes the Adoration of the Kings that is, similarly to Ochtiná, divided into two pictures in the arches shields. On the first one, two kings are coming, carrying gifts and watching an angel. On the second picture over the east window of the presbytery, the oldest king is kneeling before baby Jesus, offering him a gift. The king’s crown is at his feet as a symbol of his respect. An angel is floating above the heads of the figures, pointing to baby Jesus.
The next scene, Presentation in the Temple, is again divided into two pictures. There are three walking women on the first picture. The first woman is carrying lit up candles (candles used in Candlemas), then comes Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms, and we notice almost identical gentle gestures with those in Ochtiná: Baby Jesus is holding his mother’s left thumb whilst Mary’s right hand is holding baby Jesus’s bare feet. The third woman is Mary Salome carrying a couple of doves. On the next part of the Presentation in the Temple, there is baby Jesus standing on the altar with his right hand giving blessings and his left hand on the old high priest Simeon. An old high priest Simeon is lengthening his hands to him from the right and Virgin Mary from the left side.
The upper register of the southern wall of the presbytery ends with Coronation of the Virgin Mary. Opposed to the Ochtiná scene, the angels making music are missing in Koceľovce, and the architecture of the thrones is much simpler and without the canopies. Under it is the scene of Christ’s Entry in Jerusalem. The blessing Christ is sitting on a she-ass and he is giving blessing towards the people of Jerusalem who are welcoming him and throwing the palm branches under the ass’s feet, laying their coats on the floor. The apostles are behind Christ, St. Peter with a big key in his hand and St. Paul with a sword are dominant.
The narration continues with the Last Supper scene on the north wall that is in terms of its composition similar to the one in Ochtiná. The difference lies in the number of apostles (there are twelve apostles in Koceľovce); also in the fact, that almost all the apostles are facing Christ. Similarly to Ochtiná, Judas has a dark halo again, that differs him from the rest of the apostles.
On the right side of the Last Supper is a scene of Prayer in the Garden of Olives. The kneeling Christ is praying with his hands together, looking at the figure of God the Father who arises from behind the clouds and is blessing Christ. There is a big chalice on a stone in front of Christ. Two apostles St. Peter and St. John are sleeping close to Christ.
The Christological Cycle continues on the east side of the presbytery at the sides of the window by the Arrest of Christ scene. It shows a large group of soldiers; Judas’s kiss with Judas having the dark halo again; and the depiction of St. Peter who had cut Malchus’s ear off. In the moment of Judas’s betraying kiss, Christ is curing Malchus’s ear. The other scene, in the jamb of the south-east window, shows Peter’s denying Christ. The southern wall at the sides of the window shows Christ tied before Caiaphas.
The Scourging of Christ is depicted in the lower strip of the northern wall of the presbytery. Christ tied to a column is being whipped by four men; there are numerous wounds visible on his body. The next scene is Crowning with Thorns where, again, four men are pushing a crown of thorns onto Christ’s head with their sticks. This is followed by Christ carrying his Cross, in which Christ is accompanied by a group of soldiers, two thieves Gestas and Dysmas with their eyes tied, a crowd mocking Christ, and Simon of Cyrene helping Christ carry his cross. The Crucifixion scene is monumental and takes up the height of two registers. A group of three Marys, St. John, Mary Magdalene hugging the cross, and two soldiers are standing under the cross. One of the soldiers - Longin - is piercing the side of Christ with a spear. The crucified Gestas and Dysmas are at Christ’s sides. The younger thief Dismas, who asked for mercy and his soul is being taken away by an angel, is on Christ’s right. The older thief Gestas is on the left and his soul is taken away by devil.
The picture of Descent from the Cross is on the southern wall in the lower register: Joseph of Arimathea standing on a ladder is helping Mary to descent Christ off the cross; St. John, Nicodemus with a canvas, Mary and two other women are standing under the cross. Virgin Mary is touching her dead son with her face. Within the Laying in the Tomb, Mary is laying Christ’ s body into the tomb, holding her dead son’s head and putting her face to his. She is accompanied with four grieving women, Joseph of Arimathea helping at Christ’s head and Nicodemus at his feet. Grieving St. John is standing on the right of the tomb. In the lower register, there are apostles with some of their typical attributes depicted: St. Peter with a key, St. Paul with a sword and St. James with a pilgrim’s stick and a pouch. In the lower part of the triumphal arch jamb is St. Catherine with a wheel - her traditional attribute. Across from it, in the triumphal arch jamb, is a figure of a young saint without any visible attribute. Over the figures of saints, there are six prophets depicted in the quadrilobes: David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. From the sanctuary, two prophets with inscription tapes are painted on the triumphal arch under the Annunciation. In the presbytery arch, two church fathers, symbols of the four evangelists, angels with musical instruments, inscription tapes and prophets are depicted. In the west field of the arch, there are St. Ambrose and a winged bull as a symbol of Luke the evangelist; in the north field of the arch, there is St. Gregory and a lion as a symbol of Mark the evangelist; in the east field of the arch, there is St. Augustine and a man or an angel as a symbol of St. Matthew; in the south field, there is St. Jerome and an eagle as a symbol of St. John. In the other arch fields of the sanctuary towards the east, there are pictures of prophets, angels playing musical instruments and angels with thuribles. In the bolt, there is Christ’s face, as a reference to Jesus’s words from the gospel (Mt 21:42): “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
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