A wooden box from Wallachia to Sinai
The Sinai Digital Archive preserves an image of a painted wooden panel that demonstrates the far-reaching connections of Saint Catherine Monastery at Mount Sinai in the early sixteenth century. Initially identified in the archive as an eighteenth-century Russian object, this panel hails from the principality of Wallachia in modern Romania, and more specifically from the reign of Prince Neagoe Basarab (r. 1512-1521).
The panel shows at the center Neagoe and his immediate family kneeling in supplication before an image of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child in a heavenly sphere in the upper portion of the composition. Divided into two symmetrical groups, the men of the Wallachian princely family kneel on the left, and the women on the right. The left shows Neagoe and his three sons: Theodosius, Peter, and John; on the right is his wife, Milica Despina, and the daughters: Stana, Roxanda, and Anghelina. The distinctive features and garments of the figures, as well as the inscriptions in Church Slavonic above their heads, confirm these identifications.
This Basarab family portrait once decorated the inside lid of a wooden box, as indicated by the indentations of where the hardware once attached the lid to the rest of the box. This box likely arrived at Sinai filled with precious icons, manuscripts, and embroideries from Wallachia, or, alternatively, it could have served as a reliquary. Neagoe and his family routinely gifted precious objects to Christian communities located beyond the borders of their principality. The monastery at Sinai and the monastic communities of Mount Athos regularly received such gifts and donations from the Wallachian ruler.
- text supplied by Dr. Alice Isabella Sullivan, Assisstant Professor, History of Art and Architecture, Tufts University
- Sullivan, Alice Isabella. “A New Discovery in the Michigan Sinai Archive.” Visual Resources Collections, University of Michigan. May 2020.
- Sullivan, Alice Isabella. “Neagoe Basarab at Sinai.” Museikon 5 (2021): 245–248.
- Sullivan, Alice Isabella. “Donors and Donations in Sixteenth-Century Wallachia and Moldavia.” in Orthodoxy on the Move: Mobility, Networks, and Belonging between the 16th and 20th Centuries, edited by Mihai-D. Grigore, special issue of Studia Universitatis Babeș-Bolyai Theologia Orthodoxa (SUBBTO) 68, no. 1 (2023): 15–46.
- Sullivan, Alice Isabella. “The Danubian Lands, Mount Athos, and Mount Sinai: Meaningful Connections,” in Routledge Handbook of Byzantine Visual Culture in the Danube Regions, 1300–1600, edited by Maria Alessia Rossi and Alice Isabella Sullivan (New York: Routledge, 2024), in press.